I wish every employee on my team came in on Day 1 knowing everything they need to know about doing business in our industry.
As a manager, does that look like your fairytale scenario?
Unfortunately, this is always going to remain little more than a pipe dream. The reality is clear: in order to be set up for success, employees – especially new or inexperienced ones – need robust training. Yet, essential as it may be, many managers still struggle to convince whoever controls their organization’s purse strings that in-depth, continuous workplace learning is worth the investment.There are a number of reasons underlying this struggle, but in many cases they boil down to one of two facts. Either:
- an organization’s corporate learning processes work but are too opaque or inconsistent to clearly exhibit their success
- an organization’s corporate learning processes are simply not that effective. In other words, either your training works but it’s hard to show it, or your training is sucking up resources without delivering results.
It was with this problem in mind that Donald Kirkpatrick embarked on research that would become the core of his doctoral dissertation, “Evaluating a Human Relations Training Program for Supervisors.” First published in 1959, Kirkpatrick’s research details a four-level training evaluation program – now known as the Kirkpatrick Learning Model – designed to assess whether and/or how a company’s employee education program is effective. In 2010, Kirkpatrick’s son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick, crafted the New World Kirkpatrick Learning Model, a slight reimagining of the original model, optimized for the modern world and ensuring Kirkpatrick’s fundamental principles continue to be the gold standard for evaluating training effectiveness.
For managers struggling to demonstrate the value of their training programs – and especially for those struggling to find value in their programs in the first place – the Kirkpatrick Learning Model can be something of a godsend. As such, we’ve outlined the general approach and, of course, the four specific steps that Kirkpatrick and his progeny have shown to be a boon to corporate training programs the world over.
Using the Kirkpatrick Model to Assess Education Program
Every business process – training-related or otherwise – should have a clear ideal end result. That is, if executed effectively, what is the outcome that this process will deliver? When it comes to employee training, high-level stakeholders always want to know things like how long the process will take and how much the process will cost, meaning establishing realistic expectations from the get-go is absolutely critical.
According to Kirkpatrick, the most practical way to demonstrate the value of an employee education program is to focus on what he termed “return on expectations” (ROE).
Let’s run through them one-by-one.
1. Focus on organizational mission
When it comes to proving that the end result of a training program constitutes an undeniable good for your business, it’s important to frame your approach in terms that align with what your company is all about. What is the meat of your company’s mission or vision statement? What, ultimately, is your company trying to offer to its customers? A training program only has value if it contributes in some way, shape, or form to these endeavors. As a manager in charge of training, you’ve got to be able to say, “My program improves Metric X among my employees, which directly bears upon Goal Y of the company.”
2. Identify leading indicators
Speaking of metrics, beyond those that measure your highest-level goals, companies must also focus on “leading indicators.” Simply put, leading indicators are short-term metrics that measure whether your company is headed in the right direction and whether your employees’ critical behaviors are where they need to be. Figures on employee retention, customer service satisfaction, and product quality ratings are all common examples of key leading indicators. Paying close attention to these indicators helps managers demonstrate how proper training influences employee actions, which then drive your highest-level metrics.
3. Define critical behaviors
Determining precisely which employee behaviors need to be measured – and, if the leading indicators don’t look good, adjusted – is itself a process. Oftentimes what appears to be a poor behavior or insufficient skill ends up being attributable to extenuating circumstances. For instance, say your team is failing to meet expectations related to new customer acquisition. You might assume that this means you should commit additional resources to prospecting training, but this isn’t always going to be the right move. In fact, your team might be more than proficient at the mechanics of prospecting, but could be struggling with poor product knowledge or a lack of time to dedicate to prospecting on account of too much time being spent on other responsibilities like servicing existing customers. Communication is of paramount importance here. Before deciding to hone in on any one critical behavior, always survey your team to make sure you’re defining the problem properly.
4. Determine required drivers
Once you’ve figured out exactly which behaviors need work, you must come up with a set of drivers that can push employee actions in the right direction. Depending on the circumstances, an effective driver can take many forms. Consider introducing an element of formal self-monitoring into your team’s processes. Have team members submit goals or action plans for each week – to build off our previous example, acquiring X number of new customers – and report on their own performance in their weekly reports or one-on-one checks-in. Having successful team members offer strategies and feedback to their peers is also quite effective, and it allows you as a manager to easily leverage the valuable experience of senior team members to your advantage.
5. Design Learning
With all of this in place, you can finally begin to craft a pinpointed, streamlined employee training program. Since you’ve already done a lot of the legwork, you can typically formulate the learning objectives for your training session by combining your notes and determinations from Steps 3 and 4. You know you’re trying to influence a certain set of behaviors and are planning to drive these changes with a certain set of drivers, so now all you’ve got to do is make this information accessible to your team in a productive and encouraging fashion. With the right tools, learning materials can be as customized and dynamic as necessary, guaranteeing that each employee receives the exact assistance he or she needs.
6. Monitor and adjust
Of course, no matter how well-conceived your training program, it’s not going to deliver high-level results unless the lessons you provide are actually put into action in the workplace. Micromanaging aside, the only way to judge the effectiveness of your training program is to keep an eye on your team’s performance metrics. By monitoring required drivers, critical behaviors, and leading indicators, you can gain access to early warning signs of training failure. If your team doesn’t seem to be making substantive progress after a few weeks, run through this six-step process again, making adjustments where you see fit. As long as you remain vigilant and are willing to experiment with your processes when their effectiveness falters, you will retain an authoritative voice on your programs’ ROE.
...To Recap: Determining "ROE"
- Focus on the organizational mission
- Identify leading indicators
- Define critical behaviors
- Determine required drivers
- Design learning
- Monitor and adjust