Human capital has become one of the most important resources for organizations to succeed in the 21st century. As such, learning and development programs can be quite powerful and the area is becoming more and more of a priority for corporations.
As Todd Tauber, Vice President of Learning & Development Research at Bersin by Deloitte, observes, “In essence, learning and development is at the core of what high impact performing organizations do.” That said, training requires time, money, and other resources. With this in mind, it is critical that companies seek metrics to understand how effective their training programs are and the value they bring to the organization. In our experience working with companies large and small, this is where many enterprises fall short.
When companies are not actively engaged in developing their training program and rigorously testing it to ensure that it is delivering a return for the company, training is viewed as a fixed cost/expense versus a true investment that yields a return.
A powerful way to shift this mindset is to use The Kirkpatrick Model, developed by Dr. Don Kirkpatrick, and its set of standards. The model breaks down training evaluation into four categories, or levels: reaction, learning, behavior, and results.
One common critique of the Kirkpatrick Model is that managers want more detailed tools and help applying it to real-life situations. So, we used our EverwiseWomen team’s experience working with enterprises to develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of women in leadership training programs as an example:
This refers to how employees felt and their thoughts about the training experience. Did they enjoy the training? How so? These insights are very easy to obtain through a post-program survey or questionnaire, and most organizations do a good job with this step.
If people are not engaging with a program, it will not succeed. For this reason, the specific metric that the EverwiseWomen team focuses on for its women in leadership program at the “Reaction” level is delivering engaging and relevant material. Partner organizations regularly survey program participants to get their response to the following statement: “The programming and strategies I’ve been exposed to at EverwiseWomen are relevant to my current position.” Remember, keeping the questionnaire short and sweet will help you get a higher response rate and more thoughtful answers!
This logically refers to the employees’ increase in knowledge from the training experience. Did they learn? These insights can be easy to measure through written assessments or interviews before and after a training program. However, they can be less easy to gauge for complex learning that combines skillsets or relates to soft-skills that are less obvious to observe or might not be applied right away.
The two metrics the EverwiseWomen team seeks to measure in the “Learning” category are: did participants learn valuable and actionable skills? Are they confident that they can apply these strategies in their workplace? Interactive assessments with hypothetical scenarios that required on-the-fly problem solving paired with written assessments allow for a mix of quantitative and qualitative feedback to these questions/metrics.
This third level refers to employees’ behavioral and performance change after applying the skills on the job. It’s one thing to pass a test, but how extensive was the applied learning associated with the program? Do employees work better, more efficiently, more collaboratively, more <fill in the blank based on the goals of your training program>? These insights necessitate observation and interviews over time and typically require cooperation from managers. They can be more difficult and less straightforward to glean.
For these reasons, leadership buy-in prior to program implementation has been critical for the EverwiseWomen team to implement and measure the behavioral change associated with women leadership development programs. We have found great success building a straightforward reporting schedule for managers to ensure consistent feedback. We also emphasize the importance of repeatable processes for managers to regularly assess whether participants were implementing strategies that they had learned in the program without burdening them.
The last level, “Results,” refers to the effects of the training program on the organization, from the individual employee level to the overarching business improvements. Did business metrics improve? Measurements for this step should already be in place via normal management and reporting systems, however the challenge with this step is to relate changes to the trainees, particularly when you scale up to the organizational level and many variables enter the equation. This is therefore where many businesses fall short in understanding the effectiveness of their programs but where it is perhaps the most important to be vigilant and think through measurable outcomes before the program is implemented.
In our experience with the women in leadership programs, it can take up to 3 years for HR organizations to acquire the data needed to make recommendations and program changes. This requires repeatable processes and measurements along the way, which add up to overarching takeaways as to whether the program is achieving goals or not. At EverwiseWomen, the three goals for the women in leadership programs are: develop more effective female managers and leaders; build meaningful professional relationships (e.g., mentors); and advance individual professional development goals. We have integrated these metrics into the repeated manager assessments for level 3 (behavior) so that their regular feedback will seamlessly aggregate into a meaningful read of program results.
Last but not least, a critical extension of the Kirkpatrick model is communicating the results. All the progress in the world will not mean a thing if you’re not able to communicate it to key stakeholders.
Implementing the Kirkpatrick Model and associated communication strategy will result in a thoughtful, results-driven training program that is not just a “fixed cost” for your organization, but instead an investment in the business’ future.
Take, for example, Keller Williams Realty’s BOLD program (Business Objective, Life by Design). This 7-week training initiative teaches realtors how to focus their pursuit of leads, to increase their number of leads, and to strategically apply particular language techniques. It is targeted and intentional in its development of Keller Williams talent. In 2013, the program increased the agency’s income by 114%!
With this example in mind, ask yourself, what are our goals? How do our people contribute to the achievement of these goals and where are current gaps in associated skillsets? How will we clearly demonstrate program progress? And what will be the most compelling metrics as to the impact the program has made? Executing these steps will bring your enterprise one step closer to having the most valuable intangible asset and associated competitive advantage that a company can have: an engaged, highly-educated, impactful workforce.