For a variety of reasons, including competing priorities and lack of expertise, very few companies have implemented an internal training evaluation function. However, there are key benefits and value to doing so. Here are six imperatives critical to start, sustain and grow this department, including pitfalls to avoid.
Be a progressive leader committed to using metrics to ensure training is effective and successfully applied on the job. As a learning leader, have a clear understanding of an internal evaluation function’s value for your department and company. There’s value in the following three areas:
• Recognize that effectiveness and adoption increases client confidence in the training department’s people, processes, products and services.
• Validate and continuously improve training methods and the training function.
• Act as the conscience of the organization to ensure training and businesses get maximum performance for the investments.
Take small but measured steps. Internal confidence in the evaluation function doesn’t happen overnight. Expertise and trust is gained over time. The key to an effective start will be investing in the evaluation staff’s professional development, starting with evaluation practices and then understanding the businesses that they serve. Another critical step is to create an easy-to-follow and -apply process and any tools to support the process. As the function matures and results are documented, communicate and socialize the message within the training and development department and clients to help positively influence people’s perceptions, mindsets and behaviors while moving the process forward. A good philosophy at this stage is to under-commit and over-deliver. Commit time, budget and resources for at least two to three years to see the maturation and results from this effort.
Employ unbiased, competent evaluators who have excellent planning, analytical and consultative knowledge, skills and abilities. Understand that evaluators must overcome the huge negative hurdle of being considered “judge and jury” among their colleagues and clients, who may be upset with evaluation’s results. Conduct evaluations with integrity and consistency. When results are based on facts, evaluators will ideally provide actionable data that enables key stakeholders and decision-makers to make informed changes to improve individual and organizational performance.
Useful competencies and skills for the evaluators include:
• Driven by results/performance.
• Proactive and consultative.
• Builds strong business relationships.
• Knows the business and the client’s priorities.
• Communicates effectively.
• Learns continuously.
• Motivated and self-driven.
Use data as the foundation for all analysis efforts and recommendations. Rely on credible evaluation data to drive learning function and business results, and understand that success is dependent on demonstrating evaluation’s value in quantifiable ways. Use both quantitative and qualitative data — some valuable feedback will come from interviews or focus groups directly tying their application of new knowledge, skills and abilities on the job, and resulting outcomes and benefits. In a metric-minded culture, emphasize evaluation data and use that valuable asset. Where the culture is not as metric-minded, use a management of change strategy to reinforce the training’s purpose and expected benefits.
Champion internal collaboration and adoption. Train internal designers and instructors on evaluation’s objectives, explaining that evaluation is a continuous activity. Emphasize throughout the entire training lifecycle that it’s meant to be a collaborative and positive experience — not punitive. This proactive approach helps secure buy-in by showing evaluation as a good investment vs. a questionable one.
Be patient. Recognize that internal evaluators must overcome preconceived notions about evaluation’s benefits, establish credibility and demonstrate value — and this process takes time. Look for early wins to build confidence and momentum while moving forward on this journey. As with any quality function, the evaluation function needs time to mature. As key internal audiences come to recognize the value of the data, the training and evaluation function will (eventually) be perceived as tremendously beneficial.
Starting an evaluation function can be a daunting task. However, follow these six imperatives to provide the department with the opportunity to succeed. Take slow but steady steps to ensure both people and processes are ready. Staff the department with highly competent employees with high integrity. Realize that data tells all and that evaluation models and processes are secondary to the truth behind credible data. Ensure that design, delivery and evaluation functions work seamlessly and collaboratively for the improvement of training and evaluation methods, processes and resources. Finally, be patient throughout the process, as it usually takes two to three years to see real results. If done right, this function will be a valuable part of any training and development organization.
Dave Basarab is the founder of Dave Basarab Consulting, and Michael Yarter is the company’s associate director of strategic initiatives. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.