Trisha Bennett, Communications Director at Hospitality Assured discusses the importance of effective training evaluation and the six stages involved in the evaluation process.

How often do we hear that old phrase ‘People are our greatest asset’?  Therefore, it is important that employees should be valued and feel valued. The fact that attracting, developing, engaging and retaining key talent is pivotal to the long-term success of an organisation has been recognised for many years. Good training and its effective evaluation plays a major part. It helps to develop, motivate, provide job satisfaction and skill employees, and should be part of a strategic talent management and succession planning process. Staff awareness of the costs of their development can strengthen belief of being valued and employee engagement.

A further expression is ‘We train staff and then they leave’.  So, training that is intended to create a competitive advantage could be a benefit to your competitors!  Like any other investment, you will obviously expect a return from training and development; otherwise its value should be questioned. The purpose of evaluation is to quantify or qualify what that return is and to help you continuously improve your investment in people, justify future expenditure and ensure maximum benefit for learners. So how effective is your training and development? Do you have results and data that demonstrate this?  Is your training improving business performance, customer satisfaction, audit scores, qualification levels, staff retention, and providing career advancement?  Is it so effective that staff believe and are roaring about what a great place your organisation is to work for and the amazing prospects it offers!!

The key to evaluation is to keep it simple. When planning a training programme or intervention, consider carefully at the outset whether it is worth investing the time and effort in trying to pin down evidence of the benefits/outcomes at all the stages, explained below. Your decision should be based on the type of training to be delivered, its intended objectives/outcomes and key stakeholders involved.

Finally, getting managers on board is crucial. Lack of management support is a key barrier to evaluation. As managers are the people who have the most contact with learners both before and after the training, they are the ones who are most likely to be able to identify the benefits resulting from it back in the workplace. They also play an important role in ensuring that the training is followed through and implemented. Perhaps one of the most effective ways of ensuring the success of your training is to encourage an open, systematic performance review process that clearly identifies benefits for all stakeholders especially in terms of future career and promotion prospects and discussing realistic employee aspirations. The stages may include:

 Stage 1: SMART Objectives

It is essential that programme goals are identified that are aligned with strategic priorities. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound) objectives that the training is expected to achieve need to be agreed for the organisation, department and the individual/s concerned.  This may include a pre-evaluation skills/knowledge test and discussions on success metrics in terms of what the trainee is expected to do better and how will they know they are doing it better.

Stage 2: Evaluation to measure satisfaction and trainee reaction.

Evaluation questionnaires (smiley sheets), electronic surveys, feedback or discussion sessions are methods usually implemented.  However, this alone cannot give a full picture of the effectiveness of the training.  A negative reaction will almost always indicate that the learning has been unsuccessful, a positive reaction does not necessarily equate to effective learning.  Carefully framed questions need to be identified to establish the level of satisfaction and feedback you are looking for.

Stage 3: What has been learned?

The pre-evaluation skills/knowledge test can be used as a gauge against which to compare the post-evaluation. A comparison of the post-testing results to the training objectives can also provide an insight into what has been learned. Although this information is helpful for determining whether the learning has been absorbed, it does not indicate whether the learning will actually be put into practice in the workplace. Manager observation and discussions, interviews, role plays and project assignments are methods that can be utilised.

Stage 4: Application and implementation of the learning in the workplace
This is a critical success indicator. Two important factors to consider at this stage are how and when to evaluate, as the change may not always occur immediately, or may occur gradually. Some common methods used are testing, observation, 360 feedback, competence audits and performance reviews.

Stage 5: Measuring results

Measuring participants’ achievements may include; higher profits, increased production, changed behaviour, reduced costs, fewer accidents, improved quality, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. It is often difficult to establish a definitive link between these business improvements and training, as they can be influenced by many factors, but it is possible to demonstrate that training at least contributes to them. Methods may include job satisfaction surveys, customer feedback, guest comment cards, mystery shopper exercise, staff turnover, retention rate, promotions, profits, cost savings, occupancy rates, visitor numbers and restaurant covers.

Stage 6: Training and ROI

It is extremely useful to compare the monetary benefit and the overall cost of the learning. A ROI % can be calculated by identifying the benefits of training minus the total costs of training and dividing by the cost of training.  Timing is everything. If ROI is calculated after training interventions, it’s too late as the money has already been spent and if it is successful does it help the business?

There are many learning evaluation models currently in practice and some that you may find useful and are worthy of researching include: Phillips, Kirkpatrick, Kaufman, Anderson’ s Value of Learning Evaluation , and Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method. This blog has been developed by extracting learning from all these models. You also need to develop evaluation processes that best meet the needs of your organisation

In summary, employees are the key stakeholders in any business, and absolutely vital to long-term, sustainable success. Effective and ongoing evaluation of training and development activities and celebration of success should result in improved business performance, and an engaged workforce. People will understand your organisation’s commitment to their career development and longer term aspirations and feel valued. You will have talent and capability available when required enabling a proactive approach to business growth. The benefits are for every employee and every business and a competitive advantage for both.

About the Author: Trisha Bennett

Trisha, Director of Hospitality Assured, has extensive experience in general management, marketing, research and education, and in 1988 founded a successful business consultancy that focuses on improving the performance of people and businesses. She is enthusiastic about learning and development, and believes in delivering service excellence through coaching, training and development interventions.