training evaluation

Who's afraid of training evaluation?

…or, better still, should we be?

The “fear” of evaluation might not be such a strange feeling when it comes to the training and education field, whether you are HR, a consultant or a participant.

When it comes to training evaluation the one element that leaves an indelible imprint is something that we have all shared: the school experience.

At school we were all instructed, taught and trained to write well, speak well, count well  and behave well. Evaluation often meant being assessed by a teacher after weeks of solitary listening and practising, ending with the question: “Have I done it well enough?”.

Now that school is over, we should become aware of what the evaluation word still means to us today - it may carry some of this former meaning. It can still look like an assessment at the end of an activity to decide if the training was a thumbs up or a thumbs down experience.

What does evaluation really mean today?

When it comes to evaluating training impact within organisations, we may come across a sudden fear of infeasibility, unfairness and reductionism.

How can an evaluation process take into account the reflective process of individuals or groups trying to re-think the way they behave within their organisations? How is it possible to track a behavioural change and a personal/professional development, if no fixed and stable standards of behaviours can be set from the start?

This is not possible, if our idea of evaluation remains what it was when we first experienced it, at school.

We need a change of perspective

Let’s swap our perspectives and incorporate evaluation within our training action.

By doing this, evaluation can give us powerful guidelines to design, deliver and evaluate our programmes from the very start.

Here are my top tips for incorporating evaluation through the three stages of the process.

From the start: evalution as a consultative practice

  • Try to understand precisely what we want to achieve
  • Find a common view with our clients, partners, colleagues, etc
  • Ask questions that enable reflection and reframing
  • Identify indicators of our progress is a consultative practice (1)

As consultants, evaluation can guide us to focus on what skills, mindset and behaviours we would like to develop. It helps us recognise the hints, clues and facts that we should be mindful of. It provides us with a good questioning framework to apply to our training design, delivery and, eventual evaluation. At Impact we use the Learning Mapping tool to do this. For a practical example of the questioning process that can lead to a better challenge of our assumptions and focus on training purpose, objectives, and KPI’s click here.       

During the process: evaluation as a learning application tool

As participants of a training programme, knowing that the results of our learning will be monitored can be the key to start applying it. We now have a variety of tools (action plans, diaries, surveys, follow up interviews, etc.) that can help participants define their own targets, identify actions and keep track of what they’ve learned, understood, and achieved from the training process (2). The result of this is a very contextualised definition of “training transfer” results (3), with a wider focus on implementation.

At the end: evaluation as a means to collect meaningful information

“How effective was this training?” Not all of the focus should be on the learners and their capability to apply the learning. Evaluating programmes through storytelling and ex post data collection (4) can support us in collating a collection of relevant information about what helps or hinders the change of attitude and behaviour within the organisations. This can shed light on other organisational, design and delivery factors that would otherwise be neglected.

In this perspective no split between design, delivery and evaluation exists. No final thumbs up/down threat should scare us anymore. What does development mean to us? What are the indicators we are looking for? And, ultimately, what is it that we are really trying to achieve? Evaluation can be the answer and its value chain starts way before the end of a training programme.

Chiara Fregonese is a Consultant at Impact Italia.

1. Schein, E.. Process Consultation Revisited. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley. 1999.

2. Phillips, P.,  Phillips, J. & Ray R. Measuring Leadership Development: Quantify Your Program's Impact and ROI on Organizational Performance. McGraw-Hill Education, 2012.

3.Wenzel, R., & Cordery, J. Training Transfer Research: A Manager's Guide and Bibliography. Australian. Institute of Management – Western Australia. 2014

4.Brinkerhoff, R. O. Telling Training's Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2006.