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How Do You Measure Training Impact? Real-World Advice

Recently, our marketing team met with some of our most innovative customers to discuss their biggest challenges in learning management. At one point, the conversation turned to how they prove the impact of training programs. The responses were revealing.

Participants openly shared a variety of approaches — reinforcing the notion that one value metric does not fit all circumstances. Some organizations are tackling engagement. Others are striving to measure learning application and performance improvement. Still others are focused on financial return and business results.

After reviewing the collective feedback, I realize these ideas can help others who are facing similar issues. But I also respect the privacy of our roundtable participants. So, without revealing individual identities, here are some of their best suggestions:

1) Recognize that stories can be more powerful than big data
One of our respondents explained, “When I started in an L&D role, I was super excited to impress senior management with sophisticated data analysis. But I quickly discovered that executives did not, in fact, want to know the numbers. Quantifiable metrics didn’t resonate with them as much as testimonials from influential people within the organization.” Lesson learned. Sometimes, personal stories can make the benefits of training more evident in both tangible and intangible ways.

2) Drive desired behavior with incentives
Friendly contests can help motivate teams to pursue “helpful but not required” training. They can also produce results that are measurable — or at least ranked. One word of caution: Be sure your incentives aren’t too sweet. Tangible rewards shouldn’t be the primary reason people engage. However, concerns about extrinsic rewards may become a moot point, if your program achieves the desired learning results, and you can measure success in appropriate ways.3) Correlate training with individual performance
Many learning professionals think this is the holy grail, but they shy away because it seems complex and unreliable.

 

How  Start with data that is available, or easy to acquire. For example, identify people who earned certification by completing a specific training sequence, or took courses designed to improve specific skills. Then, measure the quantity and quality of their work output. Here’s how you could apply it to sales training. First, develop benchmarks that fit performance objectives. This could be close rate, or sales revenue, or effectiveness in a specific capability at a particular stage of the selling cycle. Measure performance across your key benchmarks, before and after training. If you see improvement, and other factors (such as special sales incentive programs) haven’t skewed the outcomes, it’s reasonable to credit training for the progress.

4) Employ a secret shopper to test behavioral change
For retail and services organizations, a secret shopper team can make it easier to test knowledge and skills of sales people or service representatives, in context. This approach can quickly determine if learning sticks, and identify weaknesses that training hasn’t resolved. It can also help inform continuous learning and performance support, by verifying best practices.

5) Focus on financial impact
Clearly, linking training with hard-dollar savings is an ideal way to demonstrate business value. But this kind of impact isn’t always obvious. When you apply this type of metric to employee training, your best bet may be to focus on net increase in productivity. When training customers or channel partners, tie metrics to their business objectives or revenues — and look at how their success contributes to your company’s financial results.

6) Educate yourself more fully
If you’re among the many professionals struggling to demonstrate the value of training, you may want to pursue formal training to build your competency in learning measurement and ROI techniques. Or if you prefer self development, investigate the many freely available resources and best practices. Regardless, whenever you develop a training program, be sure to remember 3 fundamental questions:

• What behaviors do you want participants to display after a learning intervention?
• When training is complete, do participants actually behave as you intended?
• What is an appropriate way to measure improvement in their knowledge and abilities?

Bottom Line
You can choose numerous metrics to demonstrate training ROI. Some models are explored in depth elsewhere in this blog:

• What’s the Value of Customer Training? Prove It
The Business Value of Channel Education
Ditch Learning ROI: Build a Better Business Case
Performance Improvement: Learning By The Numbers

Ultimately, it’s about helping others understand that your training programs are relevant and meaningful, while reinforcing your commitment to continuous improvement. Whatever measures you choose, think first about how to engage learners by delivering high quality content, and you’ll be well on your way to making a compelling case for training.

Your Turn
How does your organization demonstrate training value? How would you streamline this process? What advice would you share with others who are looking for a better model? Please share your ideas and opinions in the comments.

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