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               The Trials of Training


                 Everyone agrees that training is crucial; it doesn’t mean it gets done or done right.  


Save for the trainers themselves, the words “employee development” make a lot of people cringe; senior management, for looking at another expense without clearly defined returns, direct supervisors, for time taken out of the workday (when deliverables are already on tight schedules) and the participants who attend whether they like it or not.  


At the same time, people acknowledge that there is a need to continue learning new skills, and latest developments in one’s profession, to remain competitive. This disconnection can be overcome by changing a company’s mindset to what training entails, how it is conducted, and why it should happen. 


The Kirkpatrick Model 


Learning professionals and the well-read management school graduate would be familiar with Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels. Published in the Journal of the American Society for Training and Development[1], then later as a standalone business book[2], the founding principles Don Kirkpatrick put forth in 1959 still hold true today.  


Conventionally, it is adopted to evaluate a company’s existing training modules. For many growing companies that have yet to develop a full-fledged training program- much less a division- understanding these four levels can also help put training decisions into the right perspective. 


Level 1: Reaction 


The first two levels examine the response of those involved in training, and are referred to as Consumptive Metrics[3]. Through reaction sheets or focus groups after the learning activity, trainers measure the participants’ satisfaction as part of Level 1. The reaction indicators here would include the usual statistics HR reports: number of people who have attended, number of programs/lessons discussed, total training hours, participants’ rating of the speaker/workshop facilitator/trainer, feedback on the content, etc.  


Effective reaction sheets are anonymous (encouraging honesty), quantitative (can be tabulated, relationships between indicators statistically analyzed) and qualitative (providing additional comments and suggestions fields for items the standard questions may not have covered).  


Now that one is familiar with Level 1, think on what would induce a positive reaction from the target participants. Should the training be an interactive workshop that requires team work? Or an exclusive in-depth lecture for a handful of the top performing employees? What content would your target participants find most relevant? How do you make the participants invest themselves more in the training? Perhaps by requiring them to prepare beforehand an actual, specific roadblock they are facing, with the goal of using the training to come up with solutions? 


Level 2: Learning 


There may be a number of training sessions where the participants found the enthusiastic presenter/well-illustrated presentation entertaining enough to have ensured their attention and involvement. However, when actual learning - knowledge, skills and attitudes- are measured closely, the overall venture is hollow and found wanting. Learning tied to training should be gauged through paper and pencil exams, return demonstrations, as well as performance audits.  


While many know the entire model, it is seldom applied competently in companies beyond the first two levels. The third and fourth levels, thought of as Impact Metrics, look to how the training is adopted after the session. 


Level 3: Behaviour 


Taking the outcome identified in Level 2 one step further, Kirkpatrick’s model looks into the extent that participants have integrated their learning to their daily work process. To encourage this, those in charge of shaping the company’s culture must create an environment conducive to applying learning, testing new ideas, and mentoring. By making it easier to turn learning into habit, the results of the training become more sustainable.  


Behaviour is appraised through before and after comparisons of job performance; as determined by those who work with the participant - the direct supervisor, subordinates, peers, trainer, and fellow trainees.  


In a report by consultancy firm, Leadership IQ, 67% of employees learn about their jobs from colleagues rather than bosses. In the first 90 days of employment, a new employee observes and adapts to the company’s culture -the real dynamic one, not necessarily what is stated in official company statements- by modelling behavior on co-workers’ cues. It is therefore a priority to enable the right behavior from day one through training and exposure to model employees. 


For rising stars in the company, provide them a more challenging learning track (opportunities to expand work experience while building their career) with senior leaders as mentors.  


Level 4: Results 


Follow through is as important as the swing itself. Determining (with evidence) what results can be tied to a training program will not only justify any investment in training, but should also serve as the biggest factor in evaluating its success. Impact can be identified in terms of increased production, reduced costs, higher sales/quality, lower rates of employee turnover, etc.  


Real world practice, however, contradicts the ideal. In a study by Dr Brant Peterson (Columbia University, 2004), the activities contributing to learning effectiveness are those that occur pre-work 26%, in the form of follow-up 50%, and  during a learning event 24%. That same study points out that the typical learning investment made by companies are on pre-work 10%, follow up 5%, learning event 85%. A misallocation of priority if there ever was one.  


While taking the time to design an official training program then, companies should also look into efforts that reinforce the desire to constantly learn more. A great practice is starting a company library or book club where employees can lend and borrow resources related to their trade. Have a section in the company’s internal website/forums/bulletin board for not just printed recommendations, but videos and links that are interesting, informative and relative.  


As Stephen Covey points out, effective people begin with the end in mind. In that regard, the Kirkpatrick Model can be the growing company’s primary criteria against which training initiatives can be judged. Complemented by a culture of collective intelligence - that of shared learning and continued education -  it ensures that this time, training gets done, and it gets done right.    

[1]“Great Ideas Revisited.” Training & Development Journal. January 1996.  

[2]Kirkpatrick, Don. “Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels.” Berrett-Koehler, 1993 

[3]Nick DeNardo from Edward Jones 


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