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Is training a waste of time and money?

How companies can prioritise their  investment to give them the best return

Excel Communications Nic HallettHistorically the paradigm has been that 'of course' organisations should provide training for their employees. Training creates a safe and effective workforce, some loyalty and it is the socially responsible thing to do.

In the 20th century, society accepted that individuals might typically have only one career and a handful of jobs in a lifetime. With such a sedentary workforce it made perfect sense to invest in their essential training. After providing training, the employer could expect to gain a return on that investment over the decades through increased productivity and decreased downtime. Measuring the return on investment (ROI) was relatively unimportant because eventually the employer would be in credit.

The 21st century workplace however is quite different, being increasingly populated as it is with those born around the turn of the millennium. Today's generation measures careers in months and years rather than decades and lifetimes. Provide training today and they may be long gone before you get a return.

It has become critical to measure the short-term impact of training if you are to tailor your offerings to deliver a return within a millennial timescale.

Despite days spent in the classroom, at the cost of millions, few companies measure the return they are getting on their investment. To parody John Wanamaker and William Lever, it is possible that “half of what we spend on training is wasted, the trouble is we don't know which half”.

Training might be a valuable investment of time and budget, or a waste, but without measurement there is no quantifiable data to prove it either way. It is time to measure the impact of training and you may not have to spend the “10% of your training budget” claimed recently by a specialist supplier of…measurement tools!

Famously Kirkpatrick defined four levels of evaluation:

  1. Reaction - did the audience enjoy the training and do they think they learned something? This is a poor indicator of ROI but a quick and easy measure of satisfaction.
  2. Knowledge - did the audience actually learn something? This is a more complex measure and relevant only if knowledge-transfer is the sole objective of the training.
  3. Behaviour - is the audience doing something differently? This is increasingly more challenging to measure yet far more indicative of ROI.
  4. Results - the ultimate measure of ROI which directly demonstrates whether the audience is more productive or profitable as a result of the training.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the Level 4 evaluation is the only desirable measure, but with so many factors beyond the control of the individual, correlation is statistically difficult to demonstrate.

For instance, for sales people attending a sales training workshop Level 4 Evaluation would need to correct for external variations:

  • Global growth/recession
  • Competitor and media activity
  • Supply chain variations
  • Pricing strategy. 
  • You would also need to correct for internal influences:
  • KPIs and competency frameworks
  • Incentive schemes
  • HR processes
  • Management support and coaching.

This makes Level 3 Evaluation the most practical and indicative measure as long as you are confident that the behaviours being measured are those that will lead to business success.

Next steps:

  1. For your next training event start by specifying what your outcome is: a. If the only outcome required is satisfaction then use a Level 1 measure; b. If transfer of knowledge is all that is required then use a Level 2 measure.
  2. Otherwise define specifically the kind of behaviour participants would demonstrate if your outcome was achieved. 
  3. Measure the quality and frequency of that behaviour before and after training, ideally on a numerical scale such as 0 (rarely demonstrates this behaviour well) to 3 (usually demonstrates this behaviour to an exceptional degree).
  4. Calculate the percentage shift in relevant behaviour and relate this to your investment in training.

In this way, different cohorts of participants, designs of workshops or training providers can be compared. By prioritising your investment in those that give you the greatest behavioural shifts you can eliminate 50% of the training, which might otherwise have been wasted!

Excel Evaluate is an online tool that empowers organisations to easily and cost-effectively measure the behavioural impact of their internal training or the expert training provided by the Excel Communications group of companies - visit

Nic Hallett is managing director of Excel Communications 

In association with Excel Communications

18th April 2016

From: Sales, Marketing



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