Assessing the impact of training through employee behavior

It is important to evaluate training's impact to determine  its effectiveness.

When organizations devote significant time and resources to employee training, it is important to realize and measure their return on investment. Like any organizational expenditure, the benefits need to be able to justify the resources used. However, it can sometimes be difficult to gain an accurate understanding of the impact of the training.

In my career, I have found that a standardized process for understanding training's impact should be used so that both trainers and leadership can better understand its effect. I have adopted Donald Kirkpatrick's model for evaluating training, specifically his Level 3 process. Kirkpatrick is a former president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and a recognized thought leader in his field. 

Kirkpatrick's evaluation model consists of four distinct levels: reaction (the degree to which participants liked or disliked the training), learning (the degree to which participants gained the intended knowledge, skills, or attitudes), behavior (the degree to which participants apply their learnings on the job) and results (the degree to which goals are achieved). 

So, how does your organization leverage level 3 of Kirkpatrick's model? This is a long-term process that takes place weeks or even months after the initial training. It is ideal to wait long enough for employees  to transfer the training they received into their normal workflows. The amount of time you should wait varies depending on the nature of the training, and the ease in which employees can integrate their new knowledge. 

The overarching questions you should seek to answer during your assessment include:

  • To what extent were new knowledge and skills applied in the workplace?
  • What noticeable changes have taken place in the employee behavior?
  • What environmental factors might have impacted the application of training?
  • What helped promote the transfer of learning, and what hindered it?
  • Was the change in performance and new level of knowledge or skills sustained?

The work environment can have a major effect on the transfer or training. If your organizational culture does not effectively accommodate behavior changes, the trainees might not be able to apply what they've learned. Trainees also need support and recognition from their superiors to move away from old behaviors. 

To gain an understanding of training's effect on employees, questionnaires can be given to training participants and/or their managers once the appropriate amount of time has passed. Interviews can also be an effective means of gaining insight, as well as observation and informal talks with trainees. If resources allow, these evaluations can be conducted more than once, for example at three and six months, to gain a better understanding of training's impact. 

To help make evaluation at level 3 easier, consider HR consulting. Trained HR professionals have the experience necessary to quickly identify the barriers to the transfer or training, and can help more accurately gauge its impact on team members.