Saturday, March 7, 2009

Measuring the "Success" of Training

by W.D. Cravenor, M.I.M.

During the last twenty years of my experience in training, the following overarching and underpinning truths have made themselves abundantly clear:

The relative success of any training program is predicated initially upon the quality of the recruitment paradigm. Despite what others may say to the contrary, the caliber of candidates for any training program does matter in terms of the likelihood of producing desired outcomes within a statistical comfort zone as necessary to justify the ongoing investment in future training.

The conveyance of knowledge is not tantamount to the application of knowledge, i.e., wisdom. While most training programs are excellent sources of knowledge, few adequately build a bridge to cross the river into application. As a result the 80/20 rule applies to virtually every form of endeavor.

The vast majority of governments and businesses predicate the “quality” of training as a derivative of employee retention. In other words, the fallacy states that as employees become more tenured they also become more productive, due to their assumed proper application of knowledge. This is blatantly false. After all, even a parrot can spout back knowledge without a modicum of understanding. This is why most PhD’s couldn’t get a job making coffee at Starbucks if their collective lives depended on it. People generally do best for others what they do least for themselves, as in the do vs. teach conundrum.

Training is part of a continuum, being boxed on either side by recruitment and retention. Many HR professionals mistakenly seek to segregate these three functions as discrete organizational elements. My view is that these functions are interrelated and integrated much like an assembly line. Excellent recruitment practices tend to develop more satisfied and goal (if not career) oriented new hires. Candidates for a training program that have a stakeholder position related to career development are more likely to blossom with training and become consistent, productive members of their respective organizations. This outcome tends to be the case regardless of the quality of training. Training will facilitate the development process but not dictate it.

The determination of exactly what constitutes a “successful training program” varies depending upon the stakeholder. Statistically, it is very difficult to adequately isolate the “training effect” and thereby factor out all other extraneous elements as related to management proficiencies, candidate considerations such as attitude, outside influences (for good or ill) and changes in market or economic conditions. While there are many models and protocols that claim accuracy with regard to effectively assessing the success of both long & short training programs, the plain truth is that it is almost impossible to do so.

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