Ask many firms about the biggest thing holding their business back and the majority are likely to talk about attracting and nurturing the right skills. Today, companies are engaged in a battle for talent. This not only means recruiting the best people but developing those they already have and keeping them learning and growing.

Howard Schultz, CEO and Chairman of Starbucks has said, “People think we are a great marketing company, but in fact we spend very little money on marketing and more money on training our people”. And it’s this investment in training that has helped propel it to global success. This is just one example amongst countless others which illustrate why training is a ‘win win’ for both employee and company.

Training means employees have the opportunity to acquire new skills, learn techniques that help them become more productive and address their skills gaps. It will hopefully enable them to become more confident in their jobs which in turn can be motivational and help them achieve even bigger things. Likewise, for the company it should help increase productivity and enable them to nurture and develop staff. Trained, happier staff tend to be more engaged, and feel more valued. Ultimately a combination of these factors over time should lead to better output and higher profits.

Is training actually working?
But how do you know if training is working? All too often gathering feedback on how successful a training session was involves handing out a ‘tick box’ paper form at the end of it (typically just before the sandwiches are due to come out or it’s home time). Trainees will often have other things on their mind by this time and might be keen to hit the roads to beat the traffic or catch up on that email from their boss that they might have missed during the session – a feedback form could therefore be filled in in a superficial or incomplete way. This also presumes that these forms are a) actually read and b) any feedback is acted on. More often than not paper forms simply gather dust.

But this is to understate an even bigger point: employee training should be an iterative process which evolves. The mantra – train, evaluate, adapt, train, evaluate, adapt – is useful here. This is why employees should never be made to wait until after the training is complete. This is even more true than when it’s part of a course or a series of modules as it will definitely be too late to fix if any issues are not addressed early on in the session. 

Cutting across different generations
Different generations can react in different ways to training. Millennial employees’ expectations have been shaped by the instant gratification of the modern era of same day delivery services, social media likes and digital downloads. Feedback needs to be fast, continuous and frictionless — and to flow in both directions. Older generations often see feedback in a different way – loaded with the connotation of confrontation. They want to know how they’re doing, and they want to share their opinions, but they need a mechanism for them to do it which won’t be overwhelming.

Yet, regardless of age or outlook the best way to improve the feedback experience is to give and collect feedback all the time. It’s better to do this in in smaller amounts and through less formal interactions. It means creating a cultural shift in the organisation so instead of it becoming an event that has to be scheduled, it becomes more part of a process and dialogue that’s always ongoing.

How to measure training effectiveness
Great training should be actionable and help employees do their jobs better. To understand its effectiveness, businesses should look at four key performance indicators:

  1. Trainee feedback – trainees have to feel it prepares (or could prepare them) for real life experience. If it doesn’t it’s important to know quickly so it can be adjusted or discontinued.
  2. Learning performance – how do employees perform in their jobs after they’ve had the training? It might be that either the targets or the actual training itself need adjustment.
  3. Behavioural changes – it’s all very well learning the theory but behavioural change is what happens when this gets put into practice. Failure to do this could indicate a motivational issue (provided point number 1 is not an issue or has been fixed).
  4. Ultimate business outcomes – the real test. If organisational objectives are still not being met despite a lot of training then maybe one should look at how employee training programs align with the strategic objectives of the organisation as a whole. Training is useless if it doesn’t produce desirable outcomes.

These measurements don’t only tell you whether your employee training is a success or a failure. They also tell you where and how to follow up with the trainees.

Getting employee buy in
When collecting feedback more visibly, it’s quite natural for employees to wonder why someone might be taking such an interest in their training. However when it becomes clear that there is a wider strategy behind it, it becomes much easier to get employee buy in. Having answers to the following will help:

Nurturing the skills needed to perform
In a highly competitive workplace skills are vital and the pace of change in business continues to accelerate. It means that none of us, (whatever level we are at) has all the skills we need to perform our role. Every one of us can be nurtured and developed and it’s important to embrace that fact. Training is the only way we can get the skills we need. But it has to work for both employee and employer and capturing feedback on and ongoing basis is the only way we can measure if it is effective or not and aligned to what all parties actually need.

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