Evaluating Evaluation

Friday March 18 saw a full house at The Airlie Leadership Development Centre for training in Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

Toward day’s end one of the participants asked if we were going to distribute feedback/evaluation forms. My response was “Absolutely not, never in a million years.” Of course I then had to explain myself for fear of being seen to be too blase about the whole matter of evaluation.

Over the journey I have lost count of how many workshops, seminars, conferences, training sessions, etc that have had evaluation forms handed out at the death with the most inane and superficial questions one can imagine. (I know I’ve used some myself!) Typically, irrespective of the efficacy of the training most people just want to scribble something quickly and get the hell out and home. Under such circumstances the quality of the response is underwhelming. If the questions asked relate to the nature of the venue or the quality of the lunch, then even more so.

If people are there to train at their own, or the company’s expense then something with a little more grunt is needed. For too long those responsible for sending staff to training have not applied sufficient rigour to the final outcomes of their investment.

As we have conducted this training on so many occasions and had such positive feedback in each instance, it’s easy to start to become complacent about what it is you are actually achieving. Good learning and positive feedback are one thing, but how is it impacting in the real world? What is the return on investment? Are you adding value?

Now of course there are many well thought out and detailed ways to properly evaluate training and many organisations have such systems in place. My preferred model is a much simpler one, and one that ensures both the trainer and trainee are truly held to account for the investments made.

The aspect of training that has always fascinated me most has been the gap (Actually its not a gap, its a chasm) that exists between the training and its embedding into ongoing practice in the workplace. For this reason one of the books I’ve always referred to has been Bob Sutton’s The knowing-doing gap. We actually know what to do in organisations, or we have a fairly good idea but we just don’t do it!

Our way of addressing this gap, which we are experimenting with at the moment with some success, is the incorporation of a work-based assessment component of the programme that ensures that to achieve the final qualification, participants must apply the methods at least twice in a real life situation and report back on the session’s outcomes. The training is simply an important starting point, its where it ultimately leads that matters. It is our belief that it is only practical outcomes that result from workplace application that provide something tangible for those who need to assess the efficacy of training programmes.

If a trainee is compelled to complete a task at least twice in the real world, there is a far greater probability that they will then go on and repeat it a third and fourth time, particularly if the methods are sound and results are achieved. If trainees can report on tangible business outcomes it makes the Learning & Development’s function far easier come the time for budget cuts when short term thinking ensures that L&D is the first thing to go. Like most of my colleagues I have always thought that the L&D and Org Dev functions were essential and not discretionary, but try and tell the bureaucrats and pen pushers that!

So we need to start to focus on three key areas:

1) The participants must be change the way they feel about, or positively perceive what you have to offer so that a willingness to practically apply it ensues. (The video attached, which many might consider the culmination of a successful session is only a good indicator of key area 1)

2) The second essential area is the actual practical application of the methods in real world situations, and

3) The third is the ability to be able to report on the outcomes of those practical applications, (not the training, not the assessment, but the outcomes of the assessments.)

The embedding into work practice and return on investment are one of the few things that Learning & Development, the pen-pushers and the bureaucrats should be able to agree upon.

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.

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