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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

What Your Thermostat Tells You About Your Training

understanding evaluations from your participants

While there are many delivery formats for training and communications (and you can see some that I have frequently used here), one of the most common methods for spreading your best business practices is a "seminar" style class or meeting with a group of employees. These sessions stand out from routine communications in that:

  • they typically take people away from their regular functions for half a day or more;
  • they are perceived as non-routine events, out-of-the-ordinary sessions focused on fairly narrow topics; and
  • the leader may collect "evaluations" or "feedback forms" at the end of the session.

Being Psychic, I Predict the Results

If you've collected feedback on a session (half-day or more) from any sizable group of employees or colleagues, you probably discovered that your event faced at least two crucial issues:

  1. temperature
  2. food

If you're new at running these kinds of events, don't be alarmed. Professionals who have a lot of experience with training and communication sessions will tell you that you can usually expect some forceful recommendations about lowering or raising the thermostat.

I know, you were expecting them to tell you insightful things about the information you delivered, the practices you described, the training activities you developed. Instead, they grumped about having to wear a sweater, or suggested that the food wasn't healthy . . . except for the ones who were sweating all day, and the ones who were annoyed that there was only "health food" available -- couldn't you have offered some "normal" stuff?

Does that mean you didn't have an impact?

Not necessarily.

The next time you're looking at a stack of comments that seem to focus on the environment rather than the content, keep these points in mind:

  • Conditions are important. If people are thinking about the temperature, they aren't thinking about your content.
  • That said, it is impossible to get universal agreement. Balance may be more important than unanimous results. If you have about the same number of people grumbling about the cold as you do complaining about the heat, it's just right!
  • An absence of profound comments could mean that it went pretty well. They paid attention to what you said, and you're not getting a lot of resistance.
  • An absence of profound comments could mean that they were just going through the motions. They were required to attend the session, they did, they "got their tickets punched", and that's it. You have to look at how things went, the interaction during the event, to figure out whether "no news is good news", or whether it is bad news.
  • The customer is not always right! They may suggest they needed more handouts, or more content, or less content, or any of a thousand things. Any parent or teacher knows that what people want, and what they need, what is good for them, may overlap, or may not. You have to weigh their reactions against the company's objectives in holding the event.

Keep It Up . . .

There's nothing more helpful in figuring out what your "feedback" means than experience, so keep collecting feedback to build up your own understanding of how people react to your offerings.

. . . But Learn, Don't Just Confirm

Be careful! Experience can also convince you that you're always right, that the participants "just don't get it." You can start to read the evaluations in a way that simply confirms your preconceptions, while you easily dismiss suggestions for change.

Your participants really can help you develop your own best training practices, but you have to have some objectivity, some patience, a relatively thick skin, and a deep desire to do all you can to spread best practices within your company.

Every once in a while, pull together responses from several sessions and look at them with fresh eyes. Look for things that keep coming up, and things that change. If there are changes, try to figure out whether they are related to things you did differently, or to changes in company events or conditions, that is, whether they are related directly to the content and methods of the session, or mainly driven by external factors.

The ultimate evalution is performance on the job after the training, but feedback from participants can sharpen your training practices. Just remember, learning to read that feedback, and to respond to it, is a skill that takes time and experience to develop.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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