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

Quantitative Return? Qualitative Benefits? The Pendulum Swings ...

seek both quantitative and qualitative "returns" on training

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

There has been (and still is, today) a lot of corporate training conducted based on confidence that benefits will follow, but without spelling those benefits out all that clearly. It starts with employee orientation: most companies believe that some knowledge of the history of the organization, and an overview of the entire company, will help employees contribute more to the company's success. Even though it can be difficult to objectively measure that benefit, few organizations doubt that kind of basic training is worthwhile.

On the other hand, partly in reaction to the "trust me, training is good for you" approach, we now hear a lot about "Return On Investment" in training activities. In some organizations, the only meaningful outcomes are those that are tied to numbers.

Even in these cases, of course, everyone may believe there are unmeasured benefits. If "respectful workplace" training, and education around sexual harassment and ethical issues, leads to a low number of grievances and legal actions, that's a quantifiable benefit. But most of us would think that the general work environment is also enhanced by strong training in those areas, making for a more productive and satisfying workplace.

There's no reason to take an "either-or" approach here. Often the best training produces a combination of quantifiable and qualitative benefits, and both types of benefits should be highly valued.

After all, practically speaking, the benefits of some training become harder to detect, the more effective it is. If your plant has a lot of safety issues, good training can address that, and the results are easily measurable. But once you reach and maintain a zero accident rate, you will probably attribute that great safety record to the training, but there is, in a sense, nothing to measure. The only way to quantify the impact of training would be to have a control group, stopping the training to see if they have accidents again! No one wants to do that.

And then there are "quality of work life" issues. Suppose you conduct training to tackle that bane of corporate life, meetings. Too much time is spent in meetings, they are disorganized, and let's say -- at least within a particular department or region -- they are often confrontational. The managers in that unit end up holding a lot of meetings basically to referee conflicts, mediate between competing goals, and so on.

Tackling the training with, say, new and better processes that address the underlying conflicts can reduce the number of meetings called, and the clock time spent in those meetings. That's quite measurable.

But what is the value of the reduced stress for the managers who were playing referee? What if they spend less time outside of meetings thinking about these conflicts; if they look forward to working with their subordinates more, because it isn't always going to turn into a fight; if their job satisfaction, to put it simply, rises as the unproductive and unpleasant meetings decrease?

Surely delivering those benefits to highly paid management staff is of value to the company, even if it is much harder to quantify. You may not be able to assign a number to these results, but you can assess the outcomes. Simply identify these possible benefits before training, and ask the managers, in this case, how they feel after the training takes effect.

Some trainers are reluctant to get "boxed in" by quantitative objectives, and others have a hard time taking the assessment of qualitative benefits seriously. The wisest trainers, however, are not afraid to have explicit discussions with their internal clients about goals for both quantitative and qualitative indicators of training effectiveness.

© 2012 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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