Identify Your Purpose
Many leadership teams have grown so accustomed to hearing the broad proclamation "we need training!", they no longer ask the most important question - why? Training is not a cure all or a feel-good salve for the restless employee soul. The only kind of training that produces a return on investment always begins with the end in mind.
To help identify your purpose for training, consider these diagnostic questions:
What are the performance symptoms/ailments that generated this need for training?
Is there really a skill gap or do people know what to do, are capable of doing it, but just aren't being held accountable?
What are the soft costs associated with these performance challenges? (morale, innovation, customer satisfaction, etc.)
What kind of training have you done in the past that was successful? Not successful?
Are you looking for participants to leave with awareness and knowledge or new skills and a specific change in their behavior?
What specific performance outcomes do you want to see as a result of this training?
What post-training reinforcement will you use to secure the ROI of this initiative?
What value will the participants walk away with as a result of this training (from their perspective)?
The role of your internal/external training provider should be to act as your sounding board, helping you dig deep with these questions and isolate the true purpose for your training investment. The only (and really the easiest) way to calculate financial return is to determine at the beginning what the training is intended to accomplish. The next step is to determine the how.
Identify Your Means and Measurement
A program designed to create just awareness should not have measures tied to behaviors. Just as a program designed to change behavior should not stop at measuring the participant experience only (end of class evaluation sheets).
Take for instance a 2-hour harassment awareness class for managers. If the training were designed to increase awareness through the transfer of knowledge then a fair measure of the training would be a knowledge survey, both before and after the course. This would create a baseline of each participant's knowledge - before the "awareness" and after.
If it were identified that 40% of all claims were due to ignorance, the training would be worth the out-of-pocket costs associated with those claims.
The next step is very important. How much is an increase in knowledge worth? If the reason for the training were compliance, how much would it cost the company to be out of compliance? If the reason were to reduce the number of harassment claims, the company would need to identify how many of the prior claims were the result of a lack of knowledge on the offender's part.
Measures (like numbers of claims, types of claims, locations of claims) would need to be collected prior to the training (at least 6 months), and after the training (at least 6 months) to verify the desired outcome: a reduction in the number of harassment claims due to ignorance.
In another example, if the purpose of a training program were to increase a skill set, say for example service level, and a company delivered a half-day service excellence class, it would be unrealistic to expect the elimination of most customer complaints.
A half-day program would not be nearly sufficient to generate enough skill building to result in a change in behavior. The desired return on investment must match the means the company is willing to provide to achieve it.
That doesn't mean that a big financial training investment (quantity) always means a large performance return (quality).
Pre-training planning, selection of the right training partner, customization for the corporate culture, alignment to company goals, and post-training reinforcement are all quality indicators of training that produces ROI.
Too often, a training program is constrained by time, budget or support - all of which impacts the quality of the training and saps the real potential of its ROI.
It is this type of calculation - improper means used to accomplish unrealistic objectives - that creates the impression that training is a waste of money. You would never expect to walk away with bigger biceps and toned abs after an appointment with your hair stylist.