Companies spend an average of $1,202 per employee on training, according to a 2009 report by a leading training-analysis firm, Bersin & Associates. But even in today's tough economy, many companies are still handing out smile sheets to evaluate the value of this investment. And this is happening 40 years after Donald Kirkpatrick first published his classic four-level-model ideas on evaluation. Are training departments scared to evaluate?
"They should be," says Diane Valenti, president and founder of Applied Performance Solutions Inc. (http://www.appliedperformancesolutions.com/). "If you rely on evaluation to prove the value of training, it's too late. Who wants to tell senior management that the company just wasted thousands of dollars on training that didn't work?"
Instead, companies should evaluate whether they need training in the first place.
"The old formula was to invest valuable capital in training and then attempt to prove the ROI after the fact through training evaluation—sometimes using slippery metrics that couldn't accurately be attributed to training," Valenti says. "Companies can no longer afford this kind of guesswork. Instead, they need to prove that training is a worthwhile investment before they spend a single dime."
Valenti says that before investing in training, enterprises should seek answers to four questions:
1) Does the training address an urgent business problem? Any proposed training should be geared toward boosting the bottom line. If not, the training could be "nice to have" but not mission-critical.
2) Is training the right (or the only) solution? Companies must evaluate whether the metrics they want to shift, or the problems they want to solve, are connected to a skill gap. If the problem is a faulty process, for example, then training is not the answer.
3) Is training worth it? It is critical to do a cost-benefit analysis with clear metrics, comparing the anticipated benefit of solving a problem or seizing a business opportunity with the projected cost of the training program.
4) Is there a solid sponsor who agrees that training is a good investment? The final step is to ensure that the C-level sponsor is on board with the answers to questions 1 through 3 and agrees that the training is worthwhile.