Training Impact — Is It About Isolating the Effect of Training?

“Isolating the impact of training programs is nearly impossible, as well as counterproductive.”

Training impact can be measured and linked to training ROI.That statement was a true/false item in a quiz presented by the Kirkpatrick Partners. Yep, those Kirkpatricks, the ones responsible for Kirkpatrick’s Model.

Of respondents, 73% marked this statement as false. However, Kirkpatrick Partners and the other 27% of respondents say this statement is true.

I disagree with the 27%, but part of my disagreement is about semantics.

Training Impact Isolation Is Not the Point

If you read the current research on training analytics, you will often hear the experts say that training should be linked to metrics such as customer satisfaction or revenue generated. These are very high-level metrics. For years, the experts in training measurement have tried to connect training results to these types of metrics. They have tried using complicated mathematical methods to isolate training impact from all of the other things that influence the metric. The goal of isolation was to determine what part training played in any changes to the metric. Unfortunately, this thinking is misguided and impractical for the business environment. No one has the time, money, or even the desire to hire everyone who would be needed to accurately isolate all of the influences to these high-level metrics and make that measurement.

More important, no other function in business attempts to show value in this way. The more practical solution is to determine the metric that can be directly influenced by a training program. Instead of trying to connect training to strategic metrics (which are influenced by several things), choose the operational metric that can be directly influenced by behavior change.

If you consider that training is designed to impact knowledge, skills, or attitudes, then the only reasonable conclusion would be to determine the metric that can be influenced by changes in these areas.

Training and Business Are Partners

In defense of their answer, the Kirkpatrick Partners go on to say that there should be a direct link between training programs and the organization’s key initiatives. I agree with that statement. Training and business are partners. We must work together to find the right metrics to measure and to create training the moves the business forward. Again, I believe this link is the only way to determine the right metric, and therefore, the only way to determine the training impact.

They also say that, “Training and the business ideally will begin to share roles and responsibilities for post-training accountability. Managers will be on board with what was learned during training so that they can provide a supportive environment in which training participants can apply those learnings.” This statement also agrees with the eParamus and ROI By Design methodology. It’s the partnership between business and training functions that opens the door for determining training ROI.

David Vance of Chief Learning Officer magazine, also takes issues with the Kirkpatrick Partners. He asks, and I echo the question, “Why do we have to choose between the two? Why can’t we do both? I believe an upfront discussion with the goal owner on the planned isolated impact of learning will lead to an even stronger partnership and better plans for reinforcement.”

Measuring Training Impact Is Both Possible and Desirable

We need to stop seeing measurement of training impact as an impossibility. It is quite possible. We also need to stop viewing training impact in terms of “isolation.” We cannot and should not try to isolate training impact away from every other force that can impact metrics. We should collaborate with our business partners to identify the operational metrics that show the actual, direct impact made by behavior change due to training.

We can partner with business and achieve organization goals AND we can measure training impact. These two are not mutually exclusive.

What do you think? Do you think measuring training impact is possible? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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