The last word

Trainer
and writer John Charlton kicks off his new column with a personal view of
‘happy sheets’

What
are the words that training managers most dread to hear? Other than "that
delegate’s an Al Qaeda sleeper", for example, the phrase "I think
it’s time we improved the feedback forms" will certainly be near the top
of the list.

Herculean
labour it may not be, but it certainly is tricky, especially for those of us
who find forms hard enough to fill in, let alone design.

Take
the format: usually it’s a single A4 sheet filled with questions and tick boxes
designed to elicit delegates’ reactions to a training session as accurately as
possible. These are usually seasoned with some open questions to tease some
comment out of the delegates, such as: "how will you apply what you have
learned on the course in your regular job?"

People
tend not to mind ticking boxes, but they don’t like answering open questions.
Answers to the example above, for instance, will often be "in my everyday
work". Really? Are delegates in such a rush that that’s all they can think
of? Sadly, that is often the case.

British
cultural norms also dictate that it’s rude to criticise someone to their face,
unless much alcohol has been  consumed,
or they are wearing a Manchester United tie. So comments about trainers,
especially if they are collecting the completed forms, tend to be biased
towards them.

Even
so, the blandest collection of comments and ratings on a feedback form can
yield clues, and this is where skilful and appropriate form design plays a
part. Give delegates tick-box options, on the quality and content of a course
and the performance of the trainer, that offer several degrees of ‘good’, then
you should be able to spot causes for concern.

If
there are three ‘goods’ – ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ and ‘good’ – but only one
‘fair’ and one ‘poor’, then a majority of ‘goods’ really means ‘OK’. And ‘OK’
isn’t good enough.

I
raised my ‘happy sheet’ concerns at a recent gathering of training managers. To
a woman, they decried feedback forms as ‘rubbish’ and ‘a waste of time’. And
afterwards, like obedient sheep, we filled in our feedback forms. I didn’t
bother with the open questions though.

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