Are you getting your money’s worth?

Do you know where your budget goes? Are your training projects having an impact on profitability? If you do, then you are in the minority, writes Stephanie Sparrow

In a recent survey from Reed Training, only half of the organisations surveyed had a process for measuring effectiveness, which is just as well, as the same survey found that less than one-fifth believe the role of training is to improve profitability. And indeed, some respondents seemed confused about the purpose of training.

For example, although the majority (48%) felt that training should improve individual performance, the second largest group cited motivation as a key role.

“But if someone is demotivated, sending them on a course isn’t going to help,” says research author, David White. And, as he points out in the study, Investing in Performance, although gaining new knowledge and skills is good for self-esteem and personal growth, unless participants have the opportunity to use these skills, the long-term effect can be one of frustration.

The research also uncovered a varied perception of the benefits of training. Some responses included: “using training to change individual behaviour rather than knowledge” and “as a reward for good performance”. The latter reason, says the research report, may suggest a “shortage of methods for rewarding performance.”

The research report shows that too many organisations solely rely on the appraisal process to reveal training needs. While this is valid, it is likely to emphasise the role of training in filling holes in current individual performance, rather than in identifying the need for the workforce as a whole to be prepared for the future.

There is also a mismatch of responsibilities. Around 76% of those companies surveyed had their training needs set by line managers, yet just 28% of these managers then evaluate the effectiveness of the programme delivered. “There needs to be a much clearer process for managing and evaluating training which both HR and line managers can buy into,” says the report.


There is no overt business case for courses that raise awareness about equality and diversity, but this has not deterred Matthew Young, project manager at Colchester Borough Council, from working quickly to assess the impact of such work.

The council has been running a one-day course for front-line housing department staff and half-day courses for more back-office focused operations for a year.

An evaluation and review process assessed the impact of the course on delegates. It also ensured that they understood all the relevant legislation and moral issues involved, and that they were able to transfer the learning back to the workplace. Young plans to introduce optional training courses in specific diversity specialisms, such as racial equality.

“We refocused the course to reflect that what people were learning could be applied in the workplace,” he says.

At Warwickshire College, staff training officer Anne-Marie Cawsey has boosted an immediate post-course evaluation with further evaluation a few months later. It looks at areas such as whether people now work differently, and whether they would recommend the course.

“This system is proving valuable,” she says. “We can see the worth of running two methods of evaluation.”


Research author David White sets out his top tips for making training effective and assessing the results:

  • Delegate assessment -Courses should include an assessment of the delegate’s performance to be discussed with their manager
  • Work projects – Where possible, courses should be followed up by specific projects that enable delegates to apply their skills
  • Manager follow-up – HR departments should ensure that managers meet with all staff following a course to review their action plans, and coach further improvement
  • Measurable outcomes – HR departments should link training to business objectives and measure that they’ve been achieved.

Proving return on investment (ROI) is a constant challenge for the training and development community, writes Simon Kent

ROI might hold the promise of more respect at board level, but accurate measurement can prove elusive. However, with the CBI putting UK training spend at 23.5bn per year, it seems foolish to let this money go without any thought to the results.

According to Kate Charlton, a researcher at Ashridge Business School, measuring ROI is particularly difficult among senior managers.

“The problem with measuring ROI at an executive level is that 99% of initiatives are about changing behaviour,” she says. “Human behaviour is influenced by many different things. It would be incredibly arrogant for a business school to say: ‘Give us your people for two weeks, and we’ll transform them’.”

Ashridge is currently researching ROI on behalf of the International University Consortium for Executive Education. The research is aimed at identifying what organisations mean when they talk about ROI. One chief executive has already told Charlton that calculating ROI on executive training is a waste of time.

“If you’ve chosen the right strategy and engaged the right partner to see the training through, then why wouldn’t there be a return on your investment?” she was told.

“There is a tendency to assume that ROI is purely a financial issue,” says Andrew Spencer, head of training and development at the Institute of Directors. “That isn’t the case. With executive development, you have to be clear about what the motivation for that development is before you start.”

Robert Terry of ASK Europe plc, believes the bull should be taken by the horns – development initiatives must be seen to deliver.

“All other business functions give output-related information,” he says. “How quickly are goods delivered, how many units have been sold, and so on. When it comes to training, we say how many participants took part and whether they were happy – it’s always an input-related value.”

ASK has adopted a new approach to executive intervention which takes participants from the identification of desired behavioural change all the way through to the collection of evidence that those changes have occurred. Central to this is an e-mail system created by the US-based Fort Hill Company, which monitors performance in the weeks following a training intervention.

The system, known as Elephant, sends an e-mail to participants every two weeks asking them to record the progress they have made towards goals identified during the course. Each participant must respond, detailing their experiences at work and what they have done. This contact is continued for 13 weeks after the event has taken place.

In the US, the practice of regular e-mails to participants has been used to prove ROI.

Peter Gaarn, global programme manager in executive development at Hewlett-Packard, carried out an electronic survey of participants of their Dynamic Leadership Programme, which was delivered to more than 8,000 managers across 20 countries in 2002. Three months after the programme, participants were asked how often they used the information from the programme, and to describe where this knowledge had benefited the company.

The reported hours saved were then converted into dollars using figures relating to the cost of staff. ROI was then calculated by using the median value of these incidents multiplied by the frequency with which incidents were reported, and the full cost of the Dynamic Leadership Programme was deducted from the total. The results from the first year put ROI at 15 times the cost of the programme.

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