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Practical ways to ensure your training investments are effective

One of the things many companies struggle with is ensuring that the training they invest in for their employees is effective. We know from research that having opportunities for development is a key contributor to employee engagement; and with employee engagement levels at an all time low, we need to do everything we can foster it and encourage high performance. But with budgets stretched even tighter these days, it's more important than ever to make sure you're getting a return on your training investments. Here are a few practical tips for making sure your training investments are effective.

Make sure the development activity has a context

So often, what we do in our work doesn't have a context. We have responsibilities and goals, and even competencies that are specific to our role or identified as core to the organization, but we don't understand how any of them contribute to the organization's success.

It's the same with our development activities. Many employees don't really understand how the training they're signed up for relates to their performance or their job. So they go through the motions of taking the training, without really being engaged or accountable for the results.

You can change this scenario by making sure employees have a context for their learning. You should link or tie all assigned training activities to the employee's performance of a specific goal or competency, either to address a performance gap, or to expand their knowledge/skill/experience so they can accomplish their goals. This is even more effective if the employee's goals are linked to higher level organizational goals, so they truly understand how their work contributes to the organization's success.

By making sure employees understand why they are assigned a particular learning activity, how it should impact their performance, and why it's important to the organization, we give them a context and value for their learning, and increase their engagement and commitment to their growth and development.

Consider the employee's learning style

We all learn differently, and have a preferred or dominant learning style. One of the common models breaks out four styles: auditory (learn by hearing), visual (learn by looking), reading/writing-preference (learn by reading and writing), and kinesthetic (learn by doing). But there are many other models that categorize and explain different learning styles.

What's important is to understand how your employee learns best, and then look for training activities that cater to their preferred learning style. Sending a kinesthetic learner to a lecture will likely be less effective than sending them to a hands-on training session, or letting them work side-by-side with a mentor on some practical tasks. Assigning reading materials to an auditory learner will be less effective than giving them a podcast or having them attend a webinar. You may need to do some probing or experimenting to help your employee figure out their preferred learning style, but once you've identified it, do everything you can to cater to it; your organization and your employee will reap the benefits.

Measure the effectiveness of training in terms of improved on-the-job performance

We've traditionally measured the effectiveness of training with pre and post testing. Many organizations also look to "training satisfaction" surveys that ask the employee if they think they'll apply the things they've learned to their job. While these can certainly give us an indication of what an employee has absorbed and retained from training, they don't really tell us if the training has had an impact on their on-the-job performance - and that's really what we're after: improved on-the-job performance.

So what if you looked at and compared performance review ratings before and after training and looked for improvements? If you've tied the employee's development activities to the performance of a specific competency or goal, you should expect to see a correlative improvement in performance review scores. That would be a far better measure of training effectiveness. And ideally, you would look at performance review score improvements not just for one employee, but for all those who took a particular course or training activity.

When it comes right down to it, that's the true measure of the value of your training - did it improve employee performance and in so doing support improved corporate performance.

Read how others have increased the effectiveness of their employee development initiatives

The New England Organ Bank has taken a holistic approach to performance management and employee development. Now they can now more effectively align learning and development programs and measure their impact on performance.

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