Are your employees telling you what they really think of your corporate training initiatives? Probably not. Because you’re not asking the right questions, and they aren’t comfortable telling you the “hard truth.”
How do you determine the success of a corporate training initiative? Most organizations survey participants shortly after a course is completed. And training leaders typically listen for the “buzz” or ask participants for their perspectives immediately following a workshop. But that initial positive feedback may not truly represent the effectiveness of the training.
If your goal is simply to validate all the time and resources you have invested in a training initiative, then a quick feedback survey following the workshop will certainly serve your purpose. But if you are trying to objectively determine the degree to which the training had a positive business impact, you may need to take a closer look.
Are you asking the right questions? Are you asking them at the right time? Are people comfortable telling you the “hard truth?”
The Right Time
Asking participants to complete a survey immediately following a training program can certainly give you an accurate assessment of their attitude and enthusiasm, or lack thereof.
But you are much more likely to get an accurate assessment of business impact if you wait for three weeks. And then conduct an additional follow-up survey three to six months later.
This intuitively makes sense to most people, since we know that some workshops are a lot like cotton candy; they taste really good for a brief moment, but are quickly gone. So why don’t more organizations conduct their surveys a few weeks after the workshop? Because they know it will be much harder to get the surveys completed weeks later, when the initial enthusiasm and engagement surrounding the program has faded.
Think about that for a moment. We survey participants immediately following workshops because that is when they are engaged. We don’t want to delay the survey because lack of engagement will make it harder to get the surveys completed. But the lack of engagement is EXACTLY what we should be measuring!
If participants in a workshop learn practical skills they can apply on the job regularly, and after the program they begin using their new competency on a regular basis, then if they were surveyed weeks or months later, their level of engagement should still be strong, maybe even stronger than when they first completed the training – because they have been applying the skills regularly.
So while there is no harm in conducting a survey immediately following a workshop, you are going to get much more meaningful information from a survey conducted several weeks later, with an additional follow-up conducted three to six month later.
The Right Questions
The questions you ask to determine the success of a training initiative should spring from the business objectives of that training. This may seem obvious, but many training initiatives do not have a clearly articulated business objective. Here are some examples of questions that are based upon specific business goals for a training program:
- To what degree did the training have a positive impact on your workplace productivity?
- What specific skills, habits or attitudes have changed as a result of the training?
- Does your manager actively support and reinforce the training you received?
- Do your coworkers actively support and reinforce the training you received?
- Was this training a productive use of your time? If not, why not?
- Would you recommend this training to others? If so, who would benefit most?
- What value did the instructor/facilitator add to the program?
Of course you may still want to ask the standard questions about program logistics and support materials. If people aren’t happy with meals or snacks, of course you want to know about that. If they prefer chocolate CHUNK cookies instead of chocolate CHIP cookies, that is good information to have. But it is not going to help you determine the business impact of the training.
Is It Safe?
If you are trying to objectively assess the business impact of a training program, you need to know what participants REALLY think of it, and what elements of the program participants are REALLY applying in the workplace. But you are only going to be able to determine this if they REALLY feel safe providing you with the “hard truth.”
Some business leaders work actively to foster a corporate culture of frank dialogue and authentic communication, but most do not. And many employees will tell you (if they were comfortable being honest) that they are always a bit suspicious of “anonymous” surveys and they wonder if anyone will be able to trace their comments back to them. Even if the survey really is anonymous, those concerns will have an impact on the validity and accuracy of the feedback provided. Especially if employees know what the “right” answer is; meaning they know what the business leaders want to hear – so what is the point of rocking the boat? Just give them what they want.
How can you tell if your employees feel “safe” enough to provide honest critical feedback? Well, the first thing you should notice is, are you getting ANY honest critical feedback right now? If you aren’t getting any, then either a) you are perfect, or b) they aren’t comfortable, or c) you aren’t asking.
In a challenging business environment, the Training function is being asked to justify every expenditure. Travel budgets are being restricted. Time is an increasingly scarce commodity. So it is more critical than ever that we be able to accurately and objectively assess the impact to every training event and activity.
You can also read our article “12 Strategies for high-Impact Corporate Training” for additional ideas and practical solutions for improving the accuracy and usefulness of your employee feedback surveys, as well as best practices to drive training which has a genuine positive impact on the business.