It is hard to hit a target without knowing what the target is. By the same token, it is difficult to provide successful training without developing a measurable set of desired training outcomes.
Yet it happens, says Peter J. James, executive director professional training, Johnson & Wales University. His office provides professional training solutions to organizations from the university's North Miami, Fla., campus.
James says his training organization typically gets called by a company when a standard of work is not being met. However, when asked specifically about the specific standard it aims to meet, the company or organization is frequently unable to articulate that desired standard.
"Sometimes the challenge is that the managers do not know exactly what those [desired] outcomes are or have trouble putting the outcomes into words," he says. "Identifying a substandard performance is one thing; specifically identifying what that performance should be is another."
In many instances, identifying the desired outcome is the initial step to improved training outcomes. However, James provides one caveat: Training -- and engagement -- will not work if the problem is systemic, even if the imperative is strong. For example, James says he has seen instances in which staff cutbacks have so stressed workers that companies were "lucky" to get minimum compliance by the remaining employees, much less engagement.
Absent a systemic issue, James provides the following suggestions to improving training outcomes:
Identify the desired performance. Specifically describe the performance in a measurable way so that metrics can be put in place to let management know whether the training was effective.
Make sure employees are knowledgeable of the company's mission, vision, values and goals. "Once employees feel that they are an appreciated, important and a valuable part of the company, they are more likely to be engaged and eager to learn ways to become more effective," he suggests.
Focus the training on a few key outcomes. Train to those outcomes and recognize that the training may need to be delivered in different ways.
Select the appropriate people for training. Provide clear direction about why they are attending training as well as the expected performance outcomes. James says it is important that the objectives are reviewed and reiterated "so that the employees leave the training not only with a high mastery and confidence but with an enthusiasm to apply the technology."
Plan for re-entry into the workplace. That means create an environment for success, such as a coaching program and helpful job aids, for example.
Maintain an open dialogue with the employees. Provide feedback on their performance but also listen to challenges they may be having.
Measure the performance using appropriate evaluation. If an employee isn't performing as needed, identify why that is happening and provide what the employee needs to meet the desired standard.