What is the true measure of training?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2012 in Facilities Management, Leadership, Training | 1 comment

Why do we send people to training? What should we expect from a training program? Considering the amount of money spent for training, we should expect results – but what are those results specifically?

When I’ve asked these questions of others, I’ve received answers such as knowledge, skills, certification, qualifications and the like. But the true measure of training isn’t the increased knowledge, new skill sets, or additional certifications (though these may be indicators that training has been successful). The true measure of training is in fact determined by measuring how much behavior has changed. Training is used to serve another function as well, the validation of current skills and knowledge. While validation is one of the most used functions of training programs, there are still other, more effective methods to determine this. We’ll examine that a little later.

When I send a technician to train on the latest techniques of rebuilding a compressor, I expect that they will return being able to do something they couldn’t do before, e.g., rebuild a compressor using new processes or methods. This new behavior can be measured and observed. If you want to measure how effective your training programs are, you need to observe and measure changes in behavior.

It doesn’t matter what kind of training you go to – technical, leadership, spiritual, or any other type of training – if there is no measurable behavioral change, real training did not occur. Usually, behavior changes aren’t very dramatic either. You aren’t likely to see wide swings in behavior as you’d expect to see in a movie where Mr. Hyde suddenly becomes Dr. Jekyll. For the most part, behavioral changes will be small and hardly noticeable, like using a gasket scraper instead of a screwdriver when removing gasket material. For leadership training, you may see a new manager now take the time to listen fully to an idea before jumping to conclusions and cutting the person off. The point is that you should be able to observe and measure a behavioral change.

Generally speaking, we humans don’t like rapid change. Though we live in a world of change, as long as it’s at a pace that we find comfortable, we accept it and can cope. This is one of the reasons training can sometimes require time to change an individual’s actual behavior. We tend to rationalize what we’re taught and accept it as a behavior that works in our best interest. If what we’re taught doesn’t meet this criterion, we don’t change. In many circumstances, what we are taught doesn’t “work for us” or we outright ignore it. When evaluating training programs, it’s important to remember that the behaviors we’re taught need to work in our best interest.

Very quickly, let’s examine the training process from a psychological perspective. When a person sees a different behavior for a situation they have personally experienced or reasonably believe they will experience, they evaluate the behavior and its possible outcomes. If the behavior results in potentially favorable outcomes, the behavior is tried. Note that this behavior must be seen as delivering better results than the current behavior, if one exists. If the results are favorable, then the behavior is tried again. This process of trial and evaluation of outcomes continues until the person becomes reasonably sure that favorable outcomes will happen nearly every time.

In summary:

  • Effective training means there is observable and measureable behavior change
  • People live in a world of change, but rapid change makes them uncomfortable
  • New behaviors will only be tried if they provide a favorable outcome
  • New behaviors will only be adopted if they consistently provide favorable outcomes

Since the true measure of training is behavior change, then we need to build processes into our training programs that work with the natural processes of learning. Here are some things to look for in an effective training program:

  • Does the training program provide behavior examples that would appear to be favorable outcomes for the people that you are sending? (Hint: Ask them…both program developers and prospective students.)
  • Does the training program provide behaviors that provide favorable outcomes for the organization? (You might be surprised how much of the training may not really benefit the organization.)
  • Does the training provide practice and follow-up beyond the formal program? Understand that new behaviors need to be tried (sometimes many times) before they will truly be adopted.
  • Does the pace of behavior change align with the prospective student’s change-acceptance rate? (Does the program make the student “drink from a fire hose” or is it paced out with “easy bites” over the year?)
  • Can the change in behavior be observed and measured? If it can’t, then it’s not training.

A word about education: Education is not training. Education is the imparting of knowledge to students that may or may not change their behavior. Education has different goals than behavior changes. I believe that education is great for everyone, and it should be a lifetime process. But don’t confuse training (behavioral change) with education.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that validation of skills and knowledge is one of the other functions training provides. This may be a controversial opinion, but I believe that training should not be used for certification, qualification, or the validation of skills and knowledge. To explain, I view training like construction and validation like commissioning. The two should be separate processes because they have separate goals and objectives. This is not a new idea. Many professions have implemented this same philosophy, e.g., the bar for attorneys, the NRC qualification exams for nuclear plant operators, and boards for certain medical profession specialties. Mechanics must pass refrigerant handling certification by the EPA. Electricians must be licensed in many states. These validation programs are operated by groups other than those that provided the training. If you are truly interested in validating the knowledge and skills of your people, then the validation process needs to be separate and independent of your training program.

Training is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our people. Make sure that it’s training that they can use and apply today. As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions!!

One Comment

  1. You hit the nail on the head. So many times technicians return from Training and nothing in their behavior or methods change in the slightest. Other time try return with a new perspective.

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