Beyond the ‘happy sheet’

It’s the end of the financial year and your CEO corners you in the lift and asks: ‘How’s that £2 million training programme going? What impact has it had on our productivity?’ Would you be able to answer?

UK businesses invest significant sums of money in training and development every year – investment that should be objectively reviewed to calculate a return and evaluate its impact. However, the CIPD’s Learning & Development Report 2015 illustrated that the evaluation of training and development initiatives is far from widespread in the UK.

According to the CIPD, one in seven organisations surveyed undertake no form of training and development evaluation at all. Whilst over a third of organisations reported limiting their evaluation to measuring the satisfaction of employees taking part in the activity – what is often referred to as the ‘happy sheet’.

What’s wrong with the ‘happy sheet’?

When organisations rely on what delegates report immediately following training, they miss out on a rich source of data and evidence. Typically, delegates are asked to complete a short survey about their experience of the training, how useful they found it and what observations they have about factors like training venue, facilitator and materials.

This kind of information gives you a snapshot of what the training experience was like, shortly after the training is completed. But what does this tell you about how much delegates learnt, remembered or applied in practice? Very little, if anything.

It is useful information to gather, but represents just one piece of the evaluation puzzle. Let’s look at this another way: are you investing in training and development activities to raise employee satisfaction with training? Is that really your key metric? Probably not. You should be measuring outcomes at a more detailed level, focusing on the factors that are important to you, your delegates and your organisation.

Reliance on the ‘happy sheet’ is superficial at best. It doesn’t tell you how much the training is working, for which employees and in what way.

So, what should organisations do?

While not a new concept in itself, evidence-based practice in the workplace has grown in popularity in recent years. It involves focusing on the evidence behind interventions (e.g. training and development), evaluating this evidence and using the outputs of evaluation to inform decisions. Evidence-based practice means we don’t have to rely on blind faith or gut feel. Or ‘happy sheets’.

Adopting an evidence-based approach means we rely less on what has always been, instead questioning assumptions, seeking evidence, weighing up data and making decisions with the intention to review outcomes and learn from our experience. And learning from experience makes the evaluation an ongoing process, not something that’s only done once.

Evidence can take many forms, including scientific data, stakeholders’ perspectives and your own professional experience. Combining multiple sources of data and evidence will give you a more rounded picture of any organisational challenge and prevent you from making decisions based on a single data point.

Fundamentally, evidence-based practice gives organisations increased clarity on what works, for whom and in what way.

How we can help

We’ve developed an evaluation framework and a set of resources and events to help you adopt this approach in your organisation – as well as field those difficult questions from your CEO.

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