In today’s blogosphere you can find groups dedicated to and discussing just about any subject. As a case in point, there are several electronic discussion groups dedicated purely to conversations about the state of the art in professional sales training. As a member in good standing in that very industry, I sometimes scroll through the various discussions just to see which topics generate the most heated arguments.
Recently one of the discussions concerned how to ensure and measure the effectiveness of training.
Being a rather simple guy, I was surprised at the wide range of opinions. People talked about management buy-in, cultural alignment, training insertion programs (sounds painful), and even 12-step follow-up programs! Much of it, to my eyes, seemed to be either self-promotion programs or interesting but useless forms of advanced navel gazing. That can happen, of course, when you put too many experts in one room – even a virtual room.
To me, the success of any training program can and should be gauged by two very simple questions:
1. Did the program result in the desired behavior changes in the trainees? After all, you didn’t incur all of the expenses associated with training just to see the same behaviors on the back side of the program that you had before the training.
2. Assuming that the answer to the first question is, “yes”, then did those behavior changes have the desired impact in the operations of the organization? Assuming that we are talking about sales training, did the cost of sales go down and the revenue from sales go up? If not, then perhaps you chose the wrong behaviors to change!
There are many paths to ensuring positive answers to both of those questions. In some cases, a simple seminar or workshop may be all that is needed to put the organization in a position to see positive behavior changes with a correspondingly positive revenue impact. But for many organizations, a little more effort is required both before and after the training event. There is an old joke about the number of psychiatrists necessary to change a light bulb. The answer, of course, is that it takes only one, but only if the light bulb really wants to change. The same is true of training – it doesn’t take much training to see positive behavior change, but only if the organization really wants to change. In this case, the level of desire can be judged by the level of commitment; from management, from participants, and from the actual and perceived leaders of the organization.
Regardless of the approach, there is one thing that is indisputable about all training: Providing or requiring training for the simple purpose of fulfilling a training requirement is useless. Participants soon learn that the training is required, but change is not. Organizations that really desire change do not measure training by number of days or amount of money spent. They measure it by behavior change.