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A purposeful approach to training: making learning stick

The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model of learning is a way to evaluate whether training has been effective. It is an old model, but it has stood the test of time because it perfectly encapsulates the impact that learning can have on an organisation’s goals. The model can be used for formal and informal training. It throws up some interesting insights into what training is. In this article, we set out why organisations need to stop thinking about training and start thinking about behavioural change.

The problem with training is that it doesn’t stick

Learning & Development can bring a range of benefits to organisations. At an individual level it helps employees deliver what they need and helps them to advance their careers. At an organisational level it can deliver increased employee engagment, more client satisfaction, and improve culture.

The skills that professions need as they move up through organisations are also different from those which they learnt in academic settings; communication, leadership, and teamwork skills in particular are often key to successful relationships inside and outside firms. They are rarely given the prominence they deserve.  In our recent study, we found over half of legal firms found that developing soft skills was a challenge.

A recent Harvard Business Magazine article demonstrated the lack of impact of much corporate training. In the US, it was found that only 10% of the $200 billion spent every year on corporate training and development was found to deliver real results.

Why? This was attributed in part to the difficulty of translating what was learnt to the workplace. Other factors included the fact that the learning was expected to happen in the learner’s own time and minimum follow-up from the trainer post-learning.

The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model

The traditional evaluation model provides four levels of evaluation.  Whilst not mentioned in the aforementioned study, in does shine a light on the same challenge: stickablity.

The first level measures the reaction of the learner. Are they happy with what they learnt? Where they engaged in the learning? Was the content relevant? This is where most corporate training evaluation starts and ends. It does provide data on what went well, but it fails to connect what was learnt with how it will be used.

The next level looks for learning. This goes deeper and requires measurement before and after the training programme. Here the focus is on whether the participants have acquired the knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence and commitment that the programme was focused on. 

Level three is behaviour. This is where learners have not only acquired new knowledge and skill, they are also using it on the job. This can be assessed in a number of ways, one of which might be by getting 360 information from colleagues.

The final level is outcome – whether the programme has delivered results for the organisation. Lots of providers will claim that they hit this level. However, whether this is ever truly measured is a matter for discussion. The statistics above, suggest that most providers fall short.

The New World Kirkpatrick Model

The traditional four step model is often discussed, however, there is an updated model that does a lot of what we argue for, and really challenges providers and sponsoring organisations to dig deep when it comes to learning.

The new model contains the same four levels. However, the new model does two really important things.

1.       It starts with the end in mind

Kirkpatrick espouses that level 4 is the most misunderstood of the levels. The results that they speak of should really hit at the why of the organisation. They encourage organisations start by asking: “what is it we are here to achieve”. Learning should help deliver that objective in some way.

Given the long-term nature of the ultimate end-goal, they encourage measurement of leading indicators (shorter term measures that can support the longer term objective), things such as such as customer satisfaction or employee engagement.

They suggest that this should be the starting point – why? In challenging markets, those responsible for training need to be able to show that spending on learning delivers bottom-line results.

2.       It has a bigger focus on level 3 – behaviour

The Kirkpatrick model has always recognised that for learning to deliver organisational results there needs to be a change in behaviour. What is learnt needs to connect with the day-job. We have already shown that this is where most training falls short.

In the new model there is therefore, rightly, more of a focus on this level. The model explores the critical behaviours which, “if performed consistently on the job, will have the biggest impact on the desired results.” These behaviours need to be supported by the organisation, through reward, reinforcement and monitoring. Coaching is described as one of the ways this can be achieved. This requires effort, but, the key thing here is that without it, the organisation won’t see the desired outcomes it strives for.

Organizations that reinforce the knowledge and skills learned during training with accountability and support systems can expect as much as 85% application on the job. Conversely, companies that rely primarily on training events alone to create good job performance achieve around a 15% success rate (Brinkerhoff, 2006). 

What does it really take for behavioural change?

As coaches a large part of what we do focuses on behavioural change. Certainly where business development, relationship skills, or leadership are concerned, we see this is a key element of making learning stick.

For behaviours to change the individual needs to be able to reflect on what they have learnt and navigate the things that might be getting in the way of applying changes day-to-day. Often this is linked to confidence in their ability to do the required behaviour. Sometimes, what gets in the way is a lack of importance shown by the organisation for them to make the change. 

Training budgets should deliver results. Sadly, with one-and-done training still so prevalent, the longer-term results are too far out of reach. We combine training (to impart the skills) and coaching (to build confidence). This requires time. However, the time also demonstrates something else - it shows the participants that the journey is important.

At Client Talk, all our training has coaching at it’s heart. Even our team building activities are designed to have long-term impact. If you want to find out how to get more return on investment from your programmes, book a free consultation to see how we can support you.



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