Saturday, 31 January 2009

Evaluation of learning

I caught the latest of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares on Channel 4 last night: a “Great British Nightmare”, it seemed like a couple of extreme examples of the genre, including an exposé of a restaurant in Sheffield run by a former recruitment consultant. You could tell the proprietor had picked up some evaluation tips from the world of HR.

He proudly showed Gordon some customer response cards, where his diners had rated the food as “excellent”, the service as “excellent”, and said they would be happy to come back again. Gordon’s retort is unrepeatable, replete with his trademark in-your-face aggression and gratuitously offensive language. But the gist was to point out that the restaurant was losing money hand over fist, so it didn’t really matter what anecdotes were coming from the diners.

This is the sort of mistake learning and development professionals often make, confusing the easy-to-gather and flattering information from what is critical to their organisation. We have our equivalent of the restaurant’s response card for their diners in our “happy sheets” usually distributed at the end of courses, which invariably show how happy the learners are. What they don’t show is the impact the learning has for the business.

My forthcoming book (another shameless plug, and more to follow in February) dedicates a whole chapter to evaluation, and although my focus in the book is e-learning the lessons apply equally to all forms of learning and development. The chapter discusses Kirkpatrick’s four levels, Return on Investment (ROI), Return on Expectations (ROE), Six Sigma, and Total value-add. All of these systems have merit, but I reserve special favour for total value-add because it reaches the parts other evaluation systems don’t reach. More in another post.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Recessionary pressures

They used to say that training was one of the first things a company would cut in a recession. But that was in the days when many companies carried large numbers of trainers on their staff. The old saw may only be true for organisations that still directly employ a lot of trainers.

Still, modern learning and development budget holders are bound to feel under threat in the current climate. So what are the arguments for maintaining spend on learning and development?

Investing in people’s talents is always a good idea, but it’s only an imperative if you can prove it impacts on flexibility, competitiveness and the bottom line. As the recession bites, learning and development professionals need to be able to make these arguments, and prove that learning is vital to their organisation’s current and future prosperity – and perhaps survival.

This may be a time to revisit fundamentals, and ask ourselves what resources we really need to fulfil the priorities in our remits. For example, is a software system that costs the annual equivalent of the salaries of two or three HR professionals really the best use of those funds? It may be time to take a blank sheet, or consider the opportunity cost of services we’ve taken for granted up to now.

At the individual level, I’m grateful to HR Network Scotland magazine for drawing my attention to the Open University’s resources “for workers to outsmart the recession”. We need more ideas like this.