Feedback has always been a vital part of doing business. Companies have long relied on customers sharing hard truths with them about their products, prices, and quality of service.
However, the role of feedback has grown hugely. Today’s business leaders are increasingly tuned into the opportunities of internal feedback. That is, finding out what their workforces think about who they work for, the issues faced in their jobs, their aspirations, and their training.
Indeed, employee feedback after—and during—training has quickly become a critical component in learning and development (L&D) programs. But why? Where does it fit in these programs, and how should it be used to achieve the best results?
Why is L&D so important?
To understand why L&D feedback is so important, it’s worth looking at why employee training itself is so important.
According to SkyQuest, the worldwide corporate training market was worth nearly $152 billion in 2021. Moreover, it predicted the market would grow by an 8% CAGR between now and 2030, reaching over $487 billion.
What does this tell us? Well, right around the globe, enterprises of all shapes and sizes are investing more than ever before in employee training. All these companies clearly believe in the value of L&D.
Indeed, the business world believes in training so much that, in 2021 alone, companies across the world spent an average of $1,071 on training each employee (see chart below).
As the corporate realm becomes ever more competitive, and getting workers up to speed with digital innovations and Industry 4.0 becomes ever more crucial, businesses are ever more willing to invest in their workforces.
Is a digital solutions company, for instance, any stronger than its HR employee who can’t get to grips with its payroll systems? Or the marketing department who can’t generate the right leads? Maybe not. If so, that’s all the more reason for its workforce to be as well-trained as possible.
Why is feedback so critical to training?
So, having established the importance of training, let’s turn back to the fundamental role feedback plays in effective L&D programs.
The fact of the matter is that feedback is so important because it helps leaders determine the value of their employee training and, ultimately, therefore, its ROI.
How so? Well, take a cloud based contact centre. When new staff are employed here or when existing staff must be brought up to speed with a newly introduced AI contact solution to improve efficiency and output, training needs to take place.
Then, following this training, the contact center’s leaders not only study work output and customer satisfaction but also understand how well-suited the training has been for the workforce—by getting feedback from staff.
That way, they can fully analyze and determine the efficacy of L&D. That means either during L&D programs when they can be tweaked along the way or—more often—when a program has concluded and before it’s rolled out again.
The latter point is important. That’s because post-training feedback gleans information from employees both before the roll-out of L&D and then after its roll-out, typically in the form of a comprehensive feedback report.
Measuring employee engagement pre- and post-training can give leaders significant insight into its true value. That is, how supported, empowered, and motivated employees feel without training and then later after they’ve received training.
Training evaluation frameworks
So much for the theory, but how do you decide exactly where feedback fits into an L&D program? And how should it be used to help evaluate the training?
Well, the answers to these questions depend on the training program in place. And of critical importance here is which evaluation framework/ model has been adopted.
Such a framework should aid companies in their efforts to recognize where L&D is effective and efficient and where it’s not—and in whatever field employees require training. Anything from, say, contact centre systems to hospitality operations to implementing broadband Internet connections.
The following are three of the most widely recognized training models:
Kirkpatrick Model of Training Evaluation
Designed by Donald Kirkpatrick in the 1950s, this was the long-time go-to L&D evaluation framework.
Renowned as a solid and reliable model, not least for its statistical robustness, it comprises four levels, each of which focuses on a different area of evaluation and is generally judged by specific criteria:
- Level 1 (Reaction): What do trainees feel about the L&D program? Are they satisfied with the training they’ve received?
At this level, feedback is sought, collected, and collated via surveys, questionnaires, and group sessions to discover and assess trainees’ engagement and satisfaction with their L&D instructors, the content, and its delivery.
- Level 2 (Learning): How much knowledge and how many skills have trainees absorbed during the training program?
Here, the issue is whether participants have risen to meet the program’s objectives and achieved what was asked of them. Trainees are tested through the likes of skill demonstrations, assessments, and quizzes.
- Level 3 (Behavior): How well do trainees put what they’ve learned into practice? Can they apply their newly gained knowledge and skills effectively in the workplace?
These questions are addressed by looking at employees’ on-the-job competence, specifically via performance observations and evaluations, self-assessment, and supervisor feedback.
- Level 4 (Results): The final—and most important—level is concerned with measuring whether the training program has successfully impacted the overall company.
It checks if the program has achieved concrete gains; has productivity and service been boosted, do customers feel like they’ve benefitted, and have costs decreased?
Assessing how well KPIs are hit and poring over the data should discover whether the L&D program truly has led to organizational success.
Although evaluators are supposed to progress through this model sequentially, level-by-level, this rarely occurs. Unfortunately, constraints in resources tend to prevent it from being possible.
Kaufman’s Five Levels of Evaluation
As an alternative to Kirkpatrick’s model, Roger Kaufman developed this comprehensive framework in the 1980s. It’s made up of five levels:
- Input: Addresses training resource quality
- Process: Looks at learning process efficacy for trainees and trainers
- Individual: Focuses on the impact on trainees; how has the training improved their knowledge and skills? Did they engage with the training?
- Small group: How has the training affected small departments/ teams?
- Organization: Does the L&D improve the entire organization’s productivity and bottom line?
Phillips ROI Model
The Phillips ROI model is designed to evaluate whether a training program meets the demands of a business’s bottom line.
It is a five-tiered tool whose first three tiers rely on employee feedback. Nowadays, it receives some push-back for its relative simplicity, yet it remains a valuable baseline:
- Reaction: How satisfied are employees with the training they’ve received?
- Learning: What knowledge and skills have employees received from the program?
- Application: Measures trainees’ grasp of knowledge and skills learned from training
- Impact: What effect on the bottom line has the training had?
- Return on investment: What ROI has the training program delivered?
How to gather feedback
Whether a business leader chooses to follow one of the above evaluation models or chooses to deploy a different training program of their own design is entirely up to them, of course.
Yet, the prevalence of feedback-gathering in all three of the above frameworks only underlines the invaluable role of feedback in training. Frankly, without it, successful L&D isn’t possible.
However, the effectiveness of feedback depends on how well it’s gathered. So, how best to go about it?
Well, in general, the best bet is to opt for an approach that will deliver the most valuable insights.
That means the likes of pre- and post-training testing of participants, including the roll-out of self-assessments, surveys, interviews, or remote group discussions (possibly involving lively discussions and even online screen sharing).
When done right, analyzing the results derived from these various activities can provide expert-level insights into how effective an L&D program has been for everyone involved, not least a business’s bottom line.
Leverage an LMS
Additionally, a senior leader might look to enhance feedback-gathering by investing in a learning management system (LMS).
Today’s most advanced LMS solutions can collate, make sense of, and draw critical conclusions from all feedback details.
An LMS can operate as a depository for data on trainees’ workplace knowledge, abilities, skills, motivation, and attitude, both before and following an L&D program.
The varied, specific information recovered before training can be gathered, collated, categorized, and stored in an LMS, ready to be referred back to when similar details from post-training assessments are recovered and uploaded to the LMS.
Acting as a central store of data, then, the pre-training data can be quickly summoned and used as a baseline for measuring the efficacy of the training when analyzed and compared or contrasted with the post-training feedback.
Plus, owing to these data-sorting capabilities, a highly capable learning management system can track pre- and post-L&D data and do the heavy lifting in cost-benefit/ analyses of training programs.
Feedback fuels L&D evaluation
While using an established training framework is standard practice, business leaders should, of course, implement an L&D program that best fits their company and staff. In turn, that applies to the feedback sought from participants for the training evaluation. Considered, detailed, and effective feedback plays a pivotal role in employee training evaluation.
Feedback should be gained both before and after a training program’s completion. Recommended feedback methods include skill demonstrations, in-person/ remote interviews, self-assessments, and group discussions.
With feedback that addresses a program’s strengths and weaknesses (the quality of training and the performance of instructors), you can update and improve a training program and develop a flexible and capable workplace.
This, in turn, improves productivity, eases workforce scheduling, and fosters a culture of learning. All this will better engage employees and positively impact that all-important bottom line.