A principle (often incorrectly attributed to the physicist Heisenberg) in social sciences research is that the observation of something changes the thing being observed. Whether we are conducting a survey, a focus group, a group discussion, individual interviews, or simply participating in an event, the subjects of our studies are affected by the way we interact with them. When investigating the behavior of people (in the workplace or otherwise), there is no such thing as an objective study.

This is also true in the evaluation of performance interventions. That is, the measurement of learning and results in the workplace changes the learner. When I ask a manager who has recently participated in a leadership training program, “What have you applied and how have you applied it?”, she goes through an internal process of recalling the workshop, what she learned while she was there, what she has done with that learning in the weeks and months since the event, what were her successes and what does she still want to accomplish with her new learning. She might even renew her vows to improve something about herself or her team.

If I were doing a controlled experiment for research purposes, I would be concerned about this confounding variable. However, when measuring the impact of performance interventions, particularly leadership and management training, the fact that the person being observed (surveyed, interviewed, or watched) is affected in some way by me, I believe, is a positive by-product of the study. In fact, I assume that when I ask people questions about their training experience, I am stimulating their memory recall and maybe even motivating them to achieve more success with their new knowledge and skills. If inquiry post-training can reinforce learning and stimulate application of this learning, I’m all for it. After all, isn’t that the goal…to improve performance?

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