In my last post (5/15/08), I talked about using evaluation to understand the impact of training and development programs. Now I want to say a few words about using evaluation to increase the impact of these programs. One aspect of this is using evaluation to set expectations for learning and performance improvement. Jody Hollis wrote about this in The Winning Teams Blog:

By placing emphasis on a formal evaluation process, you are sending signals to staff and managers that you are expecting a certain set of behaviours and actions as a result of the intervention, and that you expect to get the desired results. That is a very powerful message, and is a very different one to asking if they enjoyed the learning experience.

Training evaluation increases performance in another way, too. An evaluation process that asks learners to recall what they have learned and how they have applied that learning helps to sustain learning and application over time. If there is no follow-up, there is unlikely to be sustained learning and application. It’s like learning to play the piano. Teachers don’t require piano recitals because they enjoy listening to the awful sound of beginners; they require recitals because that motivates learners to practice and because the feedback from a recital improves performance. That is, the evaluative comments from the teacher and others help to improve piano playing skills and retain that learning. It’s the same for workplace learning. It doesn’t need to be a “recital” (although requiring a formal presentation to a panel of executives is not a bad idea in some cases), but it is critical that there is some kind of systematic follow-up that requires the learner to recall what was learned and explain how that learning has or has not been applied.

I have interviewed many managers who, several months after their participation in a leadership development program, told me about having intended to apply the new skills, that they have not done so yet, but that my questions reminded them of how they can immediately use that ability in their work. In effect, following up with these managers, reinforces learning and increases the likelihood that they will use that learning in their jobs. Not doing follow-up interviews would have “left money on the table.” I am convinced that evaluation is an essential tool for maximizing the impact of learning interventions.