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Evaluating Training Through Stories

Participants rated the management training program 4.3 on a five-point scale. Sixty percent said that they have applied the training to their work. What do we know about effectiveness of the program? Not much.

We cannot determine from this data if the management training program made a difference for the organization. If it didn't make a difference, there is little reason to continue to offer the program to managers in the same form. Unless we’re talking about a training company, training is a means to an end, not an end in itself. This is how Maggie Bayless, head of training at Zingerman’s, a “Small Giant” company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, describes this link between training and business results. She is quoted In an interview for a local magazine:

"We call it ‘bottom line training,’ Bayless explains, “because we know that the purpose of Zingerman’s businesses isn’t to train staff. For The University of Michigan, one of their bottom lines is education; that’s why they exist. But Zingerman’s wasn’t launched with the idea of creating an organization where we train staff. Zingerman’s was created to be an organization where people delivered a great experience, with great food and great service. To do that, we need to train staff effectively.”

 “So in order for it to make sense to do training,” Bayless explains, “it has to improve food quality, improve service quality, or improve financial results. Those are our three bottom lines; that’s why we’re here. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

So, if the purpose of training is to achieve bottom-line results, then we should measure how and to what extent the program does that and what the organization needs to do to improve results in the future. A “smile sheet”, or even a follow-up survey, is not going to give you this information. We must tell the employee's story. That is, we must create a narrative that clearly explains the causal links between what people learned in the training program, how they applied that learning, and what the effect was on business results. In addition, the story should describe what the organization did and did not do to facilitate learning and results (e.g., providing an opportunity to apply newly learned leadership skills).

David Zinger describes the power of stories in his blog post, "Employee Engagement Stories: Altering Our Personal GPS." He writes:

Stories are the building blocks of understanding. We understand the world through story. Story is not just something we read in a book or see in a movie. Story is how we make sense of ourselves, situations, and others. Stories function as fundamental building blocks of understanding and also as a social GPS. Stories are the conclusions, judgments, hypothesis and assumptions about what we see and hear. Stories are the way we communicate with ourselves.

It’s like evaluating a summer car vacation by counting the miles driven, gas used, days on the CarWindow
road, and money spent. All nice to know, but it’s the experiences along the way, anticipated and unanticipated, that make the trip meaningful and memorable.  


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