Evaluating Training Effectiveness: Are Your Staff Development Programs Providing Value?

Kimberly Glenn - Director ·

Training and staff development are investments, but how can we be sure we are getting the most out of the time and money we spend on training? According to the Harvard Business Review, last year the average employee received about $1,000 in training (source). For a 500-person company, that ends up being half a million dollars! With that type of investment, It’s important to be sure the training programs are truly effective. So, how can you measure effectiveness?

In 1959, Don Kirkpatrick created the Kirkpatrick Model for training evaluation (source). This framework has been invaluable in successfully implementing training programs, even in today’s business world. Consisting of four evaluation levels, this model allows us to explore the impact of training and ultimately design training to maximize effectiveness.


The extent to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and reinforcement

Did you get the outcome you wanted?


The extent to which participants apply what they learned in training to their job

Are they using what they learned on the job?


The extent to which participants acquired the intended knowledge, skills, and attitudes from a training

Did they learn something new or can they do something new?


The extent to which participants react favorably to the learning event

Did they like the event?

Kirkpatrick intended for these levels to show the business value and worth of training. The mistake often made is thinking about these evaluation levels AFTER a training event has occurred. Most often, organizations evaluate levels 1 and 2 and just expect application and subsequent outcomes to follow. This rarely happens on its own. There is strong correlation between levels 1 and 2 (also strong correlations between levels 3 and 4) but there is no significant correlation between levels 2 and 3!

According to Sandy Almedia, MD, MPH, “Excellent training does not lead to significant transfer of learning to behavior, and subsequent results, without a good deal of deliberate and consistent reinforcement.

So what does this mean?

It means we need to think about each of these levels PRIOR to training delivery. In fact, we need to think about them before we even design a training. It is often impossible to create training value without planning for it on the front end. Here are a few things that help those of us in the training world develop and deliver effective training:

1) Begin with the end in mind

What are the desired results? What behavior is needed to achieve those results? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are needed to elicit the desired behavior? How do we design a training that helps people learn AND is enjoyable?

2) Determine ROE (Return on Expectations)

What are the stakeholders’ expectations? Clarifying these on the front-end is critical to ensure you can design a training that provides value.

3) Don’t just focus on the event

Where the breakdown in follow-through to levels 3 and 4 occurs is after the event. In your design phase, how are you going to ensure participants are applying what they learned? Is it post-training coaching? Follow-up group sessions? What role should the organization play in supporting the transfer of knowledge? According to Josh Bersin and Associates (2008), 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% in pre-training events, and only 10% in training events. How can we flip our design model to get truly impactful results?

Rethinking Training Design to Maximize Value

If you want to ensure your training investment brings value, rethink where you spend your time and money in staff development. More and more often, we see successful organizations moving to a model where a minimum of 40% of training dollars are spent on post-event activities that support and reinforce the behaviors needed to achieve the desired outcomes.

Don’t be afraid to:

  • propose something new
  • walk away from cookie cutter trainings
  • pursue customized training and coaching services
  • ensure that desired outcomes specific to your organization’s needs are outlined

Get the FREE Training Needs Analysis Guide

Conducting a training needs analysis is a critical step in developing a training program- it helps you truly understand the development needs of your staff. Download this guide now to maximize the impact of your training efforts!