Dear Jo: Corporate Training Program Evaluation Should Be a “Habit”

Dear Jo: Corporate Training Program Evaluation Should Be a “Habit”
Summary: Program evaluation for corporate training—so often it’s postponed, swept under the rug, becomes mired in discussions, line-item budget vetoed, or skipped altogether. Why is this? Consultant and former learning organization leader Jo Coulson answers a reader’s question and reflects on her own and her colleagues’ experiences to uncover this deep mystery of corporate training. With her insight, you can make program evaluation a habit in your learning organization.

Corporate Training Insights from an Industry Veteran: How Your Learning Organization Can Do a Better Job at Program Evaluation

Dear Jo,

How Can We Improve Evaluation?

My learning organization wants to do a better job at evaluating the impact of our offerings, but there always seem to be so many barriers. What do you suggest?

Dear Jeff,

Begin with the End in Mind.

For many years I’ve wondered why learning organizations don’t do a better job with training program evaluation, if they do it at all. To answer Jeff’s question, I reflected on my own experience as a learning leader, and I reached out to colleagues and friends to hear their experiences as well.

Their responses mirrored many of my own quandaries when leading learning organizations and as an external consultant. What should I evaluate? What if the outcome is bad? Where do I begin? Let’s take a closer look at some of these oh-so-common questions and concerns about program evaluation within corporate training that emerged in my conversations.

I don’t understand what to evaluate or how.

The most widely known model is Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation. Some also follow the Phillips model, which adds a fifth level—ROI. Both models are easy to understand, but it does take some expertise to implement and really make them effective.

I’m not sure what to do with the results. 

The primary purpose of a program evaluation strategy is to provide relevant information for continuous improvement of your corporate training program. It will also help with planning and resource issues and, hopefully, it helps tell a great success story.

What if the results are not good?

Other than budget, this, I believe, is the unspoken real reason we don’t perform program evaluations: we are afraid of the results. But the reality is that management will often assign their own evaluation of your programs without empirical data. You will be in a far better position if you have data to demonstrate effectiveness or data that leads to improvements, and ultimately you will do a better job.

It’s time consuming and we don’t have the resources.

Probably the most common reason we do not evaluate results of corporate training is the lack of time or resources. It does take time. I would argue that it is well worth the effort, however, and, if it is well-designed, it will actually save your learning organization time and budget because your programs become more effective.

I’m not sure where to begin.
This is the concern that caught my attention, and I want to spend a little more time on it. If this applies to you, read on!

Corporate Training Program Evaluation: “Begin with the End in Mind”

Fans of the late Steven Covey will recognize this as Habit #2 from his classic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Written in 1989, with more than 15 million copies sold, it is still considered a classic.

Over the years, countless individuals have taken Covey’s work and created their own interpretations and a variety of applications of this principle. My own interpretation is this: Focus on the desired outcome—“Begin with the End...”—and the path becomes clear.

It’s why, as a SweetRush consultant, I coach our corporate training clients to be as clear as possible on the desired outcome. What is the business problem they are trying to solve? What behaviors are they trying to change? What are the potential enablers and barriers to success? How will you know you’ve been successful?

It’s also why I coach our clients in learning organizations to begin with a program evaluation strategy that will help answer these questions. This approach will allow you to:

  • Keep the project focused on the goals and priorities.
  • Determine if there are barriers to success that need to be addressed.
  • Determine and call out if there is a need for additional interventions or activities, such as change management, management support, incentives, or resources.
  • Determine what relevant data or measurements exist or need to be created.

The primary purpose and methods of a program evaluation strategy remain the same: evaluate at several levels to provide evidence of impact of the training and provide relevant data for continuous improvement of the curriculum.

Attention Learning Organizations! What Is Different Is When to Begin

Often we think of creating the program evaluation strategy after the courses have been created. We are then left scrambling to find appropriate baseline data and measurement tools. We discover potential barriers for success that should have been addressed and incorporated into the solution; or worse, that our courses have completely gone off track. Stephen Covey had it right: begin with the end in mind.

Has this discussion triggered thoughts or additional questions for you about program evaluation or related topics? What concerns (or successes!) have you experienced in your learning organization? Share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.


Do you have a question for Dear Jo? Write to us at [email protected]!

Learn more about Jo Coulson and read her blog at

eBook Release: SweetRush
Our job is to help you achieve your objectives and be successful. Engage us at any point, from analysis to custom development (including e-learning, mobile, gamification, and ILT) to evaluation.