by Ann Glumac

So, you find yourself missing a day of work to sit in some boss-mandated (and paid for) training to buff up your skills. How will you know if it was worth it? What should you expect from the training for this investment of your time and the boss’s money?

At a minimum, here are some things to consider when evaluating whether any given training will be a good return on your (and your boss’s) investment:

1. Clearly stated outcomes: At the outset of the session, the trainer should articulate specifically what you will learn. Once the training is completed, you should be able to re-visit the outcomes to determine whether the training met them successfully. Training that isn’t upfront about what you can expect to learn might not be well-designed or well thought out.

2. Relevant outcomes: The objectives of the training should be developed with you and your company in mind. Training priorities should be consistent with and support the culture of your organization and your role in it. A group of insurance adjusters should expect different outcomes than a group of front-line, retail salespeople.

3. Knowledge about you: A good trainer will find out a bit about the participants in the training, their role(s) in the organization and any special concerns or needs they might have. Not only will that allow the trainer to tailor the content to suit the audience – a key to successful communication – it also allows the trainer to develop rapport more quickly. A trainer who doesn’t know a thing about the participants is just going through the motions, delivering the training regardless of who is in the room receiving it.

4. Knowledge about your workplace: While an external trainer can’t know everything about your organization, culture and workplace, a good trainer will take the time to learn as much as possible to ensure the training is a good fit and to incorporate relevant examples, which has the additional benefit of helping participants translate content from the training room to the workplace. A trainer who can’t connect the content to the day-to-day realities of your workplace is missing an opportunity to cement the learning.

5. An engaging trainer: To benefit from the training, you need to be engaged, maybe even excited by it. A good trainer will use a variety of techniques to ensure each participant can find his or her own way to dig into the material – personal reflections, small- and large-group discussions, exercises, lecture, humor, etc. While every trainer will have a different style, effective trainers authentically connect with participants and help the participants connect with the training. If they don’t, you likely could get as much out of reading a textbook or web page – for a much smaller investment.

6. A safe environment in which to learn: Learning new skills as an adult can be intimidating; we don’t want to look foolish, especially in front of colleagues. Creating a safe learning environment means the trainer respects participants’ experiences and perspectives, monitors discussions to ensure they’re constructive and encourages a variety of opinions to be discussed. Beware the trainer who needs to be the smartest person in the room or allows a participant to bully other participants.

7. New and challenging concepts: Good training should stretch you to consider new ways of doing your work or interacting in the workplace. Like a good run or a challenging weight-lifting session, good training should leave your brain feeling exhausted but good, like it’s worked hard and accomplished something. Why spend the boss’s money and your valuable time just to learn the same old, same old?

8. And respect for your perspective: Training offers additional skills and insights that can help you be more successful. You, however, are the best judge of how to put those skills and insights to work in your environment. Good trainers realize that you understand your work reality better than anyone and don’t try to force you to conform to their views. Training isn’t like high school, where the teacher was always right, regardless.

9. A thoughtful agenda: Training should fit comfortably within the time allotted to give participants time to grasp the concepts; trying to cram too many outcomes into too little time means participants might not understand the content or some outcomes will be missed or not fully developed. Conversely, allowing too much time for a topic can lead to boredom.

10. Ongoing applicability: While items one through nine can be assessed immediately after the training (and a good trainer will ask you to evaluate the session and incorporate your comments into future training) the most important evaluation likely will come after the training is over. It will come when you find yourself more enthusiastic or energized at work. It will come when you tackle a common problem in a new way and find a new solution. It will come when you apply what you learned in the training – a day later, a month later, a year later.

Training isn’t cheap; the investment of time and money is significant. Assessing training based on these and other criteria can help ensure that the investment yields a significant return.

What other ways do you evaluate the return on investment for training?