The five foundational principles of Training Evaluation

Our Project Manager Jen Wijono explains why evaluation is so crucial to a training program and the top five principles that should underpin any evaluation piece.

Knowing-Doing Gap

In life, we all know the things that we should do, like flossing our teeth or eating well and getting enough sleep. Yet, what we know in our heads often doesn’t translate in our actions or we only do half-heartedly. Similarly, evaluation is something every learning and development professional knows to be important and yet still is often done as an afterthought, tacked onto the end of a training program.

Instead, the evaluation of a program should really be more like what a dashboard is to a car. When you are driving, your dashboard is of very little use if you have already reached your destination; rather it’s meant to be a gauge throughout your drive to ensure that you are at the right speed or have enough fuel to reach your destination. Likewise, training evaluation needs to be a constant process throughout an initiative so that you can design and deliver programs that are fit for purpose and will translate into changed behaviours and ultimately, business outcomes.

Why does it matter…?

The McKinsey Quarterly survey, 2010 shows:

  • 90% of its respondents indicated that building capabilities was a top 10 priority for their organisations.
  • Only 25% indicated that their programs were effective in improving performance measurably.
  • Only 8% track the programs’ return on investment.


The numbers above show us the reality of the knowing-doing gap in evaluating our training programs well. If we cannot measurably show the impact of our training, then how can we know what we have delivered is effective? How will we account to our stakeholders that it was a worthwhile investment and that training and building capabilities has a vital role to play in reaching business outcomes?

Below are five key principles from the collective wisdom of many learning professionals that have gone before us, particularly the work of Donald Kirkpatrick and his associates whose work is the framework by which we base our evaluation approach on here at IECL. These principles need to underpin how we think about evaluation if we are to begin on the path of creating and demonstrating the value of training.

1. The end is the beginning.

We need to know where we are going before we start driving. You are not able to evaluate effectively if you have not defined your measures of success on the front end of a program, not at the end.

2. Return on Expectations (ROE) is the ultimate indicator of value.

We need to be clear on what success looks like in the eyes of your stakeholders. The value of a program will be demonstrated through what degree it satisfies their expectations. It is important therefore, to involve your stakeholders in the initial conversations in defining the purpose and goals of a program.

3. Business partnerships is necessary to bring about positive ROE.

There are many contributors to training success – your stakeholders must understand that their cooperation is critical not only at the point of defining measures of success but throughout the learning and transfer of learning process. Hence, it is vital that we set this expectation upfront before we begin. This also means that commitment is required beyond the training event from participants, trainers, managers to ensure new learnings and skills are implemented. Training cannot live in a vacuum – it is guaranteed that few participants will make any lasting changes without a supportive environment from their leaders and organisation.

4. Evaluation as a guide for decision-making.

As well as demonstrating value and impact, the data that comes from evaluation should be used as a guide for how you make decisions, especially in light of continuous program improvement. Remember, it is your dashboard to guide and help you keep on track to your destination.

5. A compelling chain of evidence shows your bottom line value.

At the end of the day, it’s not about finding the ultimate measure of success but rather it is the accumulation of different measures together that creates a compelling evidence of impact.

In the coming months, I will continue to explore the ways in which IECL’s Partnership Approach paves the way for a program’s success, in particular, the ‘Discover’ and ‘Debrief’ stage. These are milestone points in the life cycle of a program that will allow us to have a deeper dive into the principles above. Stay tuned!   

As Project Manager, Jen Wijono provides highly efficient service and sound management of large-scale projects, and is committed to partnering with her clients to support their goals to better their people and workplace.