Common training evaluation pitfalls and how to overcome them

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Written by Martin-Christian Kent on 11 June 2014

There a number of issues that occur time and time again when conducting evaluations. When you first announce that an evaluation is going to take place, there is likely to be some resistance to the idea for a number of reasons. Many people will assume that is a reflection on their personal performance, while others will consider it a waste of time and believe that is going to cause them more stress than it’s worth.

It’s important to address these issues head-on, otherwise the process is likely to be a struggle from start to finish, and you are unlikely to get accurate and reliable data. First, identify who your stakeholders are and speak to them about why the evaluation is taking place. You should present it as a learning process to help improve training, and consult staff throughout the process to ensure they know their ideas are being taken on board.

Your stakeholders need to be aware of the potential benefits of an evaluation and that the overall aim is to save money and time. Explain that you are simply giving structure and context to data that is already collected within the organisation, so there shouldn’t be a dramatic increase in their workload.

It’s important to identify an ‘evaluation champion’ who can answer anyone’s concerns or queries throughout the process.

In particular, you may face issues with staff who need to provide you with information for the evaluation that you don’t have access to directly. Make sure they know that you have the authority to access the data, why you need it and when you need it by. This will help to get their buy in and will make them accountable for any delays.

Resistance within the organisation can lead to low response rates on questionnaires that are sent out to staff as part of the evaluation. There are a number of tips available online to help increase questionnaire response rates, but I have highlighted those relevant to evaluations below:

  • If you are expecting a 100% response rate, make this very clear to participants at the start by explaining what the survey is for and why it is being sent to them.
  • Make managers aware of the questionnaire – they can chase their team members directly.
  • Reassure participants about the anonymity of their responses – sometimes it is necessary to have an identifier so you can chase up those who don’t respond. You may need to assign each respondent an identifying number.
  • Put the survey online and ensure staff members have the time and resources to complete it during working hours – it is very easy to lose track of paper surveys and analysing them can be time consuming.
  • Think about the time of day you are sending the survey out – when are staff likely to have time to complete it? On their lunch break? First thing in the morning?
  • Most importantly, make the survey easy to use, understandable and concise!

Depending on its size, an evaluation can be a lot of work for one person to complete. Sharing responsibility and accountability across team members can help to reduce the pressure and the likelihood of delays. Joining a support network (there are several on LinkedIn) can also provide reassurance when you are unsure of how to proceed during an evaluation.

Plan early and thoroughly, making sure everyone is aware of what they are responsible for and that you have an agreed method to check that everything is on track. There are bound to be unforeseen elements as you move through the process; make sure you adapt to these changes and don’t try to stick too rigidly to a plan.

If you are looking at a large training programme, consider evaluating a sample rather than all participants. There are numerous resources online that can advise on the number of participants needed for a statistically significant sample. Remember to take into account the demographics of the sample group so that it is representative of the whole group.

Finally, be wary when using proxy values to calculate the benefit to your organisation, as they can reduce the credibility of an evaluation. If they are necessary, ensure they are thoroughly considered and that you can justify the method by which they were generated.


About the author
Martin-Christian Kent is research and policy director at People 1st. He can be contacted via

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