Assuring Training Quality
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Training should be considered to be no different to any other business process - and as such it should be subject to the same rigorous quality controls as any other critical process. As more organizations outsource the delivery of their training, assuring training quality is assuming a higher profile and importance.
Many businesses talk about being 'world class' without really knowing what it means - apart from being the best in the world, which brings us back to where we started and does not really tell us how we are going to achieve it.
For me, being 'world class' is simply doing the basics - and doing them right. This might seem very easy - but how many organisations do you see getting the basics consistently right?
The elements of 'world-class training' are:
- a quality training process,
- certified courses,
- certified instructors.
This article describes an audit process that was designed to assure the quality of training suppliers by making sure that the basics were done consistently well. The audit is used to:
- clarify standards of training development, administration, delivery and evaluation,
- assess the standards currently provided by suppliers,
- facilitate supplier development,
- examine the relationship between the business and its suppliers,
- examine the training process in terms of determining training needs, learning transfer and evaluation.
The process described here can be used for internal as well as external suppliers.
Minimum standards of performance
The performance of training suppliers is assessed in six areas:
- business relationship,
- communication and administration,
- course development,
- course materials,
- course delivery,
- training evaluation.
The minimum standards shown here are only given as examples and should be modified to suit the circumstances in your own business.
- The supplier should raise invoices two weeks before the start of the course.
- The customer will settle payment within 30 days.
Cancellation and substitution
- The customer can replace any delegate with a substitute at any time without charge.
- Cancellation within four weeks of the start of the course incurs a 25 per cent charge.
- Cancellation within two weeks incurs a 50 per cent charge.
- Cancellation within one week incurs a 100 per cent charge.
- Pricing and discount structures are subject to negotiation.
- The supplier will allow the customer to preview and evaluate training materials before purchase.
- Additional expenses such as travel, subsistence and accommodation costs are to be agreed with the customer before the event.
Communication and administration
Enquiry handling by supplier
- The supplier should be contactable during normal working hours.
- Voicemail should be available at other times.
- Specialist enquiries should be answered by the appropriate consultant within 24 hours.
Course and service information
- Course and information brochures should be revised regularly and distributed to the business units.
- 'Training directory' entry should be revised annually.
- These include details and map of the venue, the course timetable, the learning objectives and any pre-course reading.
- Joining instructions reach the delegate at least two weeks before the course starts.
- New courses should be developed using a recognized course development process.
- Courses should have precise, behavioural learning objectives.
- Progress checks should be included in the course design to ensure that the learning objectives are being met.
- Existing courses should be continuously developed in a manner which reflects the changing business need.
- Courses should be tailored to the local need.
Case studies and syndicate exercises
- Case studies and syndicate exercises should have clearly recognizable learning outcomes in line with the objectives of the course.
- They should reflect current company policies and initiatives where relevant
Training manuals and handouts
- A course manual is to be provided to the delegates for each course.
- The style and format of the manual should be appropriate for the learning objectives.
- The content of the manual should faithfully reflect the content of the course.
- Delegates should be able to use the manual as a post-course reference document.
- The overall impression of the manual should be one of neatness and clarity.
- The manual should reflect current company policies and initiatives where relevant.
- Overhead projection slides should be clear and legible, and avoid information overload.
- They should be appropriate to the size of room.
- Diagrams should be used wherever possible
Ensure that each individual obtains the maximum possible learning from the course by:
- motivating and coaching people in a way that facilitates learning,
- identifying and supporting those participants experiencing difficulty in learning,
- recognizing and adapting the course to the needs of the group,
- displaying a sympathetic and caring attitude.
Provide opportunities for participants to:
- learn from each other,
- demonstrate their learning,
- relate their learning to the work place.
Suppliers will be expected to work with their clients to evaluate the contribution of the training to individual, organisational and business performance.
- A written end-of-course review form should be completed by each participant.
- The design of the form and the questions asked should be specific to the learning objectives.
Post-course transfer of learning
- A continuous sampling process, including phone surveys, questionnaires and interviews, should be introduced to assess the transfer of learning to the work place.
- The size of the sample should reflect the amount of investment involved. For courses in excess of four days or where there has been a significant financial investment, a sample size of 25 per cent would be appropriate. For the remaining programmes, a sample size of 10 per cent would be more realistic.
Training audit process
Although this audit process (Figure 1) was designed to ensure the quality of training we receive from outsourced suppliers, it can easily be adapted to assess internal training suppliers.
As you get into the detail of the audit you will come to realise, as we did, that this audit is as much about assessing your own training process as about auditing your suppliers. The reason for this is that suppliers can only provide you with world-class training if your needs analysis and post-course follow-up are also world class.
In addition it is important to understand that the purpose of the audit is to develop your suppliers and your relationship with them. It isn't about finding reasons for dumping your current suppliers and finding new ones. Constantly changing suppliers can only lead to an unstable training process.
However, the process does allow for parting company with a supplier if the supplier, despite being given every chance and encouragement, still fails to meet your stringent standards.
Select course to be audited
The full audit is a long process so you will need to be selective about which courses you audit. The following are criteria which would increase a course's priority for audit:
- a new course,
- an important course that has not previously been audited,
- a course that is part of a company-wide initiative, e.g. 'Finance Training Framework',
- a course that has given cause for concern.
Advise supplier of intention to carry out audit
The supplier should be advised of the intention to carry out the audit and a suitable date for the audit should be chosen.
Ensure supplier is aware of standards and process
If the supplier is not aware of the audit standards and processes, arrange a meeting with the supplier to explain the approach. A copy of the process and standards should be given to the supplier.
Select parts of course to be observed
The supplier should provide the assessor with a copy of the course agenda and objectives so that a decision can be made on which parts of the course should be observed. Normally, short courses (one to two days) are observed in their entirety. Longer courses would require a minimum sampling of two days.
The supplier should send the assessor a copy of the pre-work at the same time as it is sent to the students.
Carry out course and trainer observation
The course is observed by keeping a log of comments and the trainer is observed against a number of attributes. The 'trainer observation form' (see Figure 2) has a 1-5 rating check box and a comments section for each of the attributes. The ratings are defined as follows:
- Not acceptable
- Master performer
The target rating is 4 or 5 for each of the criteria. The performance of your assessors should be moderated by having new assessors observing the same course as an experienced assessor until rating consistency is achieved.
While you are observing the course, take the opportunity to interview the students on their impressions of the course.
Give trainer immediate feedback
Give the trainer feedback at appropriate points throughout the course and summarise the feedback at the end of the course. Feedback is most effective if it is as close to the behaviour as possible. The written report should contain no surprises.
Interview the supplier using a supplier questionnaire as a guide, similar to the one shown in Figure 3. The purpose of these questions is to determine the quality of the supplier's training process and to ascertain whether the supplier has met the standards for:
- business relationship,
- communication and administration,
- course development,
- training delivery,
- training evaluation.
Review validation sheets
Review validation sheets to see what additional insights can be derived from the students' perception of the course. A guide to interpreting validation sheets is given in Chapter 10 of Managing the Training Process.
Interview students from previous courses
The purpose of this step is to check the effect of the course three or more months after the student has left the course. Use a student follow-up questionnaire, similar to the one shown in Figure 4, as the basis of a structured interview. The questionnaire can also be sent out to graduates of the course to obtain a larger sample.
Interview sponsoring manager(s)
The students' attendance on a course will have been sponsored by their immediate managers. Interview a sample of managers to see whether they have observed an improvement in performance as a result of course attendance. Also interview the organization's training manager to gain additional data on the effectiveness of the course.
Structure the report around the supplier standards and provide copies of questionnaires and observation forms.
Discuss report with supplier
Always meet the supplier to discuss the report and to communicate your recommendations. Sending the report without a meeting or an explanation is not as effective and it misses an opportunity to strengthen the customer-supplier relationship.
Supplier responds to report
Ask the supplier to make a written response to the report which will include their reaction to the observations and their plans for improving their performance.
If the initial audit was satisfactory, it may not be necessary to carry out a complete re-audit, but it will be necessary to assure yourself that your recommendations and the supplier's action plans have been carried out.
The audit will have to be repeated in its entirety if the initial audit was unsatisfactory. The supplier will be given every chance and assistance to reach the required standards, but you will have to look for alternative sources of supply if the second audit is unsatisfactory.
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