I’ve got the perfect way for you to create your new product!  Come up with a product concept, then spend a few million dollars perfecting the product.  Don’t test the product internally.  And certainly don’t test it in the marketplace.  While you’re at it, don’t collect any data on who is purchasing your product.  And finally, don’t worry about what your customers are saying about your product.

Sound scary?

To me it does.  A much more sound approach would be to develop a product, while getting feedback along the way.  Then sell the product in a small test market.  Next, get some more customer feedback.  Then, tweak the product if necessary.  And, finally open it up to a wider market, get more feedback, and iteratively improve the product.

The previous paragraph describes a process of Closing The Loop in the product’s life-cycle so that each step feeds into the next step, helping you to come up with the best possible product as you learn from your mistakes.

ringUnfortunately, there typically isn’t much closing the loop in employee training.  Think about it.  Perhaps you’ve given your employees some onboarding training when they first came into your organization.  Or, maybe there was a weekend retreat where you invited a corporate trainer to talk about how to work as a team.

Once the training was completed, it was done.  No looking back.  Onto the next group of employees who need to be trained.

However, if you think about employee training as something that you provide for your employees without any sort of feedback mechanism, then you can expect the same woeful results as the business owner who creates a product in a vacuum.

So how should you think about closing the loop in employee training?

The key is to create a training program for your employees which has the following characteristics:

  1. Clearly defined training goals
  2. Metrics which can be measured
  3. A training process that can be iteratively improved.

Clearly defined training goals

If no goals are set for your employee training, it will be impossible to close the loop in the employee training process.  One of the key components of having a training feedback loop is that data from each step is fed into the next step in the sequence.  With no goals, there will be no data to collect.

And, when possible, goals should have a quantitative element associated with them.  Further, when you start to think about training as something that needs measurable results, it’s not difficult to come up with goals which have a numerical flavor:

Type of Training Training Goal
Sales Training To increase sales by x%.
Safety Training To decrease the number of injuries by x%.
Sexual Harassment Training To decrease the number of incidents by x%.

Once goals are set in the training process, you can begin closing the loop in employee training at your organization.  The training goal can be thought of as the “start” of the loop and metrics can then be measured at the next step in the training loop.

Metrics which can be measured

Employee training goals can be set before any training takes place.  And, once the training takes place, one has to actually be able to measure the metrics which were provided as part of the goal.

Having nebulous or undefinable metrics does not necessarily mean that the training goals are bad.  However, when we lack hard data and tools to actually measure and evaluate our results, our opinions and preconceived notions can color how we view the findings.

folding-rule-1432941_640As an example, suppose that our Sales Training goal is to increase sales by 30% over last quarter.  The goal is defined, and then employees are given a weekend sales training program or asked to complete an online training course using your organization’s e-learning platform.  It then becomes a very simple exercise to look at the Sales results of the subsequent quarter and then ask whether you’ve hit that goal.

If instead, your metric was something less definite, then it would be much harder to draw appropriate conclusions.  As an example, suppose that instead of having a definite sales goal, your sales training goal is to make your sales team more “enthusiastic” in how they sell.

While an admirable goal, it would be tough to quantify this in a meaningful way.  And if you’re going to actually close the loop in the employee training, then you need information that can be passed onto the next step in this iterative process.

A training process which can be iteratively improved

A major feature of being able to close the loop in the employee training that you provide at your company is that the training process needs to continuously be able to circle back to the start.  With each iteration of the process, a goal needs to be defined, a metric has to be measured.  And, finally, that information should be used in the next iteration of employee training.

And, this last step is what truly defines the loop.  Otherwise, goal-setting and data-gathering are just academic exercises that will bring no real value to your company’s training program.

Set the goal.  Measure the results.  Adjust the training.  Rinse-wash-repeat.

With that said, this aspect of the loop can be the toughest (and the most valuable!) for organizations to put in motion.  Nobody likes change and change is at the core of this step in the process.

To inspire your employees to buy into the iterative nature of the training, management needs to present a long-term vision of what it wants the training to actually accomplish.  And, when milestones are reached, there should be cause for celebration at the organization.

Conclusion

The process of closing the loop in employee training is one that moves training from something that is static, into a living breathing organism.  The training has no real beginning nor end.  Rather, it’s an iterative and organic process.

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