Training effectiveness: the elephant in the room

A man goes to a museum and notices all sorts of tiny things, but fails to notice an elephant. It’s the story and also the origin of the expression “there is an elephant in the room”, created in one of his writings in 1814 by the poet and fabulist Ivan Andreevich Krylov.

Why is the elephant there?

Sometimes, it seems like training effectiveness is that elephant, with everyone in the training department buzzing around, not seeing it…

Evaluating a process means determining an action’s impact and answering, sometimes, difficult questions like: “has training really helped change behaviours?”, “have we met the business needs and addressed the challenges managers are facing?”.

Design, development and training implementation may produce qualitative training, but how can we be sure of the real effectiveness on a long term basis? The usual satisfaction forms (Kirkpatrick's levels 1 & 2) help us in measuring the present, but we know well that this it’s not until the end of the learning process that we demonstrate how all these efforts have, hopefully, met stakeholders expectations.

These are not easy questions and perhaps this is why we tend not to see the silent elephant in the room.

“OK, and how can I see the real effectiveness?”


A Training Director once told us: “I was given a phone call one day by my manager. I was asked about my department's activity and results. I told him about our training plan, our numerous hours of training and how satisfied our participants were. Instead of being convinced with the answer, he asked me: “yes, but how can I be sure of the real effectiveness of all these programs inside the company?”

In other words, both training professionals and stakeholders would like to know if training goals are met post-training and if they do produce a change. They are eager to know if their efforts to provide the best training programs produce value, resolve managers’ problems and make people develop and perform in their best versions of themselves. In other words, that they truly help build bridges between training and business.

And this is possible! To do so, one shall not wait until the end of the training program to think about the evaluation… Instead, she will focus on levels 3 and 4 and not be afraid to face evaluation. As Elaine Biech says: “Embrace evaluation. It is training and development’s bottom line. [...] It is the one way that you can ensure that your organization sits up and takes notice of you and your department.”*

A care for expectations, not ROI

Rather than focusing on ROI, a difficult indicator to measure when it comes to training, shouldn’t we rely on expectations and the degree to which they have been met?

Aren’t the goals of a training department to maintain and strengthen their mission, avoid budgets cuts, identify performance gaps, maximize learning transfer, demonstrate their added value?

Fortunately, defined processes exist that will help training professionals show the value of their production and the sense of their function… It’s time to learn how to build an evaluation plan focused on leading indicators, critical behaviours and required drivers, on supporting managers and participants while they transform and improve; and it’s time to communicate these results!

Be prepared to answer the big question

Training and developing people is one of the organization’s most far-sighted, valuable and noble missions, as it means sharpening minds and making them grow so the organization itself can adapt quicker to new challenges.

Indeed, the training must be effective for the organization to be effective… Evaluating the performance of training programs will put a name to that elephant and show how training and development contributes to the organizational performance: how exhilarating!


*Kirkpatrick, J. D. and Kayser Kirkpatrick, W. (2016, April). Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation. Foreword by Elaine Biech. ATD Press, USA, 2016

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