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ATD Blog

Time to Flip the Script on Evaluation

Monday, February 28, 2022

Evaluating training and therefore proving business value has long been a challenge for those of us in L&D and workforce development roles. What is the ROI? How do we define the business value? And as we stare at a 4.75 score on the survey, we wonder how we could ever answer those questions honestly. The process of measuring financial benefit is critical for learning leaders within an organization but often feels impossible.

Ever since its inception in 1959, the Kirkpatrick model has formed the foundation of evaluation through four levels—the learner reaction to the experience, the learning and knowledge increase, the behavioral change, and the business results. Although level four—evaluating business results—is the most desired result from training, it’s usually the most difficult to accomplish and often ignored.

To make the case for keeping your project at the top of an organization’s list of priorities, setting goals for behavior change and demonstrating business value are the best weapons, but it’s not easy.

Some have tried to adapt the Kirkpatrick model to the modern world, but why fix what isn’t broken? The model isn’t the problem; we are. We start to think about evaluating business results too late.

How many times have we gotten all the way through a project (especially with a high-priced vendor!) and then said, “Now it is time to determine the business value. I need to interview about two dozen of the target audience.” Hindsight is never really 20/20.

We stall because we doubt our own abilities to measure, saying things like, “You cannot evaluate business results of soft skills” or “Compliance training is not about the business.” These types of beliefs set us up for failure.


Step up to the challenge and make the Kirkpatrick model work for you. As learning partners, we must flip the script. Begin with the business value and behavior change, and set those metrics before developing the training intervention. Establishing metrics at the front-end initiates valuable conversations with stakeholders and also forms a thread through the development of training and any activities associated with the project that influences the outcome.

Kirkpatrick was on to something when he established those four levels, forming the foundation of evaluation for the next century. He’s forcing us to think about the why of the project and to focus on desired behavior change and business value.

About 10 years ago, I started thinking about the Kirkpatrick model in terms of asking questions: what do you want the learner to do (to say, to show, to know, or to find) differently from the way they do now? Without realizing it, I was putting myself in the behavior-change stage of the evaluation model. Those questions evolved to examine how the client currently measures success and how a behavior change might influence that business value.


Look at the business value in terms of time and money. Net Promoter Score (NPS), for example, reflects the willingness of customers to refer the company. Knowing your client’s NPS before you begin helps you define the context and estimate potential impact. You might ask how long it takes for a new hire to achieve proficiency. Using full-time equivalents (FTEs), you can estimate that shorter length of time to proficiency as a business-value metric.

This approach provides opportunities for much-needed conversations and also makes your program stronger overall. Flip the script on the Kirkpatrick model by starting with a focus on behavior change and business results. Change the way you think about measuring business value before you begin, and you’ll be amazed. Then all you have to do is stick the landing.

For a deeper dive, join Carol for the ATD 2022 Conference & EXPO session, The Promise of Performance Transformation: Creating a Performance-Based Learning Success Plan.

About the Author

Carol Cohen is a learning strategist for Infopro Learning. Her passion for teaching brought her into corporate sales training and certification, and she loves it. Her mission is to enable the success of others through creative and engaging learning and practice. She has managed complex projects with many resources and large budgets. Carol’s focus is participant-centered learning, games in learning, and social learning. Designing and developing innovative and engaging e-learning is what energizes her the most.

1 Comment
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Interesting approach. I'm going to think about how I might apply this concept on a new project I've been tasked with.
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