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ATD Blog

Coaching Training: Impact or Bust?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Unless you have been locked in a time capsule for the past 20 years, you’ve most likely heard about the importance of coaching employees. There are a plethora of resources including books written about coaching, TED Talks, coaching courses, and endless search results on Google. It’s a top skill for managers within an organization. Because of its importance, talent development professionals are often called upon to develop and deliver courses that help leaders further build and improve their coaching skills. But how do you know if coaching training makes an impact?

Hypothetical Case Study

Suppose an organization, let’s call it ACME Company, wants a coaching curriculum developed and delivered; the primary audience being director level managers. ACME’s talent development team put together a coaching curriculum in which participants found great benefit in practice scenarios, and the training course ended up receiving rave reviews. Would you call this a success? On the surface, it would seem like an obvious yes. It was well-received and classroom exercises indicate the directors obtained knowledge and could demonstrate the skills in class.

However, to truly determine whether the course was a success, the ultimate questions are:

  • How did the coaching curriculum impact ACME Company overall?
  • Did it make a difference for the company?

We know the course evaluations met the criteria for two levels of the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation:

  • Level 1: the participants’ reaction to the course, including satisfaction, engagement and relevance
  • Level 2: the participants demonstrated their knowledge and skills, perhaps even confidence with the skill during the practice scenarios

What about Level 3 and Level 4? These are the holy grail of evaluation; highly prized and difficult to obtain. However, you need to measure at these levels to determine a course or curriculum’s true success. Level 3 shows the degree to which participants take what they learned and apply it on the job. The pinnacle, Level 4, represents the degree to which participants reach the stated outcomes as a result of training, or at least are on track to reach the outcomes. Stated outcomes reach far past the course objectives; outcomes define what is needed to impact strategic goals for the organization.


Granted, higher levels of evaluation can be harder to gauge and often challenging to measure. It takes time and significant effort to gather and analyze data for application and organizational impact.

Giving More Time to Levels 3 and 4

To begin implementing Levels 3 and 4 of evaluation, set an expectation with stakeholders about your intent to measure the impact the coaching program and share your methodology for obtaining this data. This can typically be done during the needs assessment. A significant barrier for a talent development professional emanates from stakeholders being unable to articulate the desired outcomes in a way that is measurable. When this happens, you can coach the stakeholders through the process of identifying outcomes that will aid you in evaluation.


An effective approach to identifying outcomes is asking “How” and “What.” What do you want to achieve with this curriculum? How will that impact the organization? How do we measure the impact? Perhaps stakeholders want better employee engagement scores. They believe scores will improve if managers practice effective coaching skills while developing their employees. Course impact can be measured by comparing past engagement survey results prior to the coaching with engagement surveys completed after the training.

When armed with adequate information, the talent development professional can determine the evaluation process before beginning course development. Just like it’s a best practice to write a course exam early in the development process, creating an evaluation plan early is crucial for success.

Will, or even should, you do this for every course you create? No, it’s just not feasible. However, if you have a hallmark, high-visibility coaching or mentoring program, make the effort to measure Levels 3 and 4 for it. Demonstrating impact using Levels 3 and 4 gives your program more credibility, and that success can earn talent development a place at the senior leadership table.

About the Author

Denise Hicken is a senior learning consultant with Floyd Medical Center in Georgia. Her career has served her well in this role, allowing her to expand her contributions to the organization. Denise holds a Journalism degree and a master’s in education from the University of Missouri. She earned her CPTD in 2017 and is currently working toward a certification in project management.

Denise has worked in the news industry, banking, and now in healthcare. Her career path has given her a unique insight into the business of healthcare. However, her passion is enhancing culture in the workplace through leadership development. She leads an initiative titled “Culture Conversations” which provides leaders with tools and guidance to hold monthly conversations with their teams on topics which focus on enhancing culture. This initiative was nominated for best “People Focused Initiative” at Floyd in 2018.

1 Comment
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Well done Denise! We have been having many discussions about how do we achieve Level 3 &4 in our department. Thank you for the recommendations on some questions to ask in order to get stakeholders to better consider how to measure success.
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