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What’s the Answer?

The answer is in adjusting your approach to get what you can within the limits of your environment and always to be selling the benefits of additional data in helping the organization get even better results. If your organization, or target organization, is willing to pay for a formal evaluation program, by all means take full advantage of the opportunity to get some excellent data for yourself, your intervention, and your department. But, even if they are not willing to foot the bill, here are some pointers that may help you find the answers:

  1. Focus your efforts for formal evaluation on programs that are most important to your organization. These interventions are often highly visible, expensive, or risky.

  2. Start with a rough guess. To approximate some types of data, you may need to rely more heavily on projections, sampling, indicators (such as if a certain rate of errors goes up or down), and inferences from those indicators. In other words, be willing to make a rough guess of financial value, penetration, sustainability, or speed based on any data you can get. Getting anecdotal information can alert you to any particularly positive use or lack of use of your performance intervention. You must recognize and make clear, however, that your inferences carry a much wider margin of error than data from a formal evaluation program. From hallway conversations to quick and dirty surveys, short phone calls to on-the-floor observation, less formally structured feedback can cover a lot of ground. Just make sure you document what you start with and then take your rough estimates to potential members of your audience so they can help you refine your numbers. Once your audience realizes that your numbers can help them show what a great job they are doing too, you might be surprised at the support and cooperation you get. Never underestimate how much easier you make it for your audience to help you if you put what you are trying to calculate in a rough form so your audience can quickly grasp where you’re trying to go. More than anything else, the key to getting more formal data often starts with a rough guess.

  3. Start small and build up. Perhaps you have an ideal set of evaluation data that you would like to track on an ongoing basis. But, tracking that much data seems overwhelming to your managers because you haven’t proven you really need it all yet. Start with a subset of the data to answer some questions and leave the door open for other subsets. An example might be to find out how much improvement has been made in sales for each region of a company, but to leave the question of why the eastern half of the country did so much better than the western half until your audience is demanding that you go find the answer for them. It never hurts to leave your audience wanting a little more. After all, once your audience is demanding the data, how can it fail to provide you the budget or the support you need to go get the answers?

  4. Arrange for a continuous flow of feedback. Build up your personal network of participants and managers. Make sure that people know that you want feedback. If you have the names of your attendees, don’t be afraid to spend five minutes to pick up the phone and call. If you are internal to an organization and have the support of the line management, you can simply state that you are collecting informal feedback and will keep their comments completely anonymous. If you are external to an organization, ask your client if they would mind you making a few phone calls after the training or performance intervention just to get validation and future feedback. If you promise to keep the people anonymous but share the general conclusions, you’ll find participants and clients who are open to your proposal.

  5. Position your data gathering as an experiment. You may have heard that people hate to change but love to experiment. If you are just starting a formal evaluation program, make sure you let people know that they will be safe if they talk with you and that your first efforts are just an experiment until you find out what really works for everyone.

  6. Ask how your clients will prove the intervention’s value to their managers. This is especially helpful for external vendors. Oftentimes, a 1st/Ops or Mid client has the discretion to pay for an intervention but doesn’t look ahead to how they will handle value communication months down the road. If you ask them to think ahead about what they would like to be able to say and what proof they will need to say it, it may be possible to negotiate your contract so that you can add some data-gathering services. An e-learning vendor in the Denver area has used this technique with great success.


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