One of the trickiest areas in soft skills training is the problem of evaluating how well it worked. It's true that not all training is effective and it's equally true that the training that feels the best isn't always the most effective training. Here are three guiding principles to use when evaluating whether or not training has made a positive impact on you or your team.
1. Results trump experience.
It's a little like boot camp. Some training hurts. It makes you uncomfortable. It tests your flexibility, strength and endurance just as boot camp tests you physically. When our bodies are uncomfortable, we know they are working. When our minds are uncomfortable, we tend to blame the trainers.
Growth is uncomfortable. The way to know whether or not you are getting results is to know what results you want and to measure your progress. You can't tell anything by how happy you feel during training (except that you are unlikely to be pushing any edges if you are never uncomfortable).
Of course, results can only trump experience if you know precisely what results you want. There is no evidence that physical training is good for your body - until you can do something you couldn't do before the training. There is no evidence that soft skills training works - unless you know what problem you are trying to solve or what goal you are trying to reach.
2. You already know how to do what you are already doing.
It's a trick that is embedded into human neurology: the familiar feels good and the unfamiliar feels dangerous. If you hire trainers who make you feel good, the odds are that they are selling you something you already own. They feel good because they feel familiar. That's not all bad as long as they stretch from the familiar into new territory. If you're not stretching, you're not learning: you are only reinforcing what you can already do well.
If you hire trainers to work with you because they think differently than you do, then you are accepting that you will have to stretch. If you hire trainers because they already think the way you do, then you are retreating into familiarity. It feels good to be reinforced, but it won't change results. (see the first principle).
3. You can't test a process before the process is complete.
If you are training so that you can be good at training, then evaluate training at the end of the day. If you are training because you expect to get real results then the training should extend into application. In short, expecting to know whether or not training worked at the end of the training day is a little like judging cookies halfway through the baking time.
So we are back to the first principle again. If you want changes in the way meetings run, judge the training after you have had several meetings. If you want changes in your sales process, judge the training after you have had a chance to sell. If you want changes in the way your team collaborates, know what changes you want and notice whether or not they are happening post-training.
Most soft-skills training are evaluated too soon in a way that ignores results and measures familiarity and rapport. The forms with which we are all familiar never judge results: they only judge the comfort level of the process. They do not work for the training we most want - training that effects real, positive change by introducing difference.