From the Vault: Measuring the Utility of Development Programs

From the Vault: Measuring the Utility of Development Programs

Many companies understand the benefits of development programs, such as executive coaching, leadership training and strength-management training. However, although organizations understand the benefits, they often fail to understand how to quantify the benefits of such programs. They are unable to get the proof in numbers that development programs are worth the time and the money invested.

As a result, organizations either blindly trust the utility of such programs without quantifiable proof or choose to opt out of development programs. If they choose the latter, they are passing up the opportunity for potential growth within their organization. In fact, research has shown that development programs provide opportunities for growth, challenge employees and leaders, and keep employees motivated and engaged (Humanity Inc., n.d.). Developing employees’ careers can be an investment for both the employee and the future of the organization.

Although measuring the impact of development programs can be timely and expensive, there are useful ways of beginning to understand whether a program is benefiting your organization. One of the most widely used systems for measuring development and training programs is the Kirkpatrick Model, which uses a four-level model in measuring the effectiveness of development and training programs: Reaction, Learning, Behavior and Results (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006; MindTools, n.d.).

Reaction – The first step in the model measures the participant’s reaction to and satisfaction with the development program. This specifically includes topics like satisfaction, engagement and relevance. In other words, we want to know the degree to which the participant found the training favorable, engaging and relevant to their career.

This can be done using many different types of tools, including reaction and experience surveys. Using these results, ultimately, allows you to understand and improve participant experience (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

Learning – Each development program should have specific objectives and competencies the coach and the coachee hope to achieve throughout the program. These goals and objectives are linked to higher performance, satisfaction, engagement – the list goes on. This second step in the model measures the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes learned from the development program. This allows you to assess whether those already established competencies are being learned within the program.

This can be measured using a pre- and post-training assessment that measures knowledge immediately before and after training. It allows you to understand what was learned throughout the program and to identify performance measures that could be impacted by leader or employee behavior (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

Behavior – The third step in the model measures the on-the-job application and implementation of the knowledge and skills learned. This is the degree to which the participant applies their knowledge and skills learned when they return to the job.

This can be measured using 360 assessments that determine what behaviors have changed and how new behaviors are being applied to key areas of the organization from the perspective of the direct reports who report to the participant and supervisors to which the participant reports (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

Results & Business Impact – The fourth step in the model is probably what most companies consider to be the most important step. In fact, so important, companies tend to skip over the first three steps. This step is the business impact and ROI of the development program, specifically the degree to which the targeted outcomes (i.e. improved performance, engagement, and leadership) occur as a result of the development program. The question here is: Am I receiving a bang for my buck?

The impact of development programs is often demonstrated in business metrics like retention and succession. Two ways to understand the effectiveness of development programs is to assess retention,  employees who have stayed in the organization, and succession, employees who have been promoted within the organization, as well as how these metrics compare to other employees within the organization who have not completed the development program (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006).

You can think of the Kirkpatrick Model like a pyramid with Reaction at the base of the pyramid and Results at the peak. Each level of the pyramid is necessary to continue to advance up the pyramid, as each level provides essential information allowing proper assessment of the development program. As mentioned, many organizations want to surpass the first three steps to get straight to the results and business impact. However, there is useful information within each step that will help an organization better understand the utility of a development program.

Investing in the evaluation of development programs can be just as beneficial as investing in the program itself, as you are able to improve participant experience, demonstrate key knowledge and competencies learned, and assess ROI.

Tiffany Pires, M.A.
Research Scientist

Tiffany Pires joined Talent Plus in 2017 as a research scientist. In her work, she refines The Science of Talent through ROI studies, benchmarking, and building new interviews and assessments. Her primary focus is on driving the initiatives of the Talent Plus research team by looking at the science behind our assessments to measure engagement, turnover and employee satisfaction.


Humanity Inc. (n.d.). 5 major benefits of investing in employee development. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from

Kirkpatrick, D. L, & Kirkpatrick, J. D. (2006). Evaluating training programs: the four levels. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

MindTools. (n.d.). Kirkpatrick’s four-level training evaluation model: analyzing training effectiveness. Retrieved March 23, 2018, from