Beyond Training to Coaching
By Zainal Abidin Rahman B Sc, ACCA, MA (HRD)

It is now the in thing. Any respectable CEO or manager ought to hire one. Over the past 20 years, the profession called executive coaching has become more and more in demand. What drives it? Answer: the race to be better in the business and corporate world. After all it was derived from its sports cousin, which is to help athletes run faster, jump higher, endure longer, etc. And what drives the need to be better in the business and corporate world? Answer: in one word - competition. Is competition going to ease off in the future? Answer: well you know the answer. And you do want to have that competitive edge over your rival, don’t you? (Sorry I can’t resist going ericksonian there.)

Coaching succeeds where training fails. Training can provide you with the depth and breath and even insight in any field. But training seldom can help you with the two things that you most need for executive success: focus and execution. This is plainly true with all the conflicting and confusing demands made on the modern executive. Once the training is over, most of the new learnings are forgotten while the executive engages in fire -fighting in the trenches using the same old tools. Pfeffer and Sutton in their book The Knowing-Doing Gap quoted a study done by Prof Zbaracki of Chicago University on TQM training conducted in five organizations. Senior managers in these organizations had believed that the TQM training would help their employees enhance the quality of their products and services. Zbaracki found that the TQM methods were not used at all in four of the five organizations and only on a very limited way in the fifth. Pfeffer and Sutton found this lack of implementation prevalent in other fields of training as well.

Let’s consider further how training has mainly fail organizations through examining how training effectiveness are evaluated.

A common tool to assess the training effectiveness is called the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model. In this model, here represented as a pyramid, evaluation always begin with level 1, and then move sequentially through levels 2, 3, and finally 4. Information from each prior level serves as a base for the next level's evaluation. Thus, each successive level represents a more precise measure of the effectiveness of the training program, but at the same time requires a more rigorous and time-consuming analysis

Level 1 Evaluation of Reactions

Evaluation at this level assesses how the participants react to the training. The evaluation attempts to answer questions such as:
• Did the participants enjoy the training?
• Was the material relevant to their work?

This type of assessment is often called a reaction or “smile-sheet” evaluation. On completion of the training, participants are given a sheet of paper on which they are asked to tick off their reaction (often on a scale of 1 to 5 or more creatively on a series of frowning to smiling faces) on aspects of the training such as
• Duration of training
• Relevance of contents
• Clarity of the instruction
• Knowledge level of the trainer (unbelievable and impossible as this may sound)
• Whether trainer could retain their interest (often interpreted whether trainer told jokes)
• Drinks and other refreshments
• Logistics

Many trainers in trying to obtain positive evaluation focus much on the entertainment value of the training, frequency at the expense of real contents and skills, especially if these entail much practice and drills. They dub this as “edutainment” which revolves around jokes and funny games. When well balanced between edutainment and contents, such trainings may be beneficial with long-lasting effects. Of more dubious value are activities which are remotely relevant to the real corporate world, for example, trainings which involve outdoor games and rope activities or even such challenges as “fire walk” or walking on broken glasses or on nails. Trainers in these fields often tout the line that “if you can walk on fire you can do anything in life.” Oops! I don’t think so. While walking on fire may boost personal motivation, the skills involved couldn’t be more different. Walking on fire, especially after a few hours of psyching from the trainer, demands different skills than, say, organizing an efficient hectic and understaffed office or counseling a persistent latecomer or maintaining a marriage.

Nevertheless, the participants' reactions have important consequences for training evaluation at Level 2. Although a positive reaction does not guarantee learning, a negative reaction is likely to reduce its possibility. Most management takes the view that if the employees don’t enjoy the training why go on with it?

Level 2 Evaluation of Learning

Evaluation at Level 2 moves the assessment beyond learner satisfaction and attempts to measure the extent participants have improved in their skills and knowledge. Measurements at this level are obviously more tedious than at Level 1. Measurement methods can range from formal to informal testing to team assessment and self-assessment. Often, participants are required to take a test before the training (pretest) and the same or a similar test just after the training (post test) to determine the amount of learning that the training has generated. The chart below illustrates a Level 2 evaluation:

Any increase shown in the chart measures the increase in knowledge and skills of the participants arising from the training. Many senior managers when shown such a chart as above will (wrongly) conclude that the training expenditure has been justified. While the test results may prove that the participants have been attentive in class and have learned they do not indicate that the trainees will apply the new knowledge and skills back on the job. That’s the domain of attitude which cannot be evaluated by any pen and paper test.

Level 3 Evaluation of Behavior

Evaluation at this level assesses the changes in participants’ behavior on the job arising out of the training. The evaluation attempts to answer the question –
• Are the newly acquired skills, knowledge, actually being used in the everyday work of the participants?

When there is a change in the behavior of participants back at their jobs, that’s well and good. But one cannot always assume that this change was due to the training. There could have been other extraneous intervening factors such as a recent salary increase or the participant was in a buoyant mood from a recent marriage or a thousand and one other possible reasons. All these possibilities need to be cancelled out if we are to honestly judge whether the training has made the difference.

Level 4 Evaluation of Business Results

This is the final level of evaluation to assess the impact of the training on the operations of the sponsoring organization. Even where the participants have changed their work behavior back at the job because of the training, this does not necessarily translate into an improvement in business results. This is the bottom line or true return on investment of the training in terms that managers can understand: The most common bottom line or indicators of business results in most organizations are:
• Increased production
• Improved quality
• Decreased costs
• Reduced frequency of accidents
• Increased sales
• Increased profits

Ideally over time, the sponsoring organization can draw an ROI chart against the training budget such as the one below:

What can we conclude from the Kirkpatrick Model? The depressing answer is that training is quite an unreliable tool for improving business results. There are too many variables which are outside the control separately of the trainer, the trainees and even the management that may sabotage achieving the business results. Even if the participants love the training, they may not learn anything new; even if they learn something new this may not translate into an improvement in their behavior and skills; and even if behavior and skills show improvements they do not necessarily translate into improvement in business results. Training does not address the problems or factors that make changing people mindsets such a challenging task. At best, training can be seen as a blunt tool to achieve its results. And perhaps the improvements could be through an indirect route. Companies that spend heavily on training are deemed to be caring and therefore better employers and this perception in turn attracts better employees.

Many managers know this but have no choice because the hard truth is that there is no alternative to training (until now as I will proceed to explain later). That’s why all the premier companies spend between 3-5 % of their operating budget on training, knowing fully well that the money will not give back the same return as a similar investment on fixed assets such as a new plant or machinery. In the 1980s, with the widespread introduction of computers, many in the HRD industry were expecting computerized – based training (CBT) would take over most if not all of the instructor - lead training. While CBT did make some headway with academic and simple drills instructions, they have had no impact on adult skills relevant for people to people interactions. For this human intervention is still essential.

Coaching provides the human touch that’s lacking in CBT and the execution that’s lacking in traditional training. Coaching can complement as well as supplement training. Coaching can in fact even revolutionize training. No longer do participants have to sit in long dreary trainings at a stretch. Trainings can be considerably shortened to cover the essential theories after which coaching kicks in for 3 – 6 months (or longer) of weekly 45 minutes scheduled (face to face or telephone) appointments.

Coaching gets results fast because the appointments are about what the trainee wants to improve in his or her work performance which directly impacts the business results. It also gets the trainee to agree to follow up on what they have learned in the classroom. The trainee will have to account for that agreement to the coach at the next meeting. There is a contractual obligation that the trainee (now called a coachee) has to make periodic report on what he or she has done to impact the performance of the sponsoring company. The coach will usually begin the first coaching session with the question “With the new insights that you have learned, could you list out three to five things that you could do that will make the greatest impact on your performance and hence the results of the company?” That’s bypassing levels 1 to 3 and going direct to level 4 of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model - the heart of the ROI of training. As a warm up, the coach may ask questions such as “What did you like about the training?; or “What did you learned?; or even “How did you get along with the instructor? However, these questions are just for building rapport and not why the coach is there with the coachee. He is there to help the coachee achieve the three to five things that will make the greatest impact on their performance and hence the performance of the company within the next two months. Coaching is the precision tool companies have been looking for to improve their business results.

Zainal is a business trainer and coach specializing in personal and organizational change. He has worked with thousands of clients, individuals and corporate, and brings with him expertise in OD, HR, NLP, ericksonian hypnosis, Solutions Focus, Appreciative Inquiry, The Enneagram, energy psychology and various other effective modalities that create change at the personal and corporate levels. Contact:

For reprint permission, please email

[ top ]

Copyright © 2008 Competence Strategies International. All rights reserved.