Feedback Forms – Do we really want to know?
The humble feedback form; a series of well placed questions, scaled scoring graphs and boxes for comments all laid out ‘pretty like’ on a single sheet, ready for freshly trained delegates to drop in their nuggets of feedback and score accordingly. This valuable evaluation tool tells trainers how we did, gives us guidance on what to improve, or what to maintain, yet we give it out to delegates at the end of the day, when their brains are addled, they just want to get out and go home, and they are quite simply tired. So why do we do it then?
As trainers, we have had basic need to be liked and loved by our delegates, we pride ourselves on our ability to build rapport and transfer information to those eager activists, theorists, reflectors and pragmatists. Quite simply we are amazing! However, the feedback form can in one stroke of cheap biro, knock a trainers confidence sideways, and we invite delegates to do it.
Feedback is important, of course, but I am reminded that there are in fact three types of audience member or delegate that need to feedback information on how your course went. Those delegates that want to be there, those that are told to be there and those that are paying you to be there. Each one has their own specific personal viewpoint and each can be biased based on their reason for attending. So perhaps we need to adjust our methods of feedback based on this and the fact that delegates are probably not that enthused about spending time filling them in.
I have seen and received forms that have been rushed through with no real ‘quality’ to them. Some are anonymous, others named. Some feedback forms have been filled in on both sides with a raft of feedback, but this rarely happens. It is all down to the quality of questions and timing of the form.
Lets look at the questions. We hope for the magical high-end scores, and the ‘wonderful’ ‘could not be better’ ‘an inspiration’ ‘should be canonised’ comments, well OK maybe not the last one. The reality is we often see things like ‘could have been more in-depth’, ‘could have done without role-play’ or my own personal bugbear ‘needed better biscuits’ in response to ‘how could the course be improved?’
The key to good evaluation forms is using the delegate’s objectives, and I favour an approach that uses a form and the beginning of the day (or pre course if you can) and at the end. Start with getting the delegate to enter what they want from the course at the beginning of the day and gather in the forms. At the end of the day give them back out, so that they can complete the forms questions that are formulated around those objectives. So questions like ‘what piece of information has been most useful in helping you achieve you key objectives today and why?” “How will you be applying this new skill/piece of information into your day to day role?” “How will you be working with your manager to develop this skill further?” These questions and their answers can then be used during a performance review or appraisal and offers real value to the delegate, extending the life of the training, something Easterby-Smith was keen to achieve in his model on training evaluation. These quite specific questions help to engage the delegate who has been told to attend the course and the delegate who wants to be on the course. However extra value is needed for the person paying you and that comes in the form of time bound feedback. Often many employees do not have one to one time with their manager as a result of attending training. This infuriates me as this transfers ownership of learning completely to the delegate, when in reality is, in part still the managers role to work with their employee to develop, it is a key management responsibility. The feedback form should also include the date when the meeting with the manager is taking place or at least some idea. By including these types of questions, the feedback form becomes more of a development tool for the delegate and less of a ‘happy sheet’ for the trainer. The section on whether or not objectives have been met will speak volumes will it not. Of course, it is important to get some sort of feedback on your performance and I believe this should come from the manager, rather than the delegate directly. Once the training has sunk in, delegates have had time to reflect and more valuable insights and feedback can be gathered. After all delegates can be reflectors too can’t they? Furthermore, the anecdotal element is less formal and therefore can be seen as more insightful, based on their opinions and observations based on the day. Far better than a static question like ‘please rate the trainer’s knowledge on a scale of 1-10”.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing warms my heart more than a glowing feedback form, but that little halo of wonder will only last a short period of time and you cannot do much with it. I prefer to have a more involved approach to training feedback, something that allows me as a trainer to improve, change and or ruffle things around a bit. That way my role as a trainer will feel more robust and ultimately rewarding, not only for me, but for the people I am training, after all it is about the delegate in the long run, if they do not learn something, when they were led to believe they would, then we are redundant moving forward.