Book Club: Jim Kirkpatrick on Leveraging the Kirkpatrick Model in Sales Enablement

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a podcast from Sales Enablement PRO. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m so excited to have Jim Kirkpatrick, the co-owner and senior consultant at Kirkpatrick partners join us. Jim, I’d love if you could just take a moment and introduce yourself to our audience.

Jim Kirkpatrick: Alright, it’s really my pleasure to be here and thanks for inviting me. Jim Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Partners. I am a chip off the old block, the oldest son of my dad, Don Kirkpatrick, who invented the four levels back in the 1950s, and over the last 20, 25 years I’ve been carrying the torch and worked for the company as a co-owner of Kirkpatrick Partners.

We are doing our best to help learning providers and talent management people to become business partners and not just training providers.

OF: To what degree are current evaluation processes in most organizations on track to demonstrate training’s value to the business?

JK: Well, I hate to say it, but for the most part, they are not. People are following tradition faithfully, smile sheets to see if the participants are happy, pre- and post-knowledge tests to see if they’ve improved their scores and what they’ve got in their head, and maybe a 90-day or 120-day survey to find out what’s going on out there. To be honest, there’s two things wrong with that. One, you’re not getting nearly enough information using single-source or single-method kinds of things. Most of this stuff is not really relevant to performance. The biggest problem is not focusing on the performance itself, but only finding out at 90 days, are we seeing anything from our training? And doing nothing about trying to inspire it or compel it to happen.

For the most part, senior leaders are not finding the data and the information that learning providers are presenting as credible that they are indeed making a difference in the business.

OF: What is the Kirkpatrick model?

JK: There are four levels: level four is results. We want to do some kind of a business needs analysis to find out what results are stakeholders looking for. Then, level three is behavior. To what degree people applied it, which will then lead to level four. We want to find out what kind of performance and behaviors will people need to do on the job at level three in order to see the results. Level two is learning, what will they need to know? What skills will they have to have in confidence to perform their job? Level one is reaction, just good adult learning theory of how can we reach them so that they’re even interested enough to learn in the, in the beginning? For instance, 15 minutes works better than 45 minutes for those kinds of things. That’s the reverse order of what it takes to plan effectively.

Unfortunately, most of our industry thinks we start with level one, with the smile sheet. We do level two, some training and hope they learn it. Then, as I said, a survey for level three and then really, basically say level four is unattainable. And it’s just not true.

OF: Your training often refers to building bridges. What does that have to do with evaluation?

JK: Well, I had a conversation, just one-on-one with Stephen Covey about 10 years ago. I asked him about his seven habits, is there one that really stood out against all the rest? And he said, “No, really they all equally all kind of work together”. I said, “I know that, but is there one that you think our industry needs to perform more than others?”

He kind of looked around, all kind of twinkly and said, “Yeah, there is. Seek first to understand before for you seek to be understood”. That’s what the bridges are about. Our industry says, “I can’t get any buy-in from senior leaders. We can’t get any buy-in from the managers”. It’s because they have not built bridges with them, relationships and earned the right to get collaboration with them by first seeking to understand. We’re so eager to start peddling our wares, our competency models, and our learning objectives and our skill gaps closing. They don’t care about that stuff. We have to first build strategic bridges with our senior leaders to get them on board with this, and to hear them out before we start talking.
With the supervisors and managers, we need to hear them out. What are the challenges that are going on? Hopefully what will happen then is, if we listen, there’s enough with their goodwill in mind, they’ll say, “Jim, you got something that can help us”, and I’ll say, “As a matter of fact, I think we do”.

I love the word enablement that you use. I got to call you on that because enablement could mean a couple of different things. It could be enabling the results, or it could be enabling the performance. We look at both. Level three enables the results, it’s the only pathway to get to results, but you’ve got to enable the performance and turn the learning into doing.

I love that you don’t just call it sales training. You call it sales enablement, enabling people, whatever it takes to get them to do their job so that the results will be forthcoming. So, I just got to call you out on that word. It’s a good one.

OF: How can you get buy-in for training programs from senior leadership?

JK: Well, first of all, do your homework. You know, review the mission statement, the vision statement, the core values, those kinds of things so you’re educated from a strategic point of view before you just go in and say, “What keeps you up at night?” The buy-in, I can tell you is not just a senior leader, a program sponsor saying, “Yeah, it sounds like a good program. I’m behind you. Go for it”. Buy-in for us is in action. What we try and do is talk to the senior leader, the program sponsor, the senior salesperson for instance, and make sure they understand that the more they are actively involved in the follow-up and the accountability and championing those who are doing well and challenging those who aren’t, the faster the behaviors will take place and the quicker their results will come.

We have to make that kind of a business case to them that first of all, we got to end the madness. Training alone isn’t enough to get the job done. It never has been, it isn’t and never will be, but the bridges and the buy-in through action will help enable and help pull through the performance in order to get the results. We have to first convince them, don’t rely on training alone, rely on the collaborative effort, the cooperative efforts, and you guys, senior leaders, have more authority and more influence than all the rest of us put together. So, then you want to make sure you’re giving them some things to do, working out with them things that are easy to do, that are not too complicated, and you reserve for your mission-critical programs.

OF: How do you ensure that training is effective in creating the behavior change that’s necessary to improve performance?

JK: Well, first of all, training won’t. It will give people the skills to do it. Look at what’s happening with COVID-19. It’s a beautiful example of something that we should emulate. They are focusing on three critical behaviors and that is the mask, washing your hands, and social distancing.

Certainly, there’s a little bit of education about what’s causing the virus and this and that. There could be some training about that, but it comes down to, over and over, is how many different ways Dr. Fauci and Deborah Birx and the whole world is trying to remind us and compel us to do it with the signs on the highway, the circles in central park, the plexiglass, all the different things that are designed to enable us and compel us to apply those three critical behaviors.

They’re really right when they say the degree to which we apply those critical behaviors will determine how quickly we flatten the curve. We’re seeing in places where those behaviors aren’t happening, even though people know better, we don’t need to train them about those things. They’ve all heard it. The world has heard it. It’s all about how we get them to do it. Those are the areas that are either successful or not, the degree to which they’re applying those three behaviors. Follow the science, follow the data, see what kind of numbers you’re getting, real numbers. It’s a beautiful model for us to engage in, and you can see how difficult it is when you’re out there. Very few people, at least around here are wearing masks and they’re huddling up together. They’re having fun on the boat together and the beast is still around.

OF: Now, Jim, what does the future of training look like from your vantage point?

JK: We still will always need foundational training. I understand that, but we can’t be putting 85% of our effort into it. The key word is performance. Those of us who will apply learning – and I don’t call it microlearning, I call it micro performance boost. It isn’t just about quick little things to get into my head, but it is things that will get into my head quickly that will cause me to do my job better. I think the future of training is giving people things that they need to improve the job that the supervisor has recommended, the supervisor is supporting, that will act quickly and easily to improve their performance.

Once we get back to a new normal, there isn’t going to be time and money on a lot of training that is not hitting the performance mark. That is a luxury that is gone for the most part. It really needs to be the short things because of our short attention spans, needs to be videos in a variety of different means in order to help employees do their job better. Their supervisors say, “These people helped us” and the senior leaders will say, “Job well done, come back and help us more”.

OF: Well, Jim, this has been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with our audience.

JK: My pleasure. Good talking to you guys.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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