The world can look very different, depending on which hat you’re wearing—manager or employee. Take the case of computer-based training (CBT) tracking and skills assessment. While those evaluations are ultimately designed to help both the employee and the employer, the response depends on how you present the benefits to the people being evaluated.

Whose business is it anyway?
To management, it’s a boon to monitor employees’ progress through computer-based courseware and evaluate skills before and after the course. You can quantify return on investment for your training dollars. You can put test results on file to consult during annual evaluations or promotion reviews. You can see which employees need individual attention and who’s ready for the next level of training. In other words, monitoring and skills assessment provide concrete, useful benefits.

Now look at it from an employee’s perspective. Your technical competence is about to be spelled out in detail for management to judge. Your deficiencies will go on file. You may lose out on the next promotion or get a poor performance evaluation because of a subpar test score. In other words, monitoring and skills assessment are evil tools of a heartless corporate machine. Or are they?

As the person responsible for training, it’s up to you to alleviate employees’ anxiety about tracking and testing. You must make employees think of assessment and monitoring tools as their friends instead of their enemies.

Putting a good face on tracking
It isn’t hard to turn the negative perception employees have about monitoring progress through a course (or tracking, as it’s commonly labeled) into a positive. Try these approaches:

  • Offer incentives for completing the course within a certain time frame. Enter everyone who finishes the course by the target date into a drawing for a T-shirt or a personal CD player, for example. Will Fleshman, sales support manager at DPEC, a Web-based training vendor, said his company occasionally works with training coordinators to offer such incentives. The prizes not only make the course more fun, but they also serve to remind employees that management values training.
  • It may seem corny, but pass out certificates when the tracking system shows that a trainee has finished a course. Believe it or not, people still do appreciate certificates, Fleshman said. If nothing else, handing out certificates will give you the chance to congratulate trainees on their progress and check in with them about their thoughts on the course. And it will help the student make the mental leap from thinking “they’re watching me” to “they appreciate my progress.”

Selling employees on skills assessment
Because it usually goes into more detail than tracking, skills assessment tends to induce more paranoia. This is where students fear getting a negative mark on their permanent record. To ease their minds, top-level management—whether that’s you, your boss, or your boss’s boss—needs to cast training in a positive light.

Management should emphasize that training is all about allowing employees to enhance their skills, according to Marty Soller, marketing manager for DPEC. You’re fighting against the possible perception that training is (a) a hassle, (b) an evil categorizing tool, or (c) both. To combat such negativity, management can take several concrete steps.

  • Offer training at a convenient time—during working hours if possible.
  • Legitimize training by making it a consideration for promotions or new assignments or projects within a trainee’s current position. But don’t let students fret about the idea that they’ll be punished for low scores. Instead, drive home the idea that a good skills assessment score gives them a measurable leg up for the next promotion or review.
  • Allow employees to put their new knowledge to work, even if that means taking approaches that differ from the company’s traditional methods. There’s no use training an employee on the best way to complete a task only to discourage them from using their new skills because “that’s not how we do it.”

These three tactics require buy-in from top management and line-of-business managers. Even if you can’t negotiate full support for each of those strategies, as the training manager you can:

  • Encourage users to think of skills assessment as a personal benefit. “Unless I have an assessment, I don’t really know what I came away with,” noted Mike Patterson, sales manager for CBT vendor InfoSource. Comparisons between pre- and post-course test scores can tell users exactly what they’ve achieved. A high post-course score can validate a trainee’s hard work; a low score can motivate the student to do more training and re-take the test to improve his percentage. Remind trainees that only the final result matters.
  • Be reasonable about expectations. Say you want your students to score 75 percent on the skills assessment, but somehow they just can’t get over 65 or 70 percent. Don’t automatically assume you’re working with a bunch of slackers. Consider the possibility that the test is just too hard or that the courseware is lacking. “If you’ve got a whole group that can’t move past a certain point, you might need to lower your scale,” Patterson advised. And be sure to let the CBT vendor know about the glitch—the problem may lie in the courseware.

Essentially, all these steps are working toward the same goal: making students feel less anxious and more comfortable about the data you’re gathering about them. They may not like being tested. They may not like having their skills quantified. They may feel micromanaged. But as Patterson points out, “If [the skills you’re teaching] are crucial to your business, you’re not micromanaging.”
Do you have a formal method of measuring and tracking your employees’ training and skill sets? If so, or if you’d like to comment on this article, please send me a note .