Article > Feature Story

Employees Start Your Engines

By Tom Easton


Training is among the most important aspects of the parts and service business. This five-part training series examines the ins and outs of world-class store training.

Around my hometown in Charlotte, N.C., from February through December, all we talk about is racing. With almost every race team headquartered and garaged within a 50-mile radius, the pulse of the city is the roar of racing. For most folks in North Carolina, and indeed in many other parts of the country, racing is more than a sport, it is a religion with services faithfully attended every Saturday and Sunday.

One inevitable topic of debate around the coffee pot and water coolers with the Monday morning crew chiefs and armchair drivers is what happened to the pole sitter. Why doesn't the fastest "qualifying time" driver always win the race?

Back in February at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole at 188.3 mph, but Jeff Gordon won the race with an average speed of 135.1 mph. Junior finished 15th that day. In March at Atlanta, Ryan Newman won the pole, clocking in at 194.7 mph, but finished 14th behind Carl Edwards, who won with an average speed of 143.5 mph. In April at the Texas track, Newman again won the pole with a blistering 192.6 mph, but finished 16th behind Greg Biffle who averaged 130 mph for the win. At Talladega, Kevin Harvick started in the number-one spot and finished 12th behind Gordon, who won with an average speed of 146.9 mph. And last month at the Pocono 500, Michael Waltrip, in the #15 NAPA Chevy, qualified for the pole with a time of 169 mph, but finished 5th behind Carl Edwards. So the debates go on every Monday morning about the variance of fastest qualifying times versus the final results, as well as all the other factors that might have contributed to the final outcome of the race and series.

Check Your Gauges
What does this have to do with training and your store's race to become a learning organization? Perhaps everything. Following every race, win or loss, in the post race evaluation, the crew chief, engineers, driver and the entire team review the data, films, on-track communication tapes and decisions made during the race to find out what was right and what they could have done better. In the evaluation of your store's training, this same discipline of evaluation is important for continuous improvement of your efforts to win.

Several decades ago, training guru Donald Kirkpatrick created a four-level model of training evaluation that is still utilized today. Basically, he said training should be evaluated according to the following methodology.


  • Level One: Did the participants like the course? What were their reactions to the class, seminar, clinic, book or on-line course?


  • Level Two: Did the participants learn? Was there a transfer of knowledge?


  • Level Three: Is anybody using what he or she learned back on the job?


  • Level Four: Has there been any impact on our business results (sales/profits) because of the training?


Like most other training consultancies, we have expanded these and added a fifth level: measurement of return-on-investment (ROI) of the training program. Business impact and ROI are the only reasons for training and employee education programs, although it is useful to evaluate the other levels as well. A sequence of training's impact should occur through all five levels as your employees apply what they have learned on the job at the store. If you do not measure at each level, it will be difficult to ascertain that a training program actually caused the desired results. Actually, people cause the results; the training provides them with the skills and knowledge needed to perform effectively and efficiently.

The great football coach Bud Wilkerson said, "It is possible to lose with good players, but it is impossible to win with bad players." Training is about developing good players and reducing your chances of losing. Good performance and winning doesn't just happen from successful recruiting, it requires training and coaching. Wouldn't it be sweet if all you had to do was just hire winners? I guess it would be similar to: "All we have to do to win the race Sunday is to qualify the fastest and win the pole position." It's easy to say; awfully tough to do.

Methods of evaluation help determine whether training has achieved its objectives. Programs that are structured and designed properly have objectives or elements that specify what the training program must accomplish and in what time period these accomplishments must be realized.

A sound training evaluation system provides valuable information for you as a store manager or business owner. The information garnered from training evaluations should be the final instruments in deciding if additional programs are needed, or if changes or deletions should be made to existing programs. Good evaluations document results of training programs, which subsequently can be used to prioritize training needs at the store or corporate level. Financial and other resources can then be shifted from training programs that have less impact on business goals to those training objectives that have the most favorable cost/benefit ratio.

Gaining the Racer's Edge
What are the specific benefits of training evaluations?


  1. A tool to assess the value of courses, manuals and workshops.


  2. Built-in quality control of training programs to document whether or not course objectives have been met.


  3. A method for identifying programs that need improvement.


  4. A basis upon which decisions to continue or eliminate a program can be made.


  5. A way to identify the proper audience for future programs.


  6. A method for managing training programs.


  7. A mechanism to review and reinforce essential program points.


  8. A way to get buy-in from employees for the program.


Monday Morning Crew Chiefs
Following is a breakdown of how each of Kirkpatrick's four levels can be applied to help you evaluate your in-store and company wide training programs.

Level One: Did they like it?
Participant reaction surveys should be distributed or requested at the end of each learning session. Ask participants to rate their perceptions about the quality and impact of the specific program just completed. This evaluation tool can serve as a valuable measure of your employee's satisfaction with the program and is relatively easy to administer, tabulate and summarize in a results report. Evaluating each participant's reaction to the training is the same thing as measuring customer satisfaction. You are evaluating how well he or she liked or disliked the program in regard to materials, content, method it was taught, instructor (if there was one) etc. Level One evaluation is important because it determines employee satisfaction and reaction to the training program. One or two questions on this evaluation form should ask the employee about the relevance of the content to his/her current or future job. It is very important that your employee see some value in the program and usefulness of the skills and/or knowledge acquired from taking the program.

Level Two: Did the employees learn?
We recommend a short pre-test and post-test. Most of us have been tested by objective tests at some point during our careers. These tests include true or false, matching and multiple-choice questions. Multiple-choice questions allow us to check for a "higher level of knowledge." You should be trying to determine: 1) Knowledge, 2) Comprehension and 3) Application (can this information be utilized on the job or to assist a customer.)

Staying Ahead to the Finish
Measuring learning provides a valid, reliable indicator of an employee's knowledge, skills and abilities related to job requirements. It also provides the employee a self-assessment tool used to determine the employee's progress - plus the ability to decide if the employee possesses knowledge of work policies, procedures and product knowledge that will enable him/her to perform safely and effectively.

Level Three: Is anybody using what he or she learned back at the job?
While it is important to measure participants' reaction and assess the extent of learning during the training programs, level three evaluations are very important to determine specifically what has changed on the job as a result of the training or product knowledge education program. Improved in-store performance is your key indicator that the employees have applied newly learned skills and knowledge on the job. Remember, the purpose of training is performance improvement. Stores and companies that have broken away from the past "just do it" to the 21st century model of "being learning organizations," concentrate on performance improvement with learning as a way to drive the improvement process and profits. It is important that your counter sales professionals, assistant store managers, delivery drivers and outside sales people consistently apply certain skills and behaviors on the job. This third level of evaluation ensures that participants in your training programs are using their acquired and learned skills and product knowledge appropriately. Your most important question should be: "Are their core competencies increasing?"

Level Four: Has there been any impact on our business results because of the training?
Level four evaluation is about the business impact of training. In today's competitive aftermarket environment, the training and employee education function must demonstrate a financial contribution to the company. At most auto parts stores I visit, I see a persistent pressure to be lean, efficient, customer focused, sales driven and time responsive. Therefore, training and product knowledge education programs must be linked to efficiency and effectiveness measurements. Your training and education programs must make a contribution to business financial results. If the training programs are not producing a return-on-investment why keep investing the employees' time and the company's money in them?

If your employees learned the skills or acquired the knowledge, and they are using it on the job; then what financial impact is this having on the store or business?


  • Have line items per invoice increased?


  • Has transaction time per customer decreased?


  • Has margin or sales increased?


  • Have customer complaints or management's "fire-fighting" time decreased?


  • Has employee retention increased?


  • Has employee absenteeism or tardiness decreased?


All of these measurements contribute to improved store financial results. Training and employee education is about how much employees are changing and/or improving skills, motives, knowledge, time to do tasks and behaviors that constitute the previously established benchmarked competencies.

While it may be true that most of us are not destined to round the turns at Talladega or pass on the last lap of the Brickyard, we can all relate to doing everything we can to achieve the winner's edge. Applying the scrutiny and post-race evaluation methods of the expert and exacting pit crews can only help us to appraise our training programs so that we and all our employees can get that checkered flag feeling.

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