Charting par for the course

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The Independent Online
GONE are the days when a management centre could pull in clients with a few vague words about improved performance. A company preparing to spend thousands on sending its best and brightest on a course wants hard evidence of results, writes Roger Trapp.

It was this attitude that set Gordon Webster thinking. As business development director at Sundridge Park, a management centre based at Bromley, south London, he was confident that the courses he was promoting had a strong practical base - but he was constantly being asked for proof. Since he came from a marketing background, he felt this was a reasonable demand, and as a result, he and his colleagues at the centre developed the idea of the Performance Improvement Process. They believe it is the only procedure of its kind at a business school outside Harvard.

The centre says it is a simple process but still 'a unique way of evaluating the benefits' from the centre's training and development programmes. It says the system also validates the quality and effectiveness of the courses.

At the heart of the system is a series of questionnaires, covering such matters as knowledge of different theories of leadership and approaches to motivation as well as ability to handle difficult situations and deal with poor performance by subordinates.

Both the delegates and their line managers fill in the questionnaires before the course starts. Then the delegate answers it again at the end of the course. Finally, both the delegate and the manager complete it again three months after the course. The intention is to measure the immediate changes in performance and perception, and then continuing effects.

With the aid of a computer, the answers are graded on a scale of one to six. The results are plotted on a graph.

'You are looking for a gap - so it shows some shift,' said Mr Webster. 'It's a warts-and-all process. If you've messed it up, you won't get a gap. But it shows the board what they get for their quarter of a million pounds.'

The principle is being applied to all Sundridge Park courses - both open and company-tailored programmes - and it is already proving to be a powerful marketing tool, said Mr Webster.

He warned, however, that the measurement is high-risk, and 'not for organisations that aren't prepared to put themselves up for the test'.

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