We hear it all the time – good training is a key to everything, from greater productivity to more profit. If employees are trained in the skills and abilities they need to master to be good at their jobs, it stands to reason that it’s going to have a positive effect on the overall company. And companies are putting their money where that belief system is: a January 2014 report released by Bersin by Deloitte says that 2013 investment in corporate training was up 15 percent over the previous year.

But how do you know if the training is any good? And where you should invest? The answers could mean the difference between a measurable return on investment and a waste of money. Chip Bell, senior partner at Greensboro, Ga., business-consulting firm The Chip Bell Group, says that there are several important questions you should ask before investing in a training program.

Where is the need? Look at the landscape of your business and determine where productivity lags or problems are recurring, Bell says. Do your staffers have trouble using software or technology to be more effective? Could your managers be better at motivating people? Is poor communication or customer service a problem? These are all areas where training can help. Once you have a list of areas you’d like to address, prioritize them.

Related: Effective Employee Management? Look to the Golden Rule.

Where can I find good programs? Referrals are among the best ways to find good trainers and training programs. Ask colleagues or industry contacts if they can recommend programs. Trade associations may also have recommendations. You may also contact your local chapter of the American Society for Training & Development for member recommendations.

What do references say? Once you’ve narrowed your choices, ask for references. Bell says a commonly used evaluation method is the “Kirkpatrick model” examines four key areas to determine training effectiveness. Possible questions to get the information you need include:

- Reaction: Did the training program meet expectations?

- Learning: What, specifically, did participants learn during the training?

- Behavior: What are participants doing differently as a result of the training?

- Results: What are people doing differently as a result of participating in the training?

Did you see ROI? When evaluating a particular training program, ask about what to expect in terms of ROI. When you’re discussing the program with the trainer, you can ask specifics about what to expect and what should happen to reinforce the training once staff members are back at the office. If you’re checking references, ask about their experiences with ROI and how they measured it. The return you get will vary depending on the type of training you’re considering, but you want to be sure it effectively paid off for others in terms of improved productivity and behavior change.

“Trainers use the phrase ‘happy sheets’ – those evaluation forms you get at the end of the training. You want to get the feedback that they put on the happy sheet, but also learn about the impact the training program had,” Bell says.  

Related: 7 Signs Your Sales Training Needs a Revamp