Metrics are a direct path to winning your business partners over, getting your budget approved and showing the real value that you and your team provide. Numbers tell a story that offer you the power to stand up with confidence and be heard in meetings that are often chaotic and intimidating. But, as an industry, we are facing serious challenges that we must overcome if L&D is going to get its much-deserved seat at the table.
I felt compelled to write this article because measurement and metrics is an area I have struggled with and hid in shame as a result. It stalled out my career when I was a corporate learning leader, and as a consultant, it has led to lost business opportunities and revenue growth. But I am proof that you can learn new things and achieve goals that were once seemingly unachievable. I began telling compelling stories about the value and impact of training in organizations.
In this article, we will explore a pathway that will help you remove the barrier that makes measurement feel impossible right now. I will share three strategies for success that will enable you to push back when the business demands training that won’t achieve the results they desire.
Address the disconnect
If you show up to meetings with numbers and stories about how many programs you created, how many people attended them, the reactions from the participants and the status of projects in development, you won’t be telling the story your business partners need or want to hear.
So, what do business leaders want to hear? They’re interested in stories that speak about increase in revenue, reduced turnover, changes in engagement or retention scores, influence to the company’s perception in the marketplace and other information that reflects on the investments made in learning solutions that create business impact. According to a research report from LinkedIn Workplace Learning, 90 percent of CEOs believe that learning is a business solution, but only 8 percent report that training is impacting the business.
I believe that disconnect starts with us in the learning and development department and we need to own it.
We’ve been disconnected from the business and relegated to traditional training strategies that came from the corporate university era of skill gaps that needed to be closed. But today’s modern employees and workplaces have access to all the information they need at their fingertips. It’s not a knowledge issue anymore. Workers today need help making sense of all the information and guidance on how to remove the barriers that stop or limit their own performance.
Here’s the crux of the issue: The business is asking you to deliver old school skill focused training programs that don’t solve the performance issues of today. This requires you to flip your perspective from being the content provider who creates workshops and e-learning that teaches people skills to the performance consultant who asks the right questions. Why aren’t our people able to do XYZ today? What is the goal you want to achieve? What will we need to create to achieve that goal?
I can guarantee you that workshops and e-learning alone won’t achieve those goals, but they are often part of the solution. Remember, the corporate university structure’s goal is to close skill gaps, but what businesses need are people who can perform at a higher level, and skill acquisition is only one of four reasons people aren’t able to perform better after training is over.
Tell your story
Ask yourself these questions: “What’s the story I need to be able to tell? And, if I can’t tell it now, why not?”
This simple shift in my thinking created a massive ripple effect in my ability to start producing learning that solves business problems, and it enabled me to stand confidently and report important results from the training department that business leaders wanted and needed to hear. To my surprise, the unexpected benefit was a transformation in myself from the “order-taker” to a trusted business partner and advisor.
Here are three simple ways you can share a compelling story of business impact from your learning solutions. It also has the added bonus of giving you the confidence to challenge your business leaders to think differently. You don’t have to know everything about business to be successful here, but you do need to be willing to speak up and ask the right questions even if it is one uncomfortable, awkward step at a time.
Business Impact No. 1: Tell the story of impact vs. completion by following this framework:
Because of the [insert name of the training]“x” percent of the participants are now able to “y.” This might require a simple shift in your training design to include a pre- and post-measurement question, and a series of follow-ups after the training is over to capture the results overtime. Basically, you are asking your participants to say if they were able to implement what they learned in the training, and what impact did it have on their ability to perform better.
However, it doesn’t always produce a result the first time. Don’t be afraid to tell that story too, and share the tweaks you made to address the issues you uncovered. Keep in mind that marketing is successful if 30 percent of people open the email and sales close rates of 25 percent are exceptional — who said training success is only shared in terms of 100 percent? Get good at telling the story of progress over perfection.
Business Impact No. 2: Tell the story of progress overtime. Start with a baseline that represents where the workforce is today in a specific area, and show the goal you want to achieve. Traditional training analysis has always focused on missing skill gaps, but the story we need to uncover here is why hasn’t the desired audience achieved this desired goal, yet?
Start by researching with focus groups, surveys or one-to-one discussions to uncover all the barriers that limit performance. You’ll be amazed by what people tell you when you ask — everything from skills gaps, systems issues, bad managers and tools or resources that are needed come to light. Quantify those responses into baseline metrics in the form of percentages and even anecdotal stories. There isn’t one right way, so trust your own judgment. We aren’t creating scientific research reports, we are simply organizing chaos into a way it can be tracked, measured and shared.
At the end of the training program, ask the same focus group questions to the people who have completed the program, and follow the same process to get your results, which are fascinating to see. For example, I discovered that I actually needed to be creating less content, which we, as L&D professionals, know is the most costly and time consuming part of every learning initiative. It’s a double win: Less content design means more time for the good stuff that matters.
Business Impact No. 3. Certifications tell the real story, and they are more impactful than just completions for areas such as manager, leadership and position-specific training. I recommend you seek out qualified data from respected sources that have correlated the behaviors of success in the key area you are focusing on. There are many highly respected experts in leadership and management with the data to back up what they say that you don’t have to figure this out for yourself. The same is true across all professional organizations — they have approved benchmark data that you can access, large consulting firms can be sourced for this information or these are great intern research projects.
One bite at a time
The key to success is to design a series of actions to be completed to a high degree of accuracy, and will be observed and reviewed by a manager, facilitar or some other trusted source who can certify the person has performed at the required level. This gives you endless possibilities to tell stories of progress, number of certifications achieved, and have some really cool anecdotal stories of the amazing things your people are accomplishing.
One thing to note, is that this is an area where content design and the quality of information being shared matters. These programs do cost more and take much longer to design. Share that with your business leaders so they have the right expectation. I often create a “band-aid program” from content that already exists like books, LinkedIn Learning, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review and other trusted content providers so that the business has some solution they can start with, while we are creating these larger solutions. Remember, when you walk into the emergency room bleeding, you expect to walk out with some relief. You can’t become a trusted business partner if you send your people away empty handed and a note that says, “Call me in six months.”
You know the old saying, how do you eat a frog? One bite at a time… Pick just one idea from this article and run with it. Be willing to be the awkward, uncomfortable newbie, ask questions even when you are worried you look foolish, allow your team to support you and find a business partner who will be your champion on this journey. What I’ve shared in this article comes from years of living in the struggle, and five full years of trial and error. Ask yourself where do I want to be in five years? Still stuck in the struggle or reflecting with pride on the journey? It’s not easy, it is complicated, but you can do hard things.