Come On L&D, Use Analytics To Build Credibility: 8 areas to focus

There seems to be some momentum gathering regarding the role of the learning & development function and what it needs to do to justify its existence. For me the underlying principle must be about how an organization can more clearly connect its business goals and strategy to the learning solutions being offered.

This seems to focus on 8 clear areas, several of which are underpinned by the need for more of an analytic approach:

1. Creating an Aligned Strategy 

The first challenge is to determine the strategic focus of the learning function. This will involve the usual strategic issues such as any organization's mission, vision, values and strategic business objectives. It will involve the identification of those stakeholders, audiences and solutions that will determine the scope of the function's activity.

It will entail the alignment of the strategy with the employee life-cycle, the solutions on offer (technology based vs. traditional delivery etc.) and the boundaries of responsibility in terms of ownership regarding the design, delivery and analysis of the business value/outcomes of the learning interventions – this is more than just return on investment (ROI), this is about being supported by analytics that not only build a business case but also help measure the tangible outcomes in monetary terms that learning interventions have made.

2. Establishing the Investment Principles

It is critical that investment principles are transparently established so that leaders, manager and employees clearly understand the methods by which business cases are established and agreed regarding future learning and development investment. It is critical that there is a business impact approach that focuses upon the analysis of the business returns based upon the investment made.

The L&D function must be aligned with other people orientated analytics activity. This means ensuring that there is a measurement mentality in place that measures the original business need, the intervention's effectiveness and the business impact made in conjunction with any process/productivity improvement.

3. Aligning Learning and Development with the Business

It goes without saying that in today's environment it is vital that any new learning should be aligned with the business; previous research has shown that a lack of alignment is the number one reason why learning and development is said to fail.

This is about clear business led prioritization that is aligned with future strategy and more importantly focuses upon a performance analysis approach - replacing the traditional skills assessment. This will ensure that the business owns the solution whilst ensuring that any intervention constantly has the "end in mind" and with something that can clearly demonstrate the business value that is being created.

4. Focus on Improving Individual and Organizational Performance

Performance improvement must be the focus of all interventions (however they are delivered). Performance challenges are not always about learning issues and the whole function must be focused upon solutions that add business value and improvements.

This might be a mind-set change but the dialogue must be about performance, business improvement, productivity, outcomes rather than the more traditional learning, training, capability, skills type language.

The function must show that it can talk and understand the real business issues that exist; it's about aligning expertise with commercial demands – that means talking numbers not content solutions.

5. Designing Effective Delivery Channels

Delivery remains vital and is probably one of the areas that L&D has least to worry about as organizations continue to focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Technology will continue to be a key driver but as always the correct mix of on-demand learning modules with other delivery methods such as traditional facilitator led training will be required.

Cost-effectiveness should not be the only driver. The appropriate mix of on-the-job learning, coaching and mentoring will be key to drive improved job performance and talent development. Again, the analytical based outcomes approach will be crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of any delivery channel.  It’s critical that learning transfer occurs though and this also needs to be measured.

6. Learning as a Business

This is a well-used phrase but the reality is that this must become the focus for anyone in the L&D function. Like any other people based function the desire for "value add" will continue to be of prime importance and that means that budgetary control, business case driven solutions and a continual outcomes focus will be needed.

HR has been talking about becoming a profit centre and maybe a shift in thinking by L&D practitioners in line with this, will take the function to this level. The role of line managers and leaders will be key to this so that their emphasis will continue to be on improved performance and outcomes based evidence that backs up any delivered solution. If the clients are truly perceived to be "paying for the services provided" it adds a commercial focus to the whole process. It also means that managers need to be more selective in their use of learning solutions which is no bad thing given the desire for increased on the job coaching and on the job learning.

7. Organizational Talent Growth

The increased need for the L&D function to be aligned and involved in the talent development activity of an organization has been a noticeable trend. The dialogue must shift to another level by supporting the workforce and succession/scenario planning processes by ensuring that the talent pool for both senior and business critical roles become a key focus for a part of the L&D function.

This is about not just growing talent but helping to ensure that the best talent is retained for the future; talent is going to become scarce enough without organizations becoming complacent about the talent they already have!

8. Demonstrating Value Time and Again

A lot of HR functions are on an analytics journey (which we know takes time, focus and effort to build a culture of data and analytical driven decision making) and the L&D function must quickly join that journey to ensure that the focus upon measuring the value added by the function is demonstrated by business outcomes not just data regarding hours, programs, projects, people and processes.

It’s about showing what intervention adds the greatest value in terms of outlier job performance, organizational improvement and business impact. Several L&D functions already have a ROI mind-set; now it's time to build upon that activity.

These 8 areas of focus for many organizations are largely in place to some extent; the challenge is to build the business and commercial credibility of the L&D function and hence the common theme of learning based analytics that is emerging.

Relationships across the organization will always be critical to the L&D function and should not of course be under estimated either in terms of their importance or the difficulty that exists when trying to sustain them. It’s not about being "Partners" but about being "Thought Leaders" that shape and guide business leaders in what is best for the organization based upon data and insights that show the value of the solutions that the function delivers.

Challenges to the L&D function provide opportunities to shine and the time is here for the creation of better end to end data processes that support the shift in mind-set that is now needed. Passion and desire to provide great solutions has never been in question; the L&D function now must build on this through numbers; it’s the new currency!