Measuring learning has always been important, but in today’s remote and hybrid workplaces, it’s essential. You can develop, design and deliver the best training programs, but if you can’t show stakeholders across the organization that it actually “worked,” then you’re missing a crucial part of the story. Today’s remote and hybrid workplaces demonstrate that it’s more important than ever to use structured and intentional measurement methods, due to the reduced visibility and increased flexibility of our workforce. If business leaders were skeptical before about how in-person training impacted behaviors in the office, imagine how skeptical they might be now as training takes place from home in our pajamas.
Showing training results under these conditions has never been so important for learning and development. While the training environments have changed, companies still need to show that every dollar spent was a good investment. And how can we say training, or the L&D function it comes out of, is valuable if we never measure its effectiveness?
Today, very few organizations do a good job of measuring and reporting the impact of their learning initiatives, which only perpetuates the question — does training really work? Does it impact employee behaviors on the job, and does it impact the business bottom line? Respect in the boardroom ultimately comes from being able to prove your contributions to the organization, so for this reason, chief learning officers need to make measurement a priority and they need to get it right.
As we continue to face an unprecedented new work environment, marked by largely remote and hybrid work, the only thing that can keep us confident training is having an impact is measuring the effectiveness of our solutions. This new organizational landscape requires new thinking on how best to create and maintain a “quantified workplace” where measurement allows us to analyze peak performance, assess which delivery modes are most effective and compare which programs drive the biggest performance impact.
In general, it’s about leveling up from what we’ll call “best intentions,” such as saying you’re “all in” on diversity, equity and inclusion training, but not having a systematic way to measure the actual behavioral and organizational impact of your DEIB-focused initiatives. Similarly, many organizations have become skilled at creating training that is engaging, with a real “wow factor” — but again, they need to measure the impact of that training down the road, on both behavior and performance, in order to tell a compelling value story.
Beyond a dramatically changing work environment, we must also contend with a tumultuous world economy where every bit of capital invested matters. Here, you have to justify your budget to fellow senior leaders and be able to track ROI on at least some of your high investment programs. If you don’t measure them, you don’t know whether they hit the mark or whether you should continue to invest in them.
These are just some of the reasons why measurement matters now more than ever.
Below, I offer five mutually reinforcing best practices to help you harness the power of L&D measurement in your organization. They are based on efforts we’ve made in our own and client organizations, and on conversations with established assessment experts.
Measure your baseline. If you don’t know where you started, you can’t know how far you’ve come. Similarly, if you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to think about where you want to be. That’s why it’s critical to use a strong, comprehensive pre-training assessment to uncover which skills and behaviors you want to improve, and preemptively map how those behaviors will impact the business metrics that matter. Whether it’s competence with financial strategy or creating an inclusive work environment, pre-training assessment can help yield a more targeted development plan for leaders, as well as boosting long-term impact on the organization.
Use a forward-thinking model. A great measurement model can capture not only current training impact, but also tell you how to increase that impact in the future. For example, a leveled-up Kirkpatrick/Phillips model can enable you to assess the impact of training programs on six levels, from Level 1, “Did they like it?” to “Are they doing anything different or better?” to “Was it worth the investment?” all the way to Level 6, “What maximizes the training impact?” This last level helps you understand and quantify what environmental factors back on the job enable participants to get the most transfer and impact from their learning experience. This helps you boost the effectiveness of learning and launch smarter solutions in the future.
Harness technology. Technology can help you systematize measurement and improve the behavior change and business impact that results from training. This might be through sustainability tools such as Slack integrations, in-house apps or technology-enabled internal social networks. For example, some learners will take advantage of post-training refreshers or pushes provided by technology (what we might call “bursts and boosts”) while others may not, leading to fairly dramatic differences in behavior and performance outcomes. The impact of these technology-driven tools are important to track and measure for stronger ROI. So, think hard about how to make the intersection of learning, technology and measurement work for you, and seek out the right platforms and tools.
Follow 80/20. This applies to both how you deliver training and how you measure its impact. It’s the idea that across almost all domains 20 percent of inputs drive 80 percent of the value or effect. That means that of a typical 8-hour classroom-based training experience, about 1.5 hours of content will yield most of the impact. So, a 90-minute Zoom event can likely take the place of a full-day training, with much less expense, inconvenience and exhaustion. Research also tells us that powerful bite-size training in intervals can lead to 50 percent more effective learning transfer than bombarding participants with hours and hours of content all at once. Similarly, you can use measurement to try to capture the 20 percent of those larger L&D initiatives that people are responding to, and look for ways to shorten, sharpen and scale that even further.
Don’t be afraid to trumpet your impact story. The two biggest obstacles to measuring training effectiveness is the fear that stakeholders won’t believe your results, or worse yet the results will be negative. For these reasons, most L&D professionals either never get started, or fail to communicate any results internally or externally. This is especially sad because when asked, more than 90 percent of senior business leaders in top organizations around the world want these L&D results, while less than 10 percent said they ever get any. A few good case studies, with a few select programs can close this gap and transform the way business leaders and stakeholders perceive learning initiatives in your company.
I urge you to think about these opportunities and use these practices within your own organizations. Doing so proactively, and with care for context, will surely benefit not only your learning function, but your entire company. And that’s a great outcome by any measure.