Why invest in learning when you don’t measure its returns

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“In the business world,” Warren Buffett once said, “the rear-view mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

One wonders if that comment was triggered when someone tried to answer the “why” of an expensive learning program. The windshield ought to have revealed the impact but was all hazy. Whereas the rear-view mirror clearly showed that they should have answered the why before they started out.

Business is about getting a positive return on every unit of spend. Given the current situation, learning is crucial to rediscover one’s bearings and to chart a new path, if required. As uncertainties continue to outweigh resources, every dollar must explain why it wants to leave the till.

Yet, learning professionals are hard pressed to explain the rationale for the next program while skeptical stakeholders are demanding to see results.

Learning is good business
Let us talk to the stakeholders first.

Why did you invest in that safety training program? Of course, it was a mandatory requirement you had to comply with. And every accident would have meant lost productivity and the extra cost of compensation.

Why that program for your customer care team? Of course, they needed to understand the new software to guide the customers through the revamped interface.

Both programs were essential and made sound business sense.

As learning professionals, if we just follow orders, it is not easy for us to have a clear idea of the outcome so readily in every case. That is why we must put our heads together, even before we get started on the next program’s blueprint.

There are models that can help us in the process. We will get into the names of the models and compare their relative merits later (next article). While any model may serve as a good guide, you need to mold the models to suit your specific needs.

You know best what is at stake. Therefore, let us start with some of the questions you may want to (and should) ask when you sit with the learning team before they start designing the program.

Checklist before ignition

  • What is the purpose of the proposed training program?
  • How critical is this purpose for the survival and success of the organization?
  • Is there a clear evidence of training need? Is training the best solution?
  • Can you quantify the ideal outcome? For example: a 15% increase in sales, a 60% decrease in employee turnover, or an 80% reduction in safety incidents.
  • Or is the immediate expected outcome more intangible like a change in attitude or culture? This might take longer to yield quantifiable results.
  • Do you have a system in place to measure the outcomes?
  • Would you like the learning team to validate the learners’ progress midway? How? Would you like to plan for course corrections, if necessary?
  • Are you looking for a short-duration, one-off program? Or an extended campaign to bring about a change in culture, attitude or behavior?
  • If you were to link the program to the participants’ performance assessment, what would be the prime criterion? Participation? Or successful completion? Will you be defining the metrics for success and briefing the participants in advance?
  • Do you have a method or system in place to measure the learning outcome vis-a-vis the expected business outcome?
  • Do you plan to use the result of the comparison to design other training programs? And to assess the learning needs of other functions and departments?
  • How do you fix accountability for any training program? Do you think the owners of the function that stands to gain from the training program must participate in and be accountable for ensuring a positive outcome?

Courtney Lynch, the author of Spark: How to lead yourself and others to greater success says that “A leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others.” Interestingly, learning too influences outcomes and inspires participants.

Does that make it a key leadership skill to ensure both the windshield and rear-view mirror are sparkling clean before turning the ignition to start every learning program?

#LnDGoBeyond #LearningMeasurement #LearningAnalytics #LearningAndDevelopment

This blog was first published on LinkedIn

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