A Strategy for Learning Impact

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Steps to Impact Strategy: Selling, Gathering Evidence, and Telling Stories for Organizational Improvement

Moving from minimal impact to documentable improvements on behalf of the organization isn’t always a straightforward journey. In particular, it’s seldom a single step. Organizations can have several different initiatives with different priorities. They might be simultaneously doing some ‘information’ presentations and also have others that are intended to achieve outcomes. Further, it can be the case that it may be difficult to obtain any evidence. The shift requires having a strategy.

To put it simply, the journey has a few important, and related, steps. First, the change needs to be ‘sold’ to stakeholders. They need to understand the benefits and costs. Second, the improvements need to be documented. Once the steps are taken, evidence should be collected that it’s working as promised. Finally, the evidence needs to be amassed and presented, concluding the change. Folks have to be convinced that the effort hasn’t just been worth it but is a necessary and desirable sustained shift. Once this is done, you want to use the initial benefits as a basis to argue for more change and instantiate a move to impact as the default.

Selling the story

Different folks are swayed by different evidence. As a pragmatic suggestion, it helps to muster all the different forms that could be convincing, and then use the appropriate one for any particular stakeholder.

Some folks may be persuaded by principle. Be prepared to tell the learning science story: that meaningful change comes from deliberate practice with spacing. To accompany this story, have statistics. Ideally, they’re as closely related to your particular situation as necessary, but general responses can be of use here as well.

Another form of evidence is anecdote. Have some stories from your organization, or, arguably better, competitors, about how designing appropriate solutions led to real business impact. Good examples are available. You can talk about industries where performance is critical: aviation, medicine, and military. In each, they use extensive detailed practice, because the consequences of failure are high. Or talk about the best examples you know.

Perhaps most effective is personal experience. Ask stakeholders whether they were told once, or whether they had to practice and get feedback. Focus on the best courses they can recall and analyze why. It can also help to explain how people just liking courses is poorly correlated with the actual value. For instance, folks may not like a particular course because it’s tough, but it does lead to better outcomes (c.f. military boot camp).

Gathering Evidence

Once you’ve gotten permission to do at least a pilot, engineer a compelling one. You want to have a situation where a change is both needed and doable. Focus on an important outcome, and design to achieve it. It should be a situation where the improvement is obviously of benefit to the organization. Having a noticeable impact is a big step towards earning the credibility to make a more sustained shift in approach and outcomes.

Working with an eager adopter, a business owner who believes in the story, can make the way smooth to take the steps you need to accomplish. They should recognize the need, be easy to work with, have the power to accomplish the necessary changes and be willing to share the outcomes with you. Any other resources should similarly be on the same page. The right partners are a necessary component for success.

One of the most important elements here is being able to collect data. You want to have evidence to course correct as you go, and then also to show that the necessary improvement was achieved. Ideally, you’re collecting data at every level, say after the learning, 3 weeks later in the workplace, and 3 months later on the organizational metrics.

Telling the story

Once you’ve got the data, you want to make it a story. The Narrative has power not only for learning but for change. You want to do a good job conveying the initial situation, the needed change, the efforts made, and the results. Hopefully, it’s obvious that the story should highlight the emphasis on working to achieve impact.

Who you tell can be as important as how the story is told. In addition to stakeholders such as executives, other business owners may be enthused, and the participants themselves can benefit. The story should be consistent but likely should be modified for the interests of the audience. Participants are likely to want to know that they’re now better, other business owners are likely interested in the demands to replicate, while executives would want to know what such a change costs the business versus the benefits.

Leverage the outcome

Once you’ve succeeded in a good instance, your job isn’t done. This ideally is a step on the road to making the learning unit more evidence-based and critical to the success of the organization. Ideally, you’ve got a story to tell about how a shift to impact is a better investment of organizational resources. It’s about allocating resources to business imperatives in a way that maximizes the benefits accrued.

It’s not a quick path, in most cases, but increasingly it’s an important one. While some industries may not be facing increased competition immediately, as change accelerates, the imperative is to move in this direction in the long term. This is the path to get where we should be.

In conclusion, mastering impactful learning within an organization demands a strategic approach, from selling the concept to stakeholders to crafting compelling narratives of success. Leveraging these victories as stepping stones, we aim to cultivate a culture where learning is a strategic investment. For deeper insights into learning impact, explore our eBook: Designing for Learning Impact: Strategies and Implementation today. Take the leap towards organizational excellence through effective learning strategies.

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