Today, employee capability development is under the spotlight, primarily because organizational success factors are rapidly evolving. Organizations are demanding new skill sets to cut through the intense competition. Organizations are pouring billions into learning and development initiatives, in a bid to empower employees to be their productive best. However, HR leaders often shy away from justifying these L&D expenses. They measure the quality of the intervention itself but miss out on how it adds value to the top line or to business growth. In a situation where the HR landscape is wrought with constraints of time, budget and intent, a failure to justify the value-add of L&D to business can dissuade organizations from investing in employee development programs. It, therefore, becomes necessary to measure and showcase the impact of L&D programs.
A number of traditional models for evaluating training effectiveness have made the rounds of HR textbooks, a renowned one being the four-level Kirk Patrick Model. Companies find themselves at various stages of evaluation i.e. reaction, learning, behavior, and results, with very few actually measuring results in line with the business strategy. Moreover, today we see a highly evolved L&D landscape, with diverse learning channels like online, mobile, classrooms, gamified learning, social learning and so on. Each of these demands a different training-evaluation approach i.e. a blend of quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure training impact. However, most companies continue to carry out standard evaluations such as happy sheets, testimonials, line manager feedback, psychometrics assessments for mapping behavioral changes and so on. None of these really assesses learning effectiveness in alignment with strategic functional and business goals. It is time HR professionals move beyond the obviously seen and delve deeper into the business impact of L&D initiatives. This is a must to win over the confidence of business leaders and contributes at a strategic level.
Learning elements you must measure
We are no longer in the age when measuring feedback ratings and completion rates is enough. A data-backed training analytics mindset is a pressing need in L&D today. As a learning and development professional, the first step is to look at the core L&D outcomes in itself i.e. the key metrics that capture how your learners have changed as a result of a learning intervention. Here are some of the key aspects to think through:
- Skill attainment: This is a typical training evaluation approach that relies on measuring knowledge levels, both pre-learning and post-learning. Think of knowledge-gain in conjunction with the role and the deliverables the learner is expected to perform well in.
- Skill application: Skills without real-world application do not serve the purpose. It is, therefore, important to measure, to what extent the learner is practically applying the newfound knowledge/skill in his or her role.
- Behavioural changes: Primarily this applies to culture and soft skills training. It is important to know how well the learner has imbued the organizational values or soft skills which are required to succeed at the job. Ideally, the personal values of the learner should be completely aligned with the organizational values. Behavioral changes must be assessed at both the individual and team levels for the learner.
- Goal attainment: L&D outcome evaluation must be closely tied to goal attainment i.e. the role-based performance goals laid out for the learner. L&D effectiveness must, therefore, be intricately tied in with the performance management process.
How to quantify outcomes in business terms
The above four-step assessment will help you arrive at an overview of your learning and development outcomes- whether they are giving you the desired performance results in the learner’s role or function? The next stage is to drill deeper into the fourth element i.e. goal attainment at an overall business level. For this HR professionals must evaluate the return on investment of L&D initiatives in quantitative business terms. Measure effectiveness both quantitatively and qualitatively is a necessary step to generate the necessary buy-in with the CXO suite. Here is what you should look out for.
- Sales growth: Training (especially sales-specific training) should result in sales revenue growth. Conduct a pre-training and post-training analysis of employees’ productivity and workloads to understand whether the training has improved delivery numbers.
- Cost reductions: An objective of training is to increase efficiency, thereby enabling cost savings. For example, employees may come up with cost-reduction projects when trained for opportunity-seeking. Monitor the relationship between skill enhancements / behavioral changes by the learner and reduced costs in the immediate function/team.
- Employee retention: The role of training is not just to improve business metrics, but also to indirectly aid business by providing the right talent. Training is an effective engagement tool that creates employee stickiness within an organization. It thus helps reduce recruitment efforts and costs. Track your learners for their retention levels and get to know whether learning initiatives are actually valued by your people, or do you need to change course in your L&D strategy?
Embrace L&D analytics
Measuring the outcome of L&D initiatives and ensuring their effectiveness is a talent analytics effort. HR leaders must rope in the latest technologies and learning / HR evaluation systems and processes to make training evaluation an ongoing commitment. HR must move away from the mindset of one-off measurements and adopt a continuous process to improvise on learning methodologies. Evaluations must be real-time, data-driven and actionable to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Only then can organizations extract maximum value from learning and development interventions.
The goal is to build organizational capability
The goal of learning and development is to build individual and organizational capability and help navigate the business conundrums of today and tomorrow. At the employee end, learning and development also serve as an engagement and retention tool, by offering career advancement opportunities. These dual-fold objectives can be achieved only when the L&D strategy is effective and optimized to the core. Every stage right from training needs identification to implementation to measuring effectiveness must be revisited and revised as per need. Only then, can HR professionals expect to create a sustainable change in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes and align talent with the organizational needs.