Learning is pervasive. And the process of learning spans throughout our lives — from the moment we are born to when we first walk, communicate, adapt or compute. Most often, we focus our learning to achieve a certain skill or art, to perfect it, and become employable. But data suggests that learning, in its traditional form, that is derived from institutional knowledge and in the classrooms is not enough to equip us with employable skills. The India Skills Report 2015 reveals that hardly 1/3rd of the entire workforce entering the job market across the country is able to meet the criteria of employment set by the employers. It is also an established fact that India adds about 12 million people to the workforce every year, and less than 4% have received any formal training. This lack of formal training, both in domain-specific skills and soft skills like communication, language and inter-personal skills is a serious challenge to the industries and economy per se. With profound shifts and disruptions across industries being perceived as the harbinger of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, there is a need to tackle this challenge by providing employees with domain-specific skills through specialized trainings and skilling programs.
Although the need to train and skill a large part of the workforce is essential, the real challenge appears while measuring the conversion of such knowledge/information into application. Furthermore, the challenge expands to include such measurements to be kept free from bias. The methodologies, application and outputs of any learning are usually dispersed, which makes it difficult to measure and it is this struggle that organizations face finding a linear correlation between the training they provide to their employees and its effect on the business. In a McKinsey Quarterly survey, 90% of the respondents said that building capacity was a top-ten priority for their organization, but a dismal 8% tracked their programs’ return on investment.
At the Adobe Round Table conference at the Workforce Analytics Conclave, representatives from leading organizations across various sectors, came together to discuss this challenge of measuring the learning and development of their employees. The concern of ‘measurement’ was ubiquitous, but surprisingly, the challenge wasn’t restricted to measuring the outcomes of learning. Organizations admitted to being stumped regarding indispensable processes like identification of skills and population, procuring the buy-in of the top leadership and the medium of training, that answer preliminary questions about learning. This is rather an insightful revelation, for it helps one understand the several, yet common challenges that most L&D teams face. During the course of the discussion, the multi-faceted challenges of measuring learning were established:
The first challenge lies in identifying the audience for learning. How does one identify who needs to be trained, in what capacity, and through what methods?
Model of the Training
Who decides the approach of learning for the employees? Does the onus lie on the top leaders to align the larger business goals with training goals, or is a bottoms-up approach is better, wherein the learning population is an equal stakeholder in making such decisions? Furthermore, is there a need of personalizing the training programs according to the needs and skill gaps of an employee?
It is crucial for employees to receive multiple learning interventions at all times. Among product-based, behavioural, leadership, management and soft-skills training, how does one formulate and execute a wholesome training program that has the right mix of all elements? How does one identify the proportion of classroom and experiential training in each case? Additionally, how does one standardize the inter-disciplinary training to easily facilitate cross-sectional training programmes?
Measuring the RoI
After training, how does one directly correlate the amount of investment (on training employees) to the impact on business, and claim the training to be a success? Since various interventions and conditions outside the training, like a successful marketing campaign, or economic conditions of the industry, can lead to fulfilling of overarching business goals, how does one make a case for comprehensive and consistent learning and training programs when their outcomes are not clearly measurable or reflected in results?
Such barriers are faced in different forms by L&D initiators, who continually attempt to counter them. Pramod Solanki, Associate VP, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, stated during the round table that, “Since every workgroup in an organisation delivers as a part of an ecosystem, the learning teams need to address learning priorities of various groups in a holistic manner by taking the workgroup as one system and using learning interventions to support the needs of the system as a whole and not just a specific skill set. To begin with, the business heads need to be able to recognize what their teams need to do differently to achieve the business aspirations. If the top two or three learning interventions are correctly identified, designed and executed, these are bound to result in superior performance.” Much in agreement, Ross Sparkman, Head of Strategic Workforce Planning, Facebook, explained that, “The foremost challenge can be effectively countered by listing and identifying the most critical roles in your organization – the ones that drive your business. Looking at each role individually and listing the skills required in that role can help in understanding the proportion of time that is spent on these skills, and identifying the learning gap that exists. This proportionality forms the basis of an effective training plan.”
Identification of the right training objectives is a critical step, one which requires the input of several stakeholders, the most important one being, the leader. Mayur Satyavrat, Head, OD & Talent Management, RBL Bank, explicates, “It all begins with the leaders – the sponsors of such programs. You need to be able to relay the cost and consequences of not undertaking learning and training interventions, and build awareness in the mind of the top leadership that it is the right step to achieve the collective next level aspiration.” The CEO and the Board will always look at training through the lens of costs, margin and scale, and it is the onus of the L&D team to convince them of the fact that training will create cost, customer and comparative advantage leading to competitive advantage which is most vital to create long term sustainable organisation and thereby do good to all stakeholders in its true sense. The task at hand is by no means easy, for people who are already successful might not see the need to do things differently. Mayur further explains, “We have created different competencies like techno-functional, leadership and universal, and listed the norms for different levels in each to link them with performance and productivity right from the stage of hiring to development. Furthermore, we have created Leadership Effectiveness Benchmarks, Leadership Maturity Benchmarks from levels 1 to 6 which take into account measures like team engagement score, attrition and productivity etc. The overall progress is measured in all of these, which is something that can be easily explained and presented to the board.”