Effective learning positively affects learners and the organisation alike. However, not everyone understands how to get business results from a learning programme – or even that it’s possible to do so. L&D professionals can add considerable value and enhance their reputations by ensuring learning programmes recognise and meet the needs of learners AND organisations and then providing tangible evidence this has been achieved. I’ve previously written about designing effective training so in this post, I’ll outline some of my tactics for ensuring that learning is clearly connected to business needs – and ultimately delivers business results.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that just because training exists does not mean that it necessarily works. If you have ever had a senior manager insist everyone needs to complete their online compliance training this week, even though the workforce is part time and has limited IT access, you’ll know what I mean. That learning approach may suit the business (or more likely, that individual manager) but it may not get the desired results because it does not suit the learners at all.
Similar traps can be seen when managers are beguiled by exciting sounding off-the-shelf learning that has a range of ‘bells and whistles’, such as multimedia and interactivity. While some exciting-sounding learning ‘innovations’ may appeal to busy managers in need of solutions, they don’t necessarily serve the business’s needs.
Know exactly what you want to achieve, and what success looks like
If you are a fan of learning design guru and NZATD friend Cathy Moore, you’ll know what to do when someone says: ‘We need training!’ In a nutshell, Cathy’s approach starts by refocusing requests for training into conversations about how training needs to address defined and measurable business goals. This helps negate the risk of creating training when it’s not needed (I cover this in more detail in my post on ‘Workplace training challenges: is training what you really need?’).
Talk to the people who matter, not just those who want the training
Creating links between training and goals often involves bringing others into the conversation, such as subject matter experts (SMEs) and people who are involved in setting the goals. Discussions with them will help you map the connections between training needs and organisational goals. It will also help to prioritise the identified needs. Engaging with prospective learners will confirm what their needs actually are (as opposed to what they are assumed to be). In some cases you may discover training is not needed at all because the problems are caused by issues such as poorly designed processes or underlying literacy or numeracy issues, rather than technical skill gaps. Once you have had the necessary conversations then it’s time to start thinking about developing training that delivers tangible business value.
Focus on business impact and return on investment to get business results from your learning programme
The next step is to look at how to gain business value from the identified goals. Drs Jack and Patti Phillips’s ROI Methodology takes centre stage here. The ROI (return on investment) Methodology framework is objective, being based on data and agreed goals. It helps you measure where the organisation is, where it wants to be and what needs to happen to get there. Put simply, it is great for developing the measurable learning objectives I mentioned above. Drawing upon data removes emotion and personalities from discussions about learning. This is a huge help if senior colleagues are reluctant to accept your recommendations. The framework is also a useful sense check and a way to highlight the tangible, strategic value that HR and learning and development teams bring to the decision-making table. Take a look at my free ROI resources.
Be sceptical about gimmicks
My inbox is full of messages trying to sell the latest e-learning innovations. Most go straight into the Trash folder because I can tell they are not going to change anything. Worse still, some actually put people off learning (VR headsets that used to give learners motion sickness comes to mind). For more information, see a short video where I talk about this issue in more detail. The frustrating thing about these ‘innovations’ is that they catch the eye – but for the wrong reasons. They look exciting, especially as they are often accompanied by mentions of research (although suspiciously, there is often no link to any recent research) and futuristic buzzwords that appeal to leaders. However, there is rarely a mention of how the learning will lead to change. When one of those sales emails lands in my inbox I ask three questions: Will this lead to learning?, Who says so? and Which organisational problem is this going to solve? A bit of scepticism goes a long way.
I love Will Thalheimer’s approach to evaluation. He focuses on performance, not learner satisfaction, and prompts learners to reflect on how they have been able to apply learning to their day-to-day work. Evaluation is an essential part of learning and development, whichever approach you take. For one thing, it’s an opportunity to learn about your learners. It’s also a chance to check that your learning programme is delivering business results (and if it isn’t then it will help identify why not).
Be a trusted advisor: push back (gently) on poorly formed ideas
One of the challenges in an L&D role is dealing with well-intentioned but ultimately unsound ideas, especially when they come from senior colleagues. Evidence is your friend here: it gives you the standing to push back (gently but assertively) when gimmicks and costly-but-untested solutions are mentioned. An evidence-based approach means you can refer to hard data, rather than needing to rely on status or social capital, when decisions need to be made. This will help position you as a helpful advisor and someone worthy of a seat at the table because you can demonstrate the tangible business results arising from your learning programmes.