Demonstrating the business value for learning is not a matter of providing more resources for measurement, evaluation and analytics. It’s a process that permeates the learning cycle, starting with why?
Delivering business value from learning has 10 steps.
- Start with why. Too many learning and development programs are implemented without a clear business need. Most if not all of them should start with a business connection to improve measures such as productivity, quality, cycle time, cost reduction, retention, compliance, engagement, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, to name a few.
- Connect to the right solution. Too many programs are implemented for the wrong reasons. They may be requested by an executive team that thinks learning is the solution, or the request may be based on a trend or a new, best-selling book. While this may be interesting and insightful, it may not be necessary for the target audience. Connect the proposed learning program to a business need, and ensure it’s the right solution to drive that need.
- Define expectations. All stakeholders need to know what’s expected of them. This starts by setting objectives at different levels for reaction, learning, application, impact, even ROI when needed. It also involves setting expectations for designers, developers, facilitators, participants, participant managers, and sponsors who must know that learning is not successful unless it is applied and has an impact in the organization.
- Design for results. Design programs to deliver results; ensure there is appropriate focus on application and impact. Tools, templates, action plans and proper support at the right time, for the right individuals, must be in place to help achieve results.
- Create or acquire powerful content. The heart of any program is content. While the learning environment and experience are important, the content is more important to drive business value, but only if it’s something the participants will use.
- Deliver efficiency and effectiveness. Today’s workplace is focused on delivering learning with less cost, more convenience, in shorter time spans. While e-learning and mobile learning are necessary for convenience and cost, they also must be effective, delivering needed value. Effectiveness and efficiency measures must be considered hand-in-hand.
- Ensure learning transfer. Failure to transfer learning to the job has plagued the learning and development field for years. Although progress is being made, there is still much that needs to be done early and often in the process. It starts by examining the environment before developing a new learning solution to minimize or remove barriers, and ensure there are sufficient enablers to make it work.
- Measure results. At different levels, measure reaction because it is a good predictor of success later. Learning (Level 2) should be measured for 80-90 percent of programs and application (Level 3) should be measured for about 30 percent of programs. Business impact should be measured in about 10 to 20 percent of programs. Finally, for programs that are very expensive, important and strategic, the evaluation should be pushed to ROI (Level 5), usually in 5 percent of programs. The good news is these measurement targets can be achieved within most budgets.
- Communicate results to key stakeholders. Learning leaders often overlook how they communicate measurement results. Many groups need to see success and opportunities for improvement. For example, participant managers want to see success in application and impact. Top-executives who provide budgets need results for future funding decisions.
- Use results for optimization and allocation. Results are powerful, particularly evaluations at Level 3, 4, and 5. Data should be used to improve programs, so they can deliver more value in the future, optimizing the return on investment. Higher returns may reveal better ways to allocate funding for future programs. For example, our studies show that soft skills programs usually deliver high ROI values. When executives clearly understand this, they may allocate more to soft skills, and that is often what is needed. Evaluation leads to optimization, which leads to better budget allocation.
Jack J. Phillips is the chairman, and Patti P. Phillips is president and CEO of the ROI Institute. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.