This week I participated in a discussion on learning metrics with my new friends at #lrnchat. What a pleasure it is to be part of these weekly events. Where else can you say things like, “if we start analyzing the problem using the Six Boxes® model based on Thomas Gilbert’s theory, we are sure to make some progress” without people running away to see if someone refilled the punch bowl?
The questions that were tossed around this week were:
- Are learning metrics different from business metrics?
- What are you measuring in your organization?
- How do you tie organizational learning to business performance outcomes?
- What else besides metrics do you use to show impact?
I was excited and a little bit surprised as I watched the responses roll by. I get so caught up in what I’m doing at work that I lose sight of what is going on in the rest of the world. Some people seemed to be struggling with measurement basics, while others seemed to have a strong grasp on the topic. This got me thinking about what we are doing at my organization, which probably falls somewhere in the middle.
I thought a lot about this discussion after it was over. Really, the heart of the matter is: What value do we as learning professionals bring to the organization? How do we show it? The short answer is that we do this by helping business leaders meet their goals.
I have been fortunate throughout my career to have been involved in a number of projects that made a huge impact on the business. But I can also recall times when it was difficult to see connections between the work that I was doing and the impact it was having on the organization. These are the times when we all fall back on measures such as, “butts in seats,” level one evaluations, and elearning completion rates. These are important feedback indicators for the training department, but they usually don’t mean very much to business leaders. That being said, I can think of examples in which these measures alone have been important to the business. What it comes down to is that sometimes the measures associated with learning success will be obvious and glamorous, and other times they will not. Here are a few examples of both from my experience:
- Sales Training is one of those cases where the metrics are obvious and easy to align to the business. We run a class on how to sell against our competitors effectively. The natural metric associated with this is the number of competitive takeaways. We have clear evidence that sales reps who take this class have a higher rate of competitive takeaways than the general rep population.
- Equipment Service Training is another example with obvious metrics. Well-trained service reps fix problems more quickly and are able to tackle more service calls in less time.
- Operations Training can have a variety of metrics. We ran a class on how to write work instructions for a part of the business that was very procedurally oriented. Every time they had people leave the department due to promotions or turnover, processes broke down. Our metric was the existence of well-written work instructions in the departments that participated in the training. This helped the business leader keep continuity when there was turnover.
- Compliance Training metrics are not very glamorous. This is a case where counting up completions works to serve the measurement need. Our legal department wants to reduce or eliminate ethics violations, or failing that, be able to prove the company did its part in making employees aware of their responsibilities and the consequences. We make sure everyone goes through our business ethics course and provide a report shows that this has been done.
- Soft Skills Training metrics are of course the fuzziest area. Yes we conduct level three evaluations to show behavioral change, but most people don’t get too excited over these. However, our Chief Human Resources Officer is very interested in employee engagement. She knows that offering soft skills training helps people with personal development which is important to engagement. She also knows that managers and supervisors who use what they have learned in soft skills courses are going to receive higher engagement scores. So yes, we count “butts in seats” for these courses.