The Compelling Case to Connect Learning to Organizational Performance

Organizations have the power to determine whether training programs have the impact they’re supposed to, but the majority of them still rely on outdated measures of lesser value. In this post, we’ll discuss why it’s so important to measure a learning program’s impact on performance, why it can be hard, and some tips for getting started.

Connecting Learning and Performance...What Does That Mean, Exactly?

Training followed a typical path for a long time. When someone is new to an organization, they learn about the mission, the importance of their role, and how to perform it correctly. As they mature in their role, additional training may be provided as circumstances warrant; new software, systems, techniques or protocols are all common drivers of training.

This approach to training is based more on what we think people should be trained on, rather than what individual and organizational performance data is telling us. L&D is experiencing a shift to include more of the latter: looking at results to tell us where and what kind of training is needed.

Slow Adoption of Data-Driven Learning Strategy

Brandon Hall Group’s (BHG) recent webinars and articles have focused on the need for organizations to connect the learning function to business performance, and the rather surprising number of organizations that still aren’t doing it.

We’re excited to see this topic brought to the forefront by an industry leader and think tank, because it’s one we’ve focused on for several years in the development of ourlearning management software, ExpandShare. It’s a passion of mine.

We want to share some of BHG’s findings from the recent The State of Learning & Development research report, as discussed during a November, 2015 webinar:

  1. Researchers separated “high performing organizations” from the overall group of respondents and found an interesting trend. High Performing Organizations,  as defined by BHG researchers, had a year-over-year increase in key performance indicators. Experiencing growth in areas like revenue, customer satisfaction, and market share, these organizations are also more likely to employ today’s learning and development best practices.
    • They are more likely to build a learning strategy to guide activities.
    • They are more likely to base learning strategy on organizational performance goals.
    • They are more likely to use advanced measurement types beyond Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 to determine the impact of learning activities and strategy.
  2. When asked about connecting the learning function to business performance, the results were, again, quite telling:
    • Just over 80% of high performing organizations indicated they’ve tied L&D to business outcomes to a “moderate or high degree”.
    • That number dropped to about 65% for all respondents.
  3. When asked why learning and performance should be connected, survey respondents offered the reasons listed below. Note the primary focus is ensuring the training department delivers what is most needed by the business to drive success.
    • “To align learning strategy with business needs” (65.3% of all respondents)
    • “To develop strategies for addressing L&D needs” (33.3% of all respondents)
    • “Analyze L&D needs” (33.1%)
    • “Promote strong financial management” (24.5%)
    • “Strengthen ethics and government” (22.1%)
    • “Evaluate L&D” (17.4%)
  4. Respondents were also asked about how they measure learning programs. About 50% of survey respondents claimed they measure the majority (75-100%) of their learning programs at Kirkpatrick Level 1 - Satisfaction. 40% are measuring none of their learning programs at Level 4 - Results. Let that one simmer for a minute. Assuming respondents are a representative sample, 40% of organizations have no way of knowing whether their training programs have any impact on business results, and they’re not even attempting to find out.

Look For Meaningful Data to Inform and Guide Your Learning Strategy

Marketers have been through what L&D departments are going through now. For a long time, many marketing tactics weren’t very measurable, and if they were it wasn’t terribly meaningful information. The number of people who could potentially have your television ad broadcast in their home isn’t super helpful. It was hard to determine an ROI. Digital marketing, big data, and platforms that power entire marketing strategies, like Marketo and HubSpot, have allowed marketers to track all kinds of metrics and make swift tactical adjustments to maximize results.

Similarly, training departments have relied on “smile sheets” and quizzes to gauge the success of a course. While interesting, these measures aren’t terribly meaningful. Just because someone says they enjoyed a course doesn’t mean they will perform better at their job. Just because they score 100% on a quiz doesn’t mean they will have retained that information a month down the line.

Training departments need data to tell them whether training activities are impacting on-the-job performance and moving the needle. The figure below lists some of the KPIs Brandon Hall’s survey respondents indicated were good measures of success. Some others may be:

  • Increase in Sales
  • Point-of-Sale Behavior
  • Equipment downtime
  • Problem Resolution
  • Customer Complaints
  • Inspection Results
  • And more, depending on your organization’s unique KPIs

Brandon Hall Group: The State of L&D: Trends in Learning Technology, Strategy, and More (2015)

Why Isn’t Everyone Measuring the Impact of Learning Programs?

Talking to folks at organizations of all shapes and sizes, we hear a lot of the same challenges when it comes to implementing these practices. In short, it’s hard. If it weren’t, everyone would be doing it by now.

  • It often requires pulling data from multiple systems within the organization, and that’s not always a piece of cake. It requires buy-in from the necessary departments and, of course, the IT work to import or export relevant data.
  • You may find you need another platform or external resource that’s a difficult sell internally.
  • If your internal analytics team is already swamped, getting help crunching data can be tough.

While Not Always Easy, It’s Worth It

Armed with the right results-oriented information, L&D teams have the ability to createneeded learning programs and deliver them to the right people at the right time. They will know how much their work contributes to the meeting of organizational goals.

But What If Our Training Programs Aren’t Making An Impact?

This isn’t something you should worry about. First, that’s highly unlikely. Second, even if you start taking a deeper look at the impact of training and don’t like what you see, the data will also help you design an improvement plan. It will make your job easier, not harder.


If you're interested, check out ExpandShare's eLearning Services to see how your program can be an epic success.