Your learning investment must make a difference

There are many evaluation models and cost/benefits frameworks which attempt to determine the “worth” of learning and development in the workplace.  Depending on the type of learning required, some models and frameworks are easier to apply than others.  Sometimes even when applied, the expected outcomes and improvements don’t materialise. Results, when they do materialise, take far longer than expected.  It is sometimes perceived that it is difficult to quantify the learning investment.

Even when the learning programme is excellent, it doesn’t always deliver results

A number of years ago, I worked with an organisation who had invested a lot of employees time and financial resource into a learning and development programme, with a frustratingly little result.  A respected business consultancy had calculated a return on the learning investment which was a persuasive driver to buy in the proposed programme. However, 18 months later, the expected benefits on the learning investment had simply not accrued.

The MD was totally frustrated. The learning programme was polished, expert and inspirational.  Employees were enthused and bought into the concepts and the benefits of working in a different way.  The formalised feedback on the training event was excellent.  The business consultancy had done an amazing job.  So what had gone wrong?

Improving knowledge, skills and behaviours doesn’t always mean better results

In another example, the lack of effective leadership skills and behaviours had been identified as a big problem for this national organisation.  It was decided to re-design the leadership skills framework and to develop a programme for all senior leaders.   A set of behavioural standards were developed. A methodology to measure changes was put in place.  A coaching and mentoring framework was agreed along with monthly action learning meetings.

There was a new spring in the step of leaders across the organisation.  They gave positive and enthusiastic feedback on the coaching and development programme.

When the 2nd annual employee feedback survey showed less than a 1% improvement in perceptions of employees, alongside results with marginal improvements, they were dumbfounded.

Great learning programmes don’t always result in improvements

Those examples are simply two of hundreds I have seen when learning and development have been brought into an organisation. The learning has been evaluated and the content and application have been faultless. The organisation is absolutely clear about the improvements they want to see.  But yet, still, the expected results did not materialise.

Why is this?  As you know there are many factors which impel or motivate people to change the way they do things, and learning new skills, behaviours, knowledge or even raising awareness is just one part of the equation.

When your business is buying in development interventions, you want to be able to see a real return on investment. Otherwise, why would you use precious financial resources on it?   No one can completely guarantee a return on investment, but the chances of a return can be greatly improved, and more importantly, you can pinpoint exactly why the return hasn’t been realised by introducing the following principles.

When I was asked to do some work for the organisation in the first example, the MD was frustrated that the learning he had bought had not realised the outcomes he required, even though the learning providers had delivered the learning they had promised.

Seven simple principles

My first step was to establish the following 7 principles if I were going to take on the task of getting results:

  1. A learning and development provider will facilitate a real return on investment in partnership with the commissioning organisation.
  2. Learning must enable a measurable improvement or change by the learner.
  3. The improvement or change must contribute to the overall outcomes for the organisation.
  4. Each learner must develop a “call to action or objective” where they are accountable for achieving measurable improvement or change.
  5. The organisation must enforce accountability, usually through their performance management system.
  6. The achievement collectively of “calls to action, or objectives” will result in a measured outcome for the organisation.
  7. “If it is not possible to set individuals a call to action or objective which aligns with overall business objectives, then following learning the commissioning organisation should consider whether development is needed.

Making trainees accountable

I agreed to deliver a short refresher programme, with a pragmatic design.   I explained unless the training included an accountable call to action for each employee, it would likely be unsuccessful once more, and so secured his agreement to establish accountability for achievement within the organisation.

We agreed at the end of the event, each employee would identify a work based objective to improve, abandon or shorten a process and to quantify the savings.

  • Improve customer service or increase customer satisfaction, with a measurable difference
  • Reduce the number and type of complaints
  • Create a measurable increase in quality

The results

In a 6 month period, 95% of employees met objectives,  outcomes were recorded and collectively it was calculated that almost  £1 million had been saved up to that point as a direct result of achievement of the outcomes or objectives.

Not only were amazing results achieved, employees felt an increased sense of ownership of the success of the initiative.  They had tangible evidence of their contribution and saw a real difference.

Incidentally, these principles will also work for individuals if you are thinking of buying in your own self-development programme.  For the majority of learning, unless it translates into accountable action, then it might be a “nice to have” but not necessarily an activity which will create significant change

I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

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