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Expectations for L&Ds are changing. A lot. It’s no longer enough to just ship courses and hope they make a difference in terms of building skills and solving problems. Learning metrics are a great start to evaluate this. But today, we need to go beyond them to prove our impact.
That’s why Guy Wallace, Performance Analyst and Instructional Architect, and I have spoken with not less than five L&D experts to better understand the key steps to matching employees training requests to business performance. The goal here? Proving the impact an L&D team can have on the business and turn them into a strategic business partner.
Here’s step one of our six-step playbook for impactful L&D.
Let’s change the mindset: as a training professional, you’re definitely not an order taker. And employees should understand that L&D is not just an “event”, forcing them to stop what they’re doing to follow a course. Your goal now is to learn how to address variables that influence performance at the company-level. We’ll get to it later in this article.
So first, operating a change in your behavior and mindset in order to become a strategic business partner is the right move. You have to reflect on how the L&D function can impact business KPIs. It’s a matter of ensuring that L&D will help employees improve their processes, not just what they learnt during a training course. Look at L&D as “a way to change key behaviors, processes, tasks, that do influence the business KPIs” as Fredrik Peterson (Head of Learning & Performance at Telia) and Teemu Lilja (Learning & Performance Lead, Sales at Telia) state.
"People tend to think the L&D role is about engaging people in learning whereas when you’re an L&D leader within an organization you realize it’s actually about developing people. It’s all about the outcome, not the activity itself." - Fredrik Peterson, Head of Learning & Performance at Telia Company
Let’s just say it: it’s hard to prove what your generic content or eLearning resources will generate in terms of value for the business. That is the reason why to prove your impact, you need to perform an analysis to better understand your context.
First, determine what is your ‘ground zero’ : answer the question “what is the problem I need to solve?” You’ll be able to determine if your digital learning solution had the desired effect or not. Try to understand what your stakeholders are trying to achieve themselves. Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences at Novartis, states that L&D leaders today should “keep that focus front and center at all times. Build your reputation around helping the organization achieve desired outcomes and not just delivering stuff” she states.
Thinking holistically will help you solve business problems and align your stakeholders. This way, you’ll be able to challenge their training requests if they realize they disagree on the issue they’re trying to solve. When you’re gathering these training requests, you’re engaging stakeholders while growing your confidence: you are in a position of establishing yourself as a true leader. Talking with your audience will help you understand all the factors to take into account. According to Mirjam Neelen, seeing the bigger picture will help you understand whether or not you are adding value to the business:
"Analyzing and talking to the audience in a targeted space will help you see that training or learning alone might not help learners achieve the desired outcome. This is because there will be all types of other factors that need to be fixed." - Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences at Novartis
There are several ways you can involve your subject-matter experts holistically. You can perform a task analysis, i.e. learning through observation. It’s an analysis of how a task is accomplished that you can frame as ensuring it serves all your stakeholders so they support the goals of your business.
"If stakeholders send you a lot of content, try to make sense of it by mapping it out and asking if it will help learners understand the targeted outcome. Show your stakeholders that you understand what they are trying to achieve with the content. Next, you can map their content to what the work looks like–this is your deliverable." - Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences at Novartis
It’s not enough to focus on learning metrics such as completion rates and satisfaction scores - they are indicators. A good learning platform should help you boost and track those easily. (Not yours? Get in touch ;) )
As a strategic digital learning expert, measuring improvements to employee performance is the thing you should care about above all other things. If you want to prove your impact to your C-suite, you must understand your employees’ current level of performance and the results they’re trying to achieve but are not able to get efficiently. It’s crucial to go beyond providing generic experiences, knowledge and skills. We must focus on the “how”: how will these elements help employees create the right outputs and be successful in their own context?
"If you are in an organization with people in that ‘performance’ space, learning to collaborate with them can be helpful. But most organizations don’t have it that way, so if you want your learning to be successful, you must look at it through the eyes of performance." - Judith Hale, CEO at The Institute for Performance Improvement Education
First, we must define what is “performance”. It’s not just about the good results you will get as a company. According to Carl Binder, the elements of performance are “behavior that produces accomplishments that contribute to organizational or societal results. Accomplishments, or work outputs, have to be a noun–a report, an update, or a dataset–that you can look at to determine a good proposal”. A behavior can also be considered as an accomplishment and should be taken into consideration when identifying work outputs in the performance. It makes things much easier to then figure out what process is needed to help develop this behavior.
Carl explains that work outputs can be documents, but they can also result in relationships or important decisions. That’s why the Six Boxes model helps to focus on accomplishments and puts all the variables into place in a simple context. This framework identifies 6 areas where problems may occur in a business strategy and is used as a structure for undertaking a complete review.
In a nutshell: to foster employee performance in the context of Quiet Quitting, as an L&D leader, you have no choice but to keep the conditions of performance (as described in the Six Boxes Model above) aligned.
You want to know if you made the impact intended? Check whether your employees are performing with the level of skill required that they weren’t able to before. As we said before, it’s critical to look at indicators that matter to employees so that they know we understand their challenges, but it also offers a bigger chance to show our impact as L&D leaders. Now that we know how to define employee performance in the business as explained in Step 3, we need to understand which key impact metrics to look at.
"Assess performance before and after your learners attend courses, run experiments. You’ll get a way to understand your impact." - Teemu Lilja, Learning & Performance Lead, Sales at Telia Company
Isolating L&D efforts within business KPIs will help you drive growth, according to Telia’s Fredrik Peterson & Teemu Lilja. Mirjam Neelen suggests to replicate what works best with the business teams: pick one or two projects every quarter so you can assess how you’re solving business problems. What a better way to extract case studies and frameworks that will help other teams move forward with L&D opportunities?
"Capability is what you own. Don’t focus on your program–you can change that–but focus on whether people can do the job and support the business." - Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences at Novartis
Here are some of the key impact metrics to look at when evaluating the impact of your learnings on the business:
These KPIs, instead of only completion or engagement rates, are what revenue leaders, C-suites, and execs look at and what will earn you a seat at that table.
If you choose to change the LMS or suite of content you’re using within your company, expectations will rise: your employees will believe it will make a true difference. But it’s not enough. Remember that it makes a great impression when L&D leaders dig beyond engagement metrics to get to the heart of things, to really understand what it is that the teams are trying to achieve.
Skills evolve rapidly. Actually, according to an OECD study, a technical skill’s lifespan today is around two years. It was 30 years back in 1987. That is the reason why L&D processes and tools must be agile according to Fredrik Peterson & Teemu Lilja from Telia. They must evolve at the same pace as the company does. Lean processes can be game-changers here: L&D teams can and should work cross-functionally with subject matter experts in other teams to create minimum viable products (MVPs) to test things and iterate fast depending on the results.
Beyond workflows, it’s also a matter of thinking out of the box, as Judith Hale states:
"Have coffee with more people, ask if you can sit in on some meetings, and make a point to get to know your customer in their work world (...) There’s a huge amount of learning in those opportunities."
As an L&D leader, you often get training requests. How do you understand and address these learners' needs? It might seem obvious but it must be stated: employees should align with the purpose of the organization, and L&D teams must understand what employees care about as that might affect how we assign them jobs, their career path, etc. Mirjam Neelen suggests looking at the Four-Component Instructional Design model, or 4C-ID model as it is a great foundational start to help identify and focus on tasks that people need to complete on the job.
You want your trainings to be impactful, but performance doesn’t come without engagement. Involving your subject matter experts in the training content creation will help you design courses that are in-line with the business objectives, and thus much more interesting for learners. This will drive engagement. That’s why you must make sure that all your stakeholders are involved in the learning experience at every stage.
In your organization, you may have employees that are particularly skilled at what they do and have strong capabilities in sharing their knowledge. They are your “champions”: make them shine through a community of learners. To do so, you must nominate a group of employees who are strong in learning design to help define your own learner experience design community. Then, equip your teams with the right tools to co-create with your stakeholders, they will feel empowered while disclosing crucial knowledge.
"People are terrible writers, but they’re great editors." - Judith Hale, CEO at The Institute for Performance Improvement Education
By developing Academies via an LMS for instance, learners and experts are brought together, by function or by topic. Experts that you as an L&D leader identify can develop learning content and deliver it to learners based on functional or topical areas. Off-the shelf content is also made available for each of these functions. Everyone can request specific trainings and upvote learning needs that will help them be more impactful. That’s a clear way for L&D teams to assess what will make employees thrive.
The more the meerer: if you align all your stakeholders, you’ll know where to start and you’ll get a better understanding of all the implications rather than just the issue that was raised.
"Combine all the areas to bring your stakeholders on a journey to ensure you are not wasting their time or the organization’s precious resources on doing something that isn’t going to move the needle." - Mirjam Neelen, Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences at Novartis
By leveraging subject matter experts, you can save costs, boost productivity and upskill your workforce to fit the needs of your business as it evolves.
We recently faced a “Great Resignation”, and more recently, a “Quiet Quitting” situation. On top of that, skilled employees are the ones that are resigning quickly. And they often leave with tremendous amounts of valuable knowledge. By turning not more than 2% of your employees into expert contributors, you’ll make a true difference, and an impact like never before. That is where collaborative learning comes in, positioning you to compete in tomorrow’s world.
With the right tool stack and collaborative approach, you can automate the busywork and focus on identifying and motivating employees to share expertise. This way, you’ll maintain a high level of both quality and control. By developing this continuous development approach and going beyond just learning metrics, L&D will become a company-wide concern, and you’ll become the strategic business partner.
Turn your subject matter experts into contributors now: