For L&D leaders, return on investment has always been top of mind, and as technology evolves, we continue to assess how we can measure the impact of our L&D practice.
So, are there any footsteps you can follow to ensure you have the desired impact? And how can you collaborate with stakeholders to jointly develop performance-driven learning?
In this interview, I speak with Ross Stevenson, Head of Learning at Trainline, about how he combines his adaptability-based L&D leadership mindset and a performance consulting approach to collaborate with stakeholders in co-creating impactful products and services.
Read on to hear how Ross impacts return on investment and measures success with an adaptability L&D leadership mindset.
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Ross has been in the L&D game for 16 years, but it wasn’t a journey he initially saw himself taking.
“Originally, I was educated as a software engineer,” he explains. “And that has stood me in great stead across my career in L&D from a technology perspective. I fell into HR, did a bunch of operational roles, and about nine or ten years ago, I had the opportunity to transition to L&D—I've never looked back.”
So, what has made Ross successful during his L&D career?
The ability to adapt, Ross explains, has served him well over the last 16 years in L&D on his journey to becoming head of learning.
“Adaptability has been very powerful for me,” he says. “It’s about staying curious and practicing what you preach. I'm heading our L&D function, but I’m still learning. I haven't stopped and become some all-knowing god overnight who doesn’t have to do anything anymore.”
“I know that sounds simple, but you have to be forward-looking consistently. You're thinking about what's emerging in your field, how you can potentially get ahead of that, and where you need to evolve in terms of habits and mindsets of where you are today.”
Related: Empathy-Focused L&D: Quantum Health’s 5 Steps to Being a Successful Learning Business Partner
Ross is a big believer in the maxim, ‘if you’ve got the will, you’ll find the skill’.
“If you've got the attitude, and you do the right things,” he explains, “you'll make what you want, and I think that's the same in any career. Be clear on what you are really good at and what you can do in L&D, and then go for it.”
“So, it's just figuring out what you like, what skills are best for that, and focusing on those four or five things.”
So, with your L&D leadership mindset in place, how can you go about making an impact? Luckily, Ross has a four-step approach to help your L&D practice impact return on investment.
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“Return on investment is a very hot topic,” Ross says, “and spoiler alert, I haven't got the silver bullet, but I've given it a lot of thought from being a bit of a tech kid.”
“Using data doesn’t need to be like a Picasso canvas of upskilling your data skills. Any organization has straightforward touch points, so the data can come from many different arenas.”
First up, find the easily accessible touchpoints within your organization.
Using data doesn’t need to be like a Picasso canvas of upskilling your data skills. Any organization has straightforward touch points, so the data can come from many different arenas.
In Ross’ experience, you will have tools at your disposal. For example, your company might do regular employee surveys across the organization.
“There will likely be some great touchpoints to understand the cultural impact of learning and development, growth opportunities, and building rewarding careers,” he says. “They may be simple things like do people have access to the tools and the knowledge resources that help them deliver in their day to day, but also help them build a future fit career?”
“Very simple data can come from anywhere. You can do that yourself as an L&D team. I used to do that for a large global organization where I ran a learning survey every two to three months to get feedback on the things we were building, delivering, and the money that we were investing.”
The ROI is the feedback from people on the impact you made. You can also couple that data with what roles these people are doing.
For example, in sales, if you invest $250,000 in your sales team in half year one, what was the output performance of that sales team in half year two? Can you make a correlation between particular skills that were used to achieve those results? And what happened when you took them through some interventions?
“You can use the feedback mechanisms of those surveys, but also the binary points: you spent this amount, and this is the performance that came out of the team–how can you connect that back through surveys and performance reviews?”
Performance reviews, as Ross explains, are a great time to track the output of understanding the implementation of learning and how that helped people improve how they do their jobs.
“You don't want to track what I call vanity metrics,” he says, “which is how many people turned up to my course or how many said they loved me at this course for a day.”
“What you want to do is get to the crux of what learners are doing in the 12 weeks after the learning experience and what they are talking about afterwards. How you measure the impact of those interventions is crucial. Otherwise, you can consider the program a failure.”
In Ross’ experience, you might as well count that as a loss on your profit and loss account. For example, you may have spent $30,000 on a intervention where people say it was great to get a day out of the office, but in the end, the money did not have the desired outcome because it didn’t impact performance.
Ross finds that you will have plenty of opportunities to gather data through surveys, but it’s crucial not to survey people to death–we all get enough of that in our emails.
“It comes down to having that open conversation and saying, ‘Look, we're building all these solutions. We're putting these things in place to help us understand–but are we changing stuff here? Are we improving lives?’ Then it really helps to share the data.”
"And I find that authentically, most people are willing to do that, and you'd be surprised by the results. What I've always found is people don't want the fluffy stuff. But you only get that when you scratch beneath the surface.”
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From a collaboration standpoint, Ross says he’s probably a bit of an outlier in terms of his approach.
“I adopt a performance consulting approach because in the past I have found L&D functions to be somewhat like an Amazon deliveries fulfillment center or a McDonald's drive-thru—it's very transactional.”
“I saw it early in my career where people don't have a conversation with you as a consultant to walk through a solution. It was more about, ‘I want a Big Mac and fries, and can you chuck a coke in’, and the L&D team would go away and cook that up, but that doesn't solve any issues.”
In Ross’ experience, people don’t know what they need half the time when you have those conversations. “They think they've got an idea, but when you get down to the bare bones in a number of teams, someone will say one thing, and the team says something different, and it’s trying to figure out where that line sits.”
So, what’s Ross’ solution? Well, it starts with how you collaborate to co-create.
Related: A 2-Part Collaborate, Learn, and Adapt Framework: Knowledge Management Storytelling at iDE
Ross finds that performance consulting is based on how you can collaborate with stakeholders to co-create.
“It’s not about me sitting there and taking your order to fulfill it for you. It's us talking about the barriers you face from a performance perspective. And it's asking the right questions and trying to get to the crux of your problem. Is it something that L&D can support?”
In a performance consulting approach, you collaborate with your SMEs in the business as partners in a co-creation discovery session to solve a problem together and build a product or a service to solve that issue.
“I do understand a performance consulting approach is culturally hard for a lot of L&D teams and organizations, but the value add of being consultant-led is massive—not only for the output and quality of your work but also for your career as an operator in the L&D world.”
As Ross explains, if L&D leaders want to have a seat at the table, they have to be able to have conversations. You need to shift your L&D practice from transactional to conversational.
“The collaboration piece should be the bread and butter of L&D. You should be there to understand the issues and have those conversations. I think it's great for your career in terms of skill and the way the industry is heading,” he says.
The collaboration piece should be the bread and butter of L&D. You should be there to understand the issues and have those conversations. I think it's great for your career in terms of skill and the way the industry is heading.
“I think it's also a great way to show value and impact as a function in your organization. If you're seen as trusted advisors, and not just a drive-thru, you’ll be invited to talk about strategy and roadmaps going forwards.”
Thanks to Ross for sharing his L&D leadership mindset and approach for impacting return on investment!
Looking for more expert insights on great L&D strategies? Check out Maria Gentile-Feay’s approach to becoming a successful learning business partner through empathy-focused L&D at Quantum Health, and Cheryl Haga’s five-minute content rule that’s driving hypergrowth at Deel.
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