As a life-long learner, I have taken my fair share of tests, assessments, and exams throughout my academic and professional life. As a learner, taking some sort of assessment is often the means to an end. It’s the way to pass the class, get a degree, attain a certification, add labels to the end of your name, or gain skills needed to do something. For the learner, it’s clear that attaining the knowledge leads to some desired end result. But what about the organization providing workplace training? What do they get? For public or government-sponsored schools, colleges, and universities, they have a somewhat noble case to provide a social service. For private institutions including training centers and tuition providers, it’s clear that the majority are in it for profit. But, what about your organization? What do they get by providing workplace training to employees? They certainly aren’t doing it to be noble and Learning & Development is generally a cost center, not a revenue-generator, so what gives? Organizations need to derive value in return for their investment into employees. It’s simple. They want to upskill their employees. So, how do they know that their money is well-spent? How do they measure success?
Functional and technical skills are relatively easy to assess. It’s easy to understand if someone has grasped the concepts by giving them a simple test. A more complex measurement might be to judge whether learners can successfully apply their learning by giving them situational assessments, case studies, or practical exams.
The real question is how do we measure employees when a functional or technical skill alone can’t get the job done?
Take John. He runs a Project Management team for an offshore drilling company. John has 15 years of total experience. For 8 of those years he has been a manager and for the past 10 years, he has worked in the same industry. Over the years, he has attended numerous L&D training classes run by both internal and external training classes. Team Building, Time Management, Task Management, Project Management, Microsoft Project Workshop, PMP Certification, Business Analyst Training, and many others.
John’s expertise as a Subject Matter Expert is revered, but he still fails to make deliverables. But this is a problem that never goes away. He himself questions what happens and blames a variety of things. Project creep, lack of dedication by the team, slow decision-making from stakeholders, reprioritization of projects from management. It seems everyone is to blame. His manager may look at his performance track record and say he needs to improve his time management skills.
If we look back at John’s workplace training over the years, he has checked all the boxes of his L&D Department. His company has spent thousands of dollars on his training. So, what happened? It’s not just John that bears the brunt. From John’s perspective, he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t have the skills he needs to be more effective. From his manager’s perspective, John gets the job done, but doesn’t quite have the drive or skills needed to succeed. From his organization’s perspective, their investments haven’t made an impact.
So, what really happened?
Over the years, John has attended tons of training sessions, but ultimately, most of them were just to check the box.
- Training/E-learning becomes a “Check the Box” activity for employees
- There is no practical application of what’s been taught
- Employees forget everything they’ve learned the moment they’re done
- No actual measurement of progress or development as a result of the training
The bottom line is that John didn’t progress after the training nor did it benefit the company to spend so much money and not get the desired return.
So, what does John and his organization need?
- Customized Learning – Workplace Training should be customized to each individual and specific and relevant to the needs of the role
- Practical Applicability – Employees must be required to practice what they have learned and apply it in their day-to-day work
- Continuous 360 Feedback – Employees need feedback on their progress to encourage continuous improvement
- Measurement and ROI – Organizations need measured results to understand the impact of employee development efforts and understand a true picture of the current pool of skills and skills gaps
In order to see real results of workplace training, John needs more relevant training. It needs to be specific to the requirements of the role and aligned with business objectives. To customize his learning, we need to identify what his individual needs are.
Let’s start with training needs identification for John:
Why do we need to train John and in which areas? Based on John’s role in the company and the organizational priorities, we know that timely delivery impacts their bottom line. We also know that John struggles with submitting his deliverables on time.
Now that we have identified the priority area requiring development, the next step is to understand where John’s current capability is.
The measurement process should consider:
- Cognitive ability
- Personality preferences
- Demonstrated behaviors
- Functional knowledge/skills
Creating a baseline is critical for measuring impact. It also gives an accurate starting point to begin the training and ensuring its relevancy. It allows any learning or training to be customized specifically to John based on both his needs and his current ability.
Many of us are familiar with the 70-20-10 model in Learning and Development that states that most learners obtain 70% of their knowledge on the job, 20% from interacting with others and only 10% from formal training. The 10% is taken care of by the actual training, but what about the 70%? It’s critical that on-the-job learning is part of any training program to really be effective. Action Learning Tasks, Practical Tasks, or Kinesthetic Activities are important to ensure learning sticks. By incorporating training programs that actively include practical training, there is a better chance that learners learn and retain. If John has the opportunity to practice time management skills while on-the-job, in his day-to-day activities, there is a greater chance that he will retain the strategies that help him deliver on time.
Continuous 360° Feedback
Continuing with the same model, the remaining 20% is best covered by interactions with colleagues and a learner’s manager. While practicing new learning, frequent feedback on progress helps learners to understand the effectiveness of the application of their new learning. Getting guidance, suggestions, constructive feedback, and praise bolsters their ability to apply their learnings and continuously improve. If John’s team, managers, and senior leaders are more involved during the process, they can help him understand when he is on the right track and when he needs to make some course corrections.
Measurement and ROI
Once training is complete, it’s important to understand the impact of that training both for an individual and for the organization. Post-training assessments measure whether the needle has moved for an individual. That measurement needs to indicate whether John has completed the workplace training successfully, been able to apply the learning at work, collate feedback for additional improvements, and identify how both the individual and the manager have observed changes reflective of the individual’s development as compared to their baselining. If John can be effectively developed on time management using these metrics, it would ensure he would make strides and have a growth plan to help him continue to improve.
But it doesn’t end there. John’s organization would finally be able to link productivity improvements specific to John’s personal effectiveness to the money spent on his training and development. Key data analysis could show the correlation between identified and measured improvements in his timeliness on delivering projects to an increase in productivity and profits of the organization.
Back to the Beginning
Why does your L&D function develop employees? Ultimately it is to achieve business outcomes and increase productivity. When they can show success by measured outputs, your organization benefits overall. And when any John out there is able to be effectively developed with customized learning, practical applications, continuous 360° feedback, and measured results, he will achieve more both as an individual and as an integral part of your organization.