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The 2 most important learning metrics

Toby Elwin Blog, Talent Management 4 Comments

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There’s only two things that matter in this picture
image source: Jessie Pearl

CEOs care about learning programs.  To gain more executive-level interest, guess what learning and development folks? CEOs want metrics.

The learning metrics you may have collected and reported on might need adjustment to become important to an executive.

The organization challenge that leader’s need to recognize is that an organization’s ability to learn and to adapt is the only source of competitive advantage.

Development professionals only gain stature in the business environment when they meet and plan business solutions.

The ROI Institute and Chief Learning Officer magazine have a study recap that should provide a clearer map of our worth.  The targets of this survey were CEOs at Fortune 500 companies and the top 50, privately held firms.  From this population 450 firms were sent a survey.  21.3% responded.

Quick hits:

  • 4% of CEOs avoid learning and development investments
  • 20% of CEOs invest only in the minimum
  • 10% of CEOs invest in all learning and development needs
  • 18% of CEOs invest when they see value

The survey further landed the reality of learning and development environments in the results to determine how close the CEO works with their lead learning and development (L&D) executive.  To assess this, the survey asked CEOs to check:

  • Number 1, to indicate the L&D executive reports direct to the CEO;
  • Number 2, if there are 2 levels between them; and
  • Number 3,  if there are 3 levels between the CEO and the L&D lead

The average response:  3.2, meaning the CEO is more than 3 levels removed from their L&D executive.

The chart below provides the greatest opportunity to get, or stay, in the business discussions with CEOs.  Along the left column 1 through 8 signify metrics currently in use:

  • Numbers 1 and 2 are process measures or inputs to the process;
  • Numbers 3 through 7 are roughly mapped to classic levels of evaluation*; and
  • Number 8 for the awards achieved from, typically, bigger organizations

The column on the far right lands the case for change in our relevance:  impact and ROI.  Impact and ROI are 1 and 2 to “my ranking of the importance of this measure”.

Toby Elwin, executive view of metrics, clo, ceo, chief learning officer

CEOs are telling us they want details on learning and development mapped to:

  1. Business strategy impact and
  2. ROI

What are we reporting?  Let’s take a look at learning and development scorecards.  Though the survey reveals only 22% of CEOs said they had one or see one, of those, only 1 CEO indicated they were pleased with the current scorecard.  Comments from the 22% include:

  • “inadequate”
  • “incomplete”
  • “doesn’t have all the data”
  • “doesn’t really connect to the business” [emphasis added]3

The first rule in communication:  know your audience.

If we were unsure before or banging our heads against the wall looking for an opportunity, we now have gold to work with from these results.  Consider these results as if you had a direct conversation with your CEO and what was relevant for the CEO’s world of understanding.

An organization’s ability to learn and to adapt is the only source of competitive advantage.  Our ability to become, or remain, relevant also comes down to an ability to learn and adapt.

The best evaluator I have come across to marry training for business results and measure impact is Kirkpatrick Model.  Any trainer worth their salt knows of the Kirkpatrick Model to evaluate demonstrated training business partnership.

The slides below show detail of each level:

  • Level 1: Reaction — To what degree participants react favorably to the training.
  • Level 2: Learning  — To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in a training event.
  • Level 3: Behavior — To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.
  • Level 4: Results — To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement.

Important to note that you need to build Level 1, then 2, then 3, to get to Level 4.  Each level below builds ability to meet the next.  You can not jump to Level 4:  Results without accomplishing Levels 1:  Reaction through Level 3:  Behavior.

To introduce The Kirkpatrick model you may begin to build programs that accomplish Level 2:  Learning, reliably, then as you build awareness of these results add feature elements to accomplish Level 3:  Behavior, and so on.

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The Kirkpatrick Model, 4 Level’s of Evaluation, Level 1 and Level 2 – select picture for larger view

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The Kirkpatrick Model, 4 Level’s of Evaluation, Level 3 and Level 4 – select picture for larger view

Sources for 2 most important learning metrics:

  1. How Executives View Learning Metrics Chief Learning Officer magazine
  2. The ROI Institute
  3. The Kirkpatrick Partners

Comments 4

  1. Kevin Anderson

    Kirkpatrick model a great resource. Agree we should measure level 4 results more often. As you indicate that takes time and effort. How can we convince our organizations that this investment is worth it?

    1. Toby Elwin

      Convincing an organization to do any investment should come down to benefit cost analysis. Track the investment, plot the expected payoff, identify the time value of money.

      I would not be comfortable proposing any investment otherwise. Organizations too often have personal (political) cases for investment, not business cases for investment. The great value of Kirkpatrick is the tie to return on investment and time.

      If we are not prepared to offer that, we do not deserve to get listened to.

      Even when a business case is made, politics certainly trumps ration, but at least we backed up a business. The only way to get invited to a business discussion is to be able to have a business discussion that ties to risk, reward, investment, estimated payback, and net value.

      The question to solve is, “how do we convince organizations to have more business discussions and less emotional and political bullying?”

      Other than that, a rational actor, as economists like to say, have predictable results.

      Tell me, Kevin, and thank you for the comment, what is the success tactic to have human capital investment decisions part of overall financial capital decisions?

  2. Kevin Anderson

    Given time and effort it takes to measure financial impact, on top of lack of resources to do this given all other demands, my success tactic is to carefully select the critical few to pull the trigger on and do this analysis

    1. Post
      Author
      Toby Elwin

      As money and time both represent finite resources, your strategy to focus on select triggers would make any business person proud.

      The extreme value with social media ‘likes’, ‘retweets’, comments, bounce rates, and average time on site, are all analytics to plow back into what to do more of, what to stop doing, and what to continue doing.

      Measure and manage are reasons that drive my social media training objectives I have for organizations, classes, and people: launch and manage not launch and abandon.

      Kevin, I very much appreciate your contributions to the site. So, how will you control your learning and who, so far, have you found as a good source in social media?

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