How to Prove Your Training Is Effective Using Analytics

learning analyticsAs the CEO of the leading training company in the world, other business leaders constantly ask me about how they can better evaluate the effectiveness of their training programs. They know training their employees is critical to thrive in business today. However, they’re never quite sure if they’re getting the biggest return on their investment. They’re searching for a way to calculate learning analytics and ROI accurately to make better business decisions.

I know they’d love it if I could jot down a simple formula on a napkin and solve their problems. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Even L&D pros can struggle with learning analytics and ROI

learning analytics

Learning analytics is a complex field. There are many definitions, an ever-increasing number of tools to measure them and—unfortunately—a steep learning curve. That leaves many organizations in a quandary. They want to reap the benefits of having the data, but aren’t sure how to do so accurately and cost-effectively. In reality, the learning and development (L&D) field as a whole is finding it challenging to causally link learning with performance directly.

If you are the head of a human resource department today, chances are good you’ve been asked to create a cost/benefit analysis of your corporate training. So what are some best practices that HR can use when trying to rise to the challenge?

Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Know what you really want to knowlearning analytics

This sounds like common sense, but often we don’t take time to really define what we want to know. Until your organization clearly defines the data you want, you’ll never realistically find data that clearly and irrefutably links performance and learning. Nor will you identify the hidden factors that could affect your numbers.

Before pouring resources into new training programs, it’s important to pinpoint where your organization will gain the most advantage from strategic learning curriculums. For instance, a critical skill set today may soon become obsolete due to new technology. On the other hand, what is merely a nice-to-have skill now may become indispensable when business priorities shift.

  1. Accept the fact that there is no “silver bullet”

You are highly unlikely to find a single measurement that tells you all you need to know about the link between learning and performance. In reality, you must use a variety of measurements. Not just to get meaningful data, but also because learning and development today is vastly different from traditional training.

Learning itself, let alone the link to performance, is not easy to define with simple numbers. Today’s workers are moving further away from highly quantifiable technical skills and toward qualitative benefits derived from soft skills like critical thinking, decision making and interpersonal relationship skills. These are not as easy to assess (or develop) as technical skills.

The Fujitsu example  

learning analytics

For example, Japanese manufacturing giant, Fujitsu, recently used a multipronged approach of measurement to get a clear picture of how peer coaching affected performance across various operational units.

In Fujitsu’s case, C-suite leadership wanted to know if their peer coaching program was working. To find out, they analyzed four areas:

  1. How did the business units that emphasized peer coaching perform compared to those that didn’t?
  2. What did managers involved in the process rate the peer coaching sessions?
  3. How did individuals who took part perform?
  4. Did the learning intervention affect employee satisfaction?

There are several important lessons from their approach. The first one is what one HR professional once described as a “mosaic of measures.” No one piece of analysis provides a definitive answer. However, piecing together several measures creates a clear picture for management to make an informed decision.

For Fujitsu, the answer was a clear “yes” as to whether peer coaching was having a positive impact, based on data from the first question. But the other questions supported a deeper understanding of why it was working.

The idea of taking wide-ranging measurements supports the view expressed in a white paper from Raytheon in 2015 on performance analytics. They saw a clear advantage for “vanguard” organizations—those with more investment in learning analytics and better results:

“What are vanguard organizations doing that other organizations aren’t? In a word: more. Vanguard organizations track more data from more sources, measure more KPIs and communicate more to more leaders. As a result, they experience more success and more organizational outcomes, with fewer roadblocks along the way.”

 (Source: Unleashing the Power of Performance Analytics: Driving Performance at the Intersection of Learning and Business, Raytheon, 2015)

  1. Expand the way you use technology

learning analytics, technolgy

This step is crucial today, and not only because it offers you a wealth of opportunities to improve your learning analytics. It also enhances the quality of learning and knowledge transfer overall. In addition, it builds engagement with learners, which is perhaps the most critical aspect of ensuring that someone is actually learning and applying knowledge.

That also supports the modern view that it’s cheaper and more effective in the long run to “grow” your employees and retain the knowledge and experience they represent than to constantly replace those whose skills do not match the organization’s needs today or tomorrow.

Technology, while expensive initially, is also highly adaptable and can customize base learning programs for individuals, special units and the organization overall.  HR departments with successful learning and development programs lean toward multimodal delivery and as a result, many ways of measuring learning analytics.

Training tech is the key to the future

There is one more thing to think about when it comes to investing in technology. As noted earlier, today’s focus is less on technical skills and more on developing the essential high-level soft skills of things like critical thinking, innovation, problem solving and more. These are subtle and not as easy to measure as traditional technical skills, but emerging technologies are providing more opportunities to enhance training programs and measure results—more cost effectively.

General Motors, for example, uses augmented reality (AR) technology to launch videos, PowerPoint® presentations, PDFs and quizzes to train salespeople—using their own smartphones—in its dealerships. Salespeople can get training on their own time about a new technological feature on some of its cars. AR is different from virtual reality (VR), which requires expensive specialized equipment to create a VR environment.

  1. Gain buy-in from executiveslearning analytics,

Finally, HR departments tasked with learning and development need to have a solid understanding of how to present their cases to the C-suite to gain buy-in and investment. They must “tell their story” in a way that captures the attention of senior executives who are focused on the bottom line and potential. That means translating any learning analytical data into “revenue and growth”

“CEOs think of everything in terms of dollars because dollars are literally ‘the language of business,’” writes HR expert Dr. John Sullivan. HR needs to continually demonstrate how people issues relate to areas such as revenue, profit and shareholder value.

Instead of saying turnover is at 19 percent, for example, show them that a predicted increase in turnover will impact 3 percent of revenue, or $3 million. If you lead with that kind of information, you’ll have a captive audience that is more receptive to hearing about your proposed solution.

engaged employees, learning analyticsDon’t try to dazzle them, inform them …

Keep it simple when talking to the C-suite. Use simple graphs. While it’s tempting to overwhelm people with data, remember this is not their area of expertise. Use only the information and data on your graphs that you need to make your case. Get rid of anything that confuses the issue or sidetracks the discussion.

Most of all, tell them what it all means. Dave Ulrich, whom some call the father of modern HR, says give them your “so that” statement. Frame your solution into “Here’s what we want to do, SO THAT this benefit will happen.”

Find the new wave of analysts coming up

 One last thought … making learning and training more creative, interactive and innovative—and making measuring results just as innovative starts by finding the people who understand learning analytics the best. Unfortunately, this may be your biggest challenge. Our universities produce more analysts than before, but there just aren’t as many as our industries need. It will take a few more years to fill the gaps.

Give them the chance to expand the vision of how to use learning in the best way. With the greatest impact for business. That won’t necessarily come from new technology, data or numbers about ROI and results.

What it will come from is giving people the time, space and support to be creative and try new things. All too often, there is a “traditional” mindset about what constitutes “training” … what delivery systems are “realistic” and effective … and what measurements demonstrate cost-effectiveness. But that’s not how progress happens, either industry-wide or in your organization.

You want trailblazers in learning and development and analytics that reveal what’s happening between learning and performance. Therefore, give your HR and L&D professionals the room to grow, imagine and try new things. It’s part of turning your company into a true learning organization.

learning analytics


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