By this, we mean having an understanding of what the finish looks like at the completion of learning interventions: what performance improvements, new skills, changed behaviours are expected and what organisational changes need to be brought about?
From this end point of understanding, we can bring our 20 years of learning and development consultancy experience to bear: engaging in a professional dialogue with the relevant stakeholders; working backwards from the required outcomes, exploring vision, values, competencies, challenges, internal processes and structures, in order to recommend the most appropriate learning solution, or blend of solutions, to achieve the required results.
This approach ensures that the learning has real purpose and direction. Importantly, it also enables the effective identification of outcomes to measure and evaluate success. In this way, we can, in partnership with the customer, continuously assess and track those specific outcome(s), as well as inform possible improvements to delivery as the learning progresses. This enables L&D/OD/HR teams to evidence return on the efforts and the organisation’s investment, detailing the real business benefits brought about.
The need to start with an understanding of what the finish looks like is reinforced by the professional body CIPD. Their recent Learning and Skills at Work Survey 2021 found that, even though the percentage of companies proactively evaluating the impact of their L&D initiatives has increased (up 6% from 2020), the majority was cursory assessment of learner satisfaction (36%), rather than drilling down into the transfer of learning into the learner’s role (13%) or the indirect impact on the wider organisation (8%).
Furthermore, learning and HR professionals who take the time to investigate exactly where and how learning interventions will be making a positive difference helps to align their function more closely with the overall organisation. The survey found that this an area where organisations are not just doing well, but doing even better since the impact of Covid-19: 87% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their learning strategy is aligned with business priorities, up from 83% in 2020. This suggests that amongst the disruption of a pandemic and the associated scramble to respond and pivot, there have been increased opportunities to ensure that learning interventions and business imperatives are pulling in the same direction.
At a time when organisational learning and development resources are under pressure (31% of organisations reported a smaller budget over the last 12 months and 32% reported a reduced L&D headcount), it is all the more important that learning professionals can confidently point to the impact of, and level of engagement with, their work.
We are also living and working in a time when two of the most important elements by which L&D teams are judged – performance and productivity – have been upheaved. So far, the evidence suggests that an individual’s productivity is not reduced by working from home, but the sudden changes meant rapid responses were required by HR and L&D teams to support effective working in new environments, and for teams to collaborate and communicate without an office space. Similarly, a traditional first-person view of performance management was no longer possible for line managers around the world. These changes make the responsibility of L&D teams to enhance performance and productivity that much more challenging.
So, although encouraging numbers of L&D functions agree or strongly agree that they assess the impact of their activities (65%), just one in four report that they design or direct interventions towards a specific performance issue or goal, using evidence to inform their plan. As stated in the first line of this blog, we love it when customers do this because it makes it that much easier for us to deliver successful learning that will make a real and noticeable difference to their organisation.
Of course, it’s not just about making our lives easier – the L&D/OD teams we work with care deeply about supporting their workforce with the right learning solutions and are passionate about the difference that the right learning, delivered in the right way, can make to their organisation’s products, services or bottom line. Approaching their learning interventions in this way helps them to do exactly that.