“What do I want the learning data to prove to the business?”
This is the question you should be asking yourself before collecting your data. Knowing from the start what you’re trying to prove and which of the business goals this aligns with is key for identifying what data to collect, how to collect it and how best to represent it to your stakeholders.
There’s a reason consulting more deeply with the business continues to move up the list of trends in the Global Sentiment Survey. According to research conducted by Brandon Hall in 2018, it also emerged that three out of four organisations believed that aligning learning strategy with business goals was a top priority. By moving closer to the business, L&D becomes more integrated with its objectives and can develop solutions that are in alignment from the outset, rather than simply taking a reactionary approach.
How L&D can consult more deeply with the business
Learning initiatives should begin with business goals in mind. How will training help to achieve these goals (if, of course, learning is the right solution at all)? How can individual performance help to drive these outcomes? Are people aware of how training opportunities can help them progress towards their development goals?
In top-performing organisations, 97% of L&D professionals agree that their business leaders recognise that learning is aligned with the business plan. Yet a report by Towards Maturity also found that only 31% of L&D managers work up front with business leaders to identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they want to improve.
Organisations with a learning and business strategy aligned to shared goals are more than four times as likely to report improvements in revenue, productivity, employee engagement and employee retention.
Ensuring your data successfully joins the dots between training initiatives and business goals is vital if you’re going to prove that L&D has delivered. When we consider how the business landscape is changing, we realise that we need to shift the focus towards performance and capability when asking questions. This is where performance consulting can help. This is an efficient way of working closely with stakeholders in the business to discover:
- Who needs guidance
- What they need guidance with
- Who has the knowledge to close any gaps
- What is stopping people from performing currently
By identifying areas of your business where improvement is needed and investigating the root cause, you can ensure your training is aligned and relevant.
How to engage your stakeholders with learning data
The more people you have all working towards a shared vision, the more likely you are to increase the chances of success.
Different stakeholders will have different priorities. This is where stakeholder analysis is key.
Krystyna Gadd, author and coach, recommends using a stakeholder analysis grid to help you identify which of your stakeholders you need to nurture and those who give little support. One of your jobs may be to convert those who have not been as supportive of the L&D function in the past.
Make sure you’re speaking the right language. Instead of just citing figures and results without context or relevance, you should move away from ‘L&D speak’ and talk the language of your stakeholders, addressing their priorities. Asking the right questions will help you to more deeply understand the needs that the training is intended to meet.
Think also about the way you present your data. Simply presenting a sheet of figures will do nothing if you don’t give context. Wrapping a narrative around your data insights is what’s called data storytelling. This narrative needs to be made accessible and relevant to the target audience – if stakeholders are to make important, data-informed decisions, they’ll need to be able to connect the dots between your evidence and business outcomes.
Decide on the relevant visuals to display your data. You might choose a pie chart for one context, then an infographic or bar chart for another. Pay attention to how others have displayed similar information or experiment with presenting the data in different formats to see which best supports your narrative.
Remember to point out any anomalies or inconsistencies so that you’re telling the full story. Knowing what didn’t work is just as important for informing future strategies as knowing what did.
Identify success criteria for business goals
Business goals can encompass a range of needs, from specific metrics to changes in attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. Objectives should be made SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Measurable and Time-Bound) – the more specific, the better. A good example would be: “Reduce the number of helpdesk tickets by 25% within one month.”
Your learning programmes should be centred around the skills that will directly impact what you’re trying to improve. Are some of your customer support staff having problems with communicating updates effectively to customers? Delivering training around communications would help to reduce the amount of helpdesk ticket requests if customers are equipped with the knowledge they need from the outset.
Measurement is a key part of proving the efficacy of your L&D strategy. As with any experiment, you need to baseline your data to demonstrate progression. The metrics you choose will vary depending on your goals. For example, you might be looking at Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for one goal, the number of errors for another and delivery times as evidence of something else. The evaluation process doesn’t need to be complicated – you can always start with a simple learning evaluation model such as Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels, then build up to more complex models as you move along.
Many L&D professionals are still relying on learner feedback forms (‘happy sheets’) as evidence of success. However, if the goal is to evidence an improvement in performance, for example, it doesn’t matter how many enthusiastic learner responses you get – the data in this case is irrelevant to the context. It doesn’t actually evidence a positive change in performance as a result of the learning, only that learners enjoyed it, which isn’t enough to win stakeholder buy-in.
This isn’t to say learner satisfaction data is obsolete. If your goal is to identify areas for improvement in relation to learner experience, the qualitative data gathered through interviews and surveys will provide valuable insight. The key is to ensure that the data you’re collecting, whether qualitative or quantitative, feeds back to the initial goal.
Remember, it’s never too late to go back and alter your strategy so it remains aligned to your objectives – in fact, it’s good practice. In L&D, you’re more than familiar with being adaptable when the need for change arises.
If you’re finding it difficult to get your hands on the right learning data, Thinqi’s smarter learning system gives you easy access to over 70 reports depending on your needs. Whether you want to identify your best-performing content to refine your strategy, track metrics for events, identify skills gaps or track assignments, there’s a wealth of rich data at your fingertips. You can see at a glance how your learners are progressing and identify any gaps in order to boost performance.
What’s more, with a range of ways to present your data, telling the story behind the numbers is easier than ever before. You can then share your reports with the relevant people and prove the impact of learning in a way the rest of the organisation can get on board with.
The proof is in the numbers: learning is key to achieving those goals.