6 steps to increase stakeholder engagement with data in L&D

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If we asked you how engaged your stakeholders are with data in learning and development, what would your answer be? Can you capture their attention with ease? Or are they only half-listening, eyes still fixed on their laptop screens to focus on more pressing tasks?

We recently chatted with author of the brilliant ‘How Not to Waste Your Money On Training’ and founder of How to Accelerate Learning Krystyna Gadd on the importance of engaging stakeholders and the wider organisation with data. Together with our Head of Customer Success Steve Finch, he and Krystyna discussed the value of gathering the right data to inform decisions and demonstrate the links between L&D and business success.

If your stakeholders seem unmoved by metrics, here are six steps you can take to boost engagement and garner support.

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1. Get clear on what L&D is about

How is the L&D function defined in your organisation? Business partners? Performance consultants?

It should not matter whether you call yourselves business partners, performance consultants or champions of business improvement – the label merely serves to initiate conversation with key stakeholders and to raise L&D’s profile as a key contributor to its overall success.

Consider what it is that people are going to resonate with most. This is about understanding where the business wants to go and aligning the L&D function with these overall goals.

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2. Learn to identify and manage your stakeholders

Krystyna recommends using the 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.

However, you need to be speaking the right language. This means moving away from ‘L&D speak' and instead using the language of your stakeholders, addressing their priorities. Asking the right questions will help you uncover the needs that the training is intended to meet.

Remember to consider your learners as part of stakeholder analysis. Steve noted that while it’s crucial to gain buy-in from the top, we also need to gain buy-in from the bottom. After all, the whole idea of driving a learning culture comes from its people.

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3. Find out what your stakeholders and the wider organisation needs

Uncovering the needs of both your stakeholders and the wider organisation requires you to take a consulting approach. How can you ask the right questions? What strategies can you use to reveal real needs as opposed to wants?

Krystyna suggests using design thinking such as the Value Proposition Canvas to ensure L&D is positioned around stakeholder values and needs.

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Remember, your focus should be on true collaboration. This means understanding stakeholder challenges, identifying what they are being measured against and finding suitable solutions. As Steve noted, if you can make your stakeholders champions in their department by providing a solution or helping them with a problem, you build trust and encourage more open communication.

Take care, however, not to jump into ‘solutions mode’ too quickly. “Slow the process down,” Krystyna said. “Ask some more questions and get nosy. One of the best attributes that you can develop in L&D is curiosity.”

Remember, establishing relationships and developing trust is key.

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4. Know what data to measure (and how to measure it)

How do you become business-focused and gain a clearer understanding of what is really happening within the organisation?

Familiarising yourself with the overall business objectives is essential. If the organisation does not currently have clear objectives, it will prove extremely difficult for you to develop the most suitable solution. If this is the case, then you will need to ask questions that help nudge the organisation into having a more definitive goal or strategy.

“Measurement is a key part of proving the efficacy of your L&D strategy,” said Steve. “As with any experiment, you need to baseline your data to allow you to demonstrate progression. You can always start with a simple learning evaluation model such as Kirkpatrick, then build up to more complex models as you move along.”

“Without a learning needs analysis, evaluation is a ‘guesstimate’ at best,” Krystyna added.

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5. Use solid design principles

Having solid design principles will help you to justify your method and approach. As Steve noted in the session, evaluation is too often performed qualitatively. Instead, try using principles such as Bloom’s taxonomy, which will help you define learning outcomes that are clear and demonstrable.

There are many other options you could choose from. For example, you could consider Krystyna’s five secrets to accelerated learning, or perhaps you prefer to use models such as ADDIE.

You need to have humility here and embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes, iterating your approach until you achieve success. As a modern L&D professional, you must allow yourself the flexibility to experiment. Ask yourself: what works well? What doesn’t work so well? This is about learning from data and results through trial and error to get it right as opposed to harbouring unrealistic notions of instant success.

Next, consider what you’re actually assessing. What do you want people to be able to do? Think about what you’re measuring and what the needs of your stakeholders are. Focusing on the key challenges allows you to create actionable insights, formulate a compelling case, and measure and quantify your outcomes based on solid evidence.

This will eventually increase stakeholder trust and engagement with L&D.

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6. Collaborate with departments outside of L&D

There are vast resources of untapped knowledge in your organisation. Knowing the best ways to utilise this knowledge can help you move away from a siloed method of working towards one that is more open and collaborative.

According to a report by Towards Maturity and CIPD, L&D departments in top-performing organisations are 50% more likely to agree that staff understand how their work is linked to the organisation’s performance. What’s more, an astonishing 97% also agree that their business leaders recognise how learning is aligned with the business plan.

The proof is in the numbers: working together maximises results.

Successfully engaging your stakeholders involves bringing the data to life in a way they can understand. Using the appropriate charts or infographics will prove far more effective than merely presenting reams of numbers in a spreadsheet – the in-house skills of your design department may be able to help you here.

How often do you speak to your finance department? If you aren’t confident working with numbers, it’s worth making friends with the people who are.

Perhaps you want to inspire people to take action? Your marketing department can show you how to use tactics to raise awareness of your learning initiatives and influence people to take action.

See here for more tips on how to tell a compelling story with data.

In summary…

Both Steve and Krystyna both made clear that for L&D to be truly valued by the organisation, it’s important that you get curious and spend time uncovering needs. Having a clearer view of the bigger picture will help you to better understand the organisation and establish L&D as playing an instrumental role in organisational success.

It’s time to get curious, experiment, collaborate, learn from results and drive real success for you, your stakeholders and the whole organisation.

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