How to use measurement to develop talent in L&D

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We’ve looked at why talent matters in 2021, how to win over your stakeholders, explored marketing tactics to raise awareness of learning opportunities and discovered the ways in which learning technologies can help support your talent management efforts.

Now, let’s look at the final challenge of our #WhatsYourTalent story: using measurement to address and resolve skills gaps.

Why is measurement so important to L&D?

The value of learning analytics cannot be overstated. The workplace is becoming more technologically advanced and organisations are quickly having to adapt to new ways of working – particularly in response to the pandemic.

As a result, new roles are emerging and additional skills are required for employees and L&D practitioners to keep up with the pace. This requirement to upskill existing talent, combined with an increasing pressure to deliver more results for less, means it’s more critical than ever to prove to your leaders that L&D in your organisation is really worth the investment.

Measurement, when used well, provides a tool to enable L&D managers to demonstrate the true value of L&D to the wider organisation. This is achieved by presenting all-important evidence of return on investment (ROI). In the context of L&D, the ROI is the measurable return on the financial investment made towards learning and training activities in the organisation.

And the greater the ROI, the higher the value of L&D to the organisation.

But the benefits do not end there. Measurement can also:

  • Help inform the curriculum by determining what it is that people need to learn
  • Help identify gaps in knowledge and/or skills in the organisation
  • Help determine the business impact of any skills gaps

So why, in a survey from over 500 senior learning professionals, were only 28% of those surveyed measuring training against business KPIs? In the same survey, it was also revealed that the most common form of training evaluation is the simple learner evaluation form – or ‘happy sheet’ – and this, perhaps, is our clearest indication of where the problem lies.

Most decisions are based on cost and learner feedback, as opposed to performance metrics.

How can learning evaluation models help?

Let’s return to our fictional workplace, NewWay Training with L&D Manager Tom. Tom has been busy promoting the leadership development programme using simple marketing tactics and rolling out the learning to small cohorts. Now that he is ready to pilot the learning programme, he needs to ensure he can evaluate the impact of learning activities.

How can Tom start proving results in a way that’s clear and evidence-based? What data analysis tools will he need? And finally, how can he measure the outcomes of learning when the modern workplace is moving towards a less structured and more informal approach to learning?

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While the choice of learning evaluation model is down to personal choice, Tom decides he is most comfortable with the Kirkpatrick-Philips model, which we will use as our example. If you’re not yet familiar with this particular model, let us explain briefly.

You might be familiar with the old ‘Kirkpatrick’ model. This was revolutionary when Dr Donald Kirkpatrick originally defined it in the 1950s but, over time, it became noted for its limitations because it didn't take ROI into account. The Kirkpatrick-Phillips model takes it that one step further – Kirkpatrick defined satisfaction up to results, then in the 1990s Dr Jack Phillips added the ROI cherry on top (for a more in-depth explanation of this, check out our free guide ‘How to measure and maximise return on investment from learning and development’).

What learning data should you be measuring?

To get his stakeholders on board with L&D, Tom needs to determine exactly what he wants to prove to his stakeholders. He needs to consider the goals that matter to them and how learning can help to achieve these goals.

Different stakeholders will have different priorities. Elaine, CEO of NewWay Training, wants to see increased revenue and staff retention, and to ensure leaders and managers within the business are equipped with the right skills. To successfully convince Elaine of his strategy means Tom must develop confidence in speaking the language of business leaders through data storytelling. This is critical if he’s going to deliver a robust and compelling case.

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Tom will need to do the following:

  • Investigate the current work output
  • Collect evidence and feedback as the baseline
  • Measure again once the leadership training has been completed

Say, for example, Tom discovers that as a result of increased training opportunities over 12 months, there’s a 50% reduction in staff attrition. These are the figures he can present to Elaine as evidence of increased staff retention – and, consequently, a reduction in hiring costs and improved ROI.

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Here’s another example, made by Lee McDonald of Saïd Business School at the 2018 World of Learning conference. To measure ROI effectively, she had potential participants of training courses discuss with their managers what they were aiming to achieve through the training and outline what was being done to support it. She then put the participants on the relevant training course. At the end of each training session she would assign them to write an action plan (detailing exactly what actions they were going to do next) for their managers to sign off. An agreed time period was decided (for example, three months), with McDonald later following up to investigate which parts of the action plan had been put into practice and which had not. Any parts which had not been put into practice were flagged, and the cause fully investigated along with learner feedback questions. This in turn revealed the impact each training session had on the business school.

The beauty of this is that not only did it pinpoint exactly what was working, but it also prevented any irrelevant training taking place.

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Using learning analytics to solve skills gaps

Measurement can be used to successfully target skills and knowledge gaps in the workforce. This enables L&D professionals like Tom to address and remedy these gaps in an agile and iterative way – particularly at a time where upskilling and reskilling is so critical to the organisation’s survival.

According to a study by the Open University, 90% of employers struggled to recruit workers with the right skills in 2017, with the skills gap costing the UK an estimated £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing. These figures alone demonstrate the importance of a good L&D strategy and are the sorts of figures that should have business leaders sitting up and taking note.

To do this, Tom must perform a skills gap analysis. This is a means of measuring the difference between an employee’s current skills against the required skill set. In the case of those on Tom’s leadership programme, he sees that one of the main skills gaps in light of the pandemic is the ability to effectively manage remote teams.

By identifying and working on skills gaps, employees at NewWay benefit from having a clear path for personal development, improving competency in their day-to-day tasks.

What’s more, by upskilling existing talent, productivity improves, employee retention increases and Tom is delighted to present Elaine with the data that shows the role training has played in achieving organisational goals.

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In summary…

Measurement may be something of a dirty word in some corporate cultures, but if you know how to do it effectively, with solid and relevant results, you can transform it from being an organisational headache to an essential tool for raising the business value of L&D and making the most of your star talent.

If your L&D is worth it, you can prove it.

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