A persistent challenge for chief learning officers is how to tangibly measure the impact of L&D so they can confidently report to senior leaders how their programs are driving business value. CLOs often have a sense of whether or not their programs are achieving stated goals, but it’s often based on activity-based and qualitative metrics. The industry lacks a standardized method to determine L&D ROI, but the key is to assess and address employee skill gaps to improve proficiency. Ultimately, proficiency drives performance and productivity.

Learning methods today are moving away from the quantity of training. A “more is better” mindset is not effective in a busy workplace and personal life, where information excess is overwhelming. A focus on incremental, continuous and measurable improvement in job performance and productivity isn’t an option; it’s a must. However, relying on lagging indicators such as performance (the end result) does not provide an understanding of employees’ capabilities and how they go about their jobs.

Instead, a logical proxy for measuring L&D ROI is proficiency. Proficiency helps learning leaders understand how capable employees are compared to the competencies they need to perform well on the job. By using proficiency to assess and identify knowledge and skills gaps, you have a leading indicator that can inform further learning needs and guide coaching interactions that help each individual continuously improve. We can consider job proficiency, therefore, the new currency of learning. The faster organizations can improve proficiency and change behaviors, the more they can drive performance and prove the ROI of their L&D programs.

Many learning leaders struggle to find a way to put this theory into practice, however. The following three best practices will provide a foundation for organizations to improve proficiency, increase employee productivity and performance, and provide a new measure of ROI for L&D programs.

1. Rethink the Tech Stack to Modernize the Learning Experience

Millennials and Generation Z are entering the workforce in full swing, so it’s crucial for CLOs to adapt learning experiences to better engage these digital native. LinkedIn Learning research found that more than 70 percent of talent developers “plan to make changes to their L&D program to accommodate Gen Z,” but giving your L&D program a revamp doesn’t benefit only your younger learners. Traditional classroom-based learning models and traditional learning management systems (LMSs) are time-consuming, expensive and hard to measure, regardless of employee age.

While there are benefits from face-to-face training, CLOs need to think about a blended learning approach and supplement these methods with new tools like technology-based microlearning. Microlearning, when done well, engages learners in real time, in the flow of work, and has a measurable impact on behavior change and, ultimately, business outcomes. With microlearning that is fun, engaging and accessible, workers in knowledge-intensive fields are more likely to retain information and improve their productivity and overall performance.

2. Use Proficiency and Engagement Metrics to Inform and Adapt Learning Programs

When it comes to effective learning strategies, one size does not fit all. Continually engaging employees through professional development and improving each individual’s proficiency can have endless benefits. It gives a competitive advantage to commercial companies, improves customer service and loyalty for service companies, and even reduces operational risk and cost through better compliance in highly regulated industries. By shaping L&D programs around the competencies that have the most impact on performance and measuring individual, team and group proficiency, leaders are armed with the insights they need to pinpoint the areas most in need to drive improvement, create or adapt learning programs, and allocate resources to where they are needed most.

3. Link Learning Goals to Business Goals

Big or small, every learning program needs clear and measurable goals that link back to the business. Once business goals are established, learning leaders must ask, “What capabilities do we need? What are employees’ strengths and weaknesses? How can I help them?” Tying L&D programs to business goals — such as improved customer delivery on service level agreements, sales targets or cost savings — is a precise way to demonstrate the value L&D programs bring to your employees and organization and, in turn, your customers. It is for this reason that L&D is gaining board-level attention, and investments in corporate learning are increasing.

The longtime challenge of determining the ROI of L&D programs is driving a shift toward measuring proficiency instead of relying on lagging financial metrics alone. To measure proficiency, it’s critical to find a system that identifies employees’ strengths and weaknesses and to close skills gaps with effective learning programs. Best practice microlearning gives learning leaders the information they need to focus on specific areas of need and ensures L&D objectives are constantly aligned to impact business performance. The proficiency and engagement insights gained by integrating microlearning into annual L&D programs enables CLOs to effectively examine program results and show executives how the time and financial investments they’re making into L&D are yielding results.