When I began my journey as a learning professional so many years ago, I quickly saw the impact that learning could have for both the individual and the organization. I realized that it was the most impactful asset in the corporate arsenal to effect change and drive business results. With all of this promise, it was still viewed as a necessary evil, relegating learning and development to the proverbial kids’ table while the corporate adults made all the decisions for us. We were the perfect patsy that they could count on to take the fall for a program’s failure and shy away from taking credit for a program’s success.
This situation never made sense to me. We could see the impact, yet others would argue that their contribution was the real reason for the success of the program. While I could easily argue against their data and show that their programs did little to move the needle, they still had their numbers. As the adage goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I am not saying that my peers lied, but they did find a way to have the data tell the story that they wanted. All I had was my completion percentages, pre- and post-assessments, smile sheets, and other nonsensical data that no one gave more than an eye-rolling glance.
So I began a new journey: to learn how to accurately quantify the impact of the business’ investment in training. Sounds simple, right? I can’t tell you the number of times I was chewed out by my peers as I tried to argue the value and impact of learning based on my data. Then, I noticed something that changed the way I thought about metrics and measurement: My thinking was fundamentally incorrect. I was trying to use my data instead of the internal customers’ data to prove the learning value to the program sponsor.
While this issue can’t be solved overnight, here is some guidance that will help you on your journey to quantifying your value to your business partners.
1. Identify Relevant Data Points.
The selection of relevant, meaningful and trusted data points is critical to understanding the core problem and designing a targeted solution. It also makes future conversations with the stakeholder less adversarial. Jointly agree on these metrics with the business leader or stakeholder up front, and tie them directly to their dashboards. When you use metrics that they understand and value, the arguments about proving the results go away. They are now sitting next to you instead of across the table from you as you review your results.
Here are some questions to ask them:
- How did you recognize that this was an issue?
- Can you show me the trending data over the last X months or quarters?
- How will you know when it is moving in the right direction, and where would you like to see it?
2. Create Dashboards.
There are two sets of dashboards you should create:
- Internal metrics will ensure that you are running your L&D organization the right way. They will vary based on your role, but all the data need to roll up to a few key critical metrics (i.e., development time cycle, employee use, quality, etc.)
- External metrics will show the impact of your solutions to the business. They will vary based on the stakeholder or leader; your job is to identify their key metrics and the sub-metrics that influence them.
3. Educate Yourself.
Never go into a meeting with another part of the organization unless you have a working understanding of its business and goals. You don’t need to know everything about them, but don’t go in cold or pretend that you are an expert in the business. You will immediately lose credibility. Speak the language of business, not the language of L&D.
4. Develop a Metrics Library.
Define a series of metrics, how they are calculated and their meaning to ensure that everyone is looking at the metrics the same way and does not try to bend the meaning of a metric. Numbers should inform decisions without any need for interpretation. As soon as they are left up to interpretation, you will be pulled into esoteric conversations that will result in poor decisions and wasted time.
The journey to becoming a data-driven, results-oriented business partner within the organization isn’t for the timid, but it is invaluable in proving learning’s worth and impact.