It’s time we had a conversation about how we look at learning and development (L&D) programs. Technology is upending the way we measure the success of each department in the organization, and finite-level data measurement at every customer touchpoint has become the norm. The impact these changes have on key performance indicators (KPIs) and other success metrics across the organization — from marketing and research and development (R&D) to product, customer support and sales — is spurring new levels of efficiency and productivity.

Surprisingly, however, when it comes to measuring the success of organizational L&D programs, things haven’t changed much. The internet and the digital transformation that came in its wake have left the way we measure employee development programs almost completely untouched — until now.

L&D 2.0

L&D is in the midst of an evolutionary shift. The onset of recent trends such as digital transformation and automation in the workplace, coupled with the impact of COVID-19, is forcing us to change the way we perceive, use and measure L&D programs.

With the pivot to online marketing, organizations introduced return on investment (ROI) as a quantitative measurement of marketing success. Similarly, forward-thinking companies are beginning to align the metrics of their L&D programs with the relative effect they have on the bottom line. Quantifiable metrics representing the hiring and staffing savings achieved through reskilling, for example, should be attached to each training program participant.

L&D is shifting from an employee benefit aimed at improving motivation to a strategic organizational asset that can secure a competitive edge well into the future. This seismic shift means that, like for other strategic activities across the enterprise, L&D measurement should become more data-driven and aligned with business impact metrics. This approach is the only way to establish benchmarks for success and empower ongoing improvement and efficiency.

Doing More With Less

The economic impact of COVID-19 means that efficiency and productivity are becoming the most important metrics. As organizations cut costs and budgets, “doing more with less” became the official mantra of 2020. At the same time, skills gaps are growing, and the proliferation of automation and digital transformation is changing the face of the workforce.

Digital competency and knowledge in the software organizations use have left the realm of “nice to have.” In the modern workplace, they have become mandatory for many jobs. Employees’ ability to learn is becoming critical to an organization’s success. Meanwhile, the organization’s ability to support on-the-job reskilling through effective L&D programs has become the key to unlocking growth and ensuring competitiveness into the future.

Repositioning L&D

Measuring marginal improvement on the specific skills learned within the context of training programs is the first step in revolutionizing L&D within the organization. The main purpose of these programs is to teach employees relevant, practical skills that will help the organization achieve its business goals and reduce turnover. As such, skill improvement is the only true measurement of their effectiveness.

Organizations must begin implementing ongoing skill assessment, training and measurement as central tenets of their operations and culture. Only after we can draw a clear line between the output of training programs — skill learning, management and improvement — and business metrics can L&D take its rightful place as a key driver of business value.

Measuring the effectiveness of L&D programs by completion rates only offers a partial picture. As budgets tighten and the need to reskill and upskill employees becomes more acute, the demand for effective L&D programs is becoming more and more salient. To adjust to this reality, training measurement must be aligned with business ROI.