If you’re coaching a baseball player at the batting cages every day, you’re training them to be a better hitter. You can spend hours every week showing someone how to hit a target, and the number of bullseyes they hit is bound to improve. In athletics, the connection between training and improvement is as clear as the number on the scoreboard.

Let’s change the setting. You’re now in charge of training an organization of 20,000 employees. The CEO tells you the metric for success is to raise the company’s profits. You have to figure out how to deploy your limited resources to a disparate group of people and help improve their performance so that they, in turn, improve the company’s bottom line. They’re spread over multiple cities, some of them in their first job and others with decades of experience, each of them with unique expectations and perspectives.

Accurately measuring the improvement of thousands of human beings in a workplace is a lot more complicated than measuring batting average. This is the quandary my partner, Jim Loehr, and I found ourselves in not too long ago. We were training tennis players, golfers and other professional athletes in the 1980s and early 1990s, when we co-founded the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. Measuring athletic success was as simple as recording wins and losses.

But when we started working with business leaders in the early to mid-1990s, the metrics weren’t so cut and dry. The connection between performance and financial success is hard to measure. Incongruously, it was possible to find workplaces with unhappy employees that still delivered financial goals. The hard metrics say these teams were successful, but how can you consider it a win when the staff is on the verge of mutiny?

During this period, the development of qualitative measures such as 360-degree feedback and self-assessments provided us with tools to look at people’s perceptions and feelings, metrics that traditional tests weren’t designed to gauge. On the flip side, people aren’t always reliable at evaluating themselves, and self-deception was a problem.

The technological advances that came in the mid- to late 1990s brought us the era of big data, making it easier to crunch massive amounts of information. As we progressed into the new century, the continued evolution of technology made it possible to reach more people at a scale never seen before in history.

Along the way, we were learning what practices worked best in a corporate setting and how to translate what we were learning in a formal controlled setting into teachable lessons that could be imparted in a classroom or at a conference. It became fairly obvious that an hour spent listening to a keynote speech doesn’t translate to sustained improvement back at the workplace. Someone can say they’ve “got it” and then go right back to their old behaviors. This is the moment when a CEO will question the benefit of training, because if they can’t measure an improvement in employee retention and promotion, then what’s the point?

That CEO is right in pointing out the difference between intellectually understanding something and integrating a new behavior into practice. Sustainable behavior change is the new era in corporate training.

Training that “sticks” is crucial, because the cost of employee turnover is high at every level of employment. According to the Center for American Progress, a business will spend about one-fifth of an employee’s salary to replace that worker.

Stabilizing a workforce makes good business sense. With such onerous costs of replacing old employees and hiring new employees, we’ve focused on developing training programs to build better corporate “athletes” who are more satisfied in their roles and perform better over the long term.

Measuring business performance is more complex than measuring a swings of a bat, but in all cases, the longer that someone is exposed to a finely tuned training course, the greater the impact of measurable behavior change. Providing workers with high-impact training solutions will help them achieve sustained high performance and stay in their jobs longer, according to our research. It’s a win for businesses and a win for employees.

Successful organizations train for a healthier, high-performing workforce and develop measurements of long-term behavior change. What are you training for?

Want to learn more? Our Midwinter Month of Measurement is leading up to our next virtual conference, TICE Virtual Conference: Metrics Matter, a Focus on Strategic Planning, Analytics and Alignment. Learn more and register for the free event here.

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