Data here, data there, data, data everywhere. In the words of Geoffrey Moore, author of “Crossing the Chasm,” “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.”

Across industries, businesses are shifting to data-driven structures, using key business insights to produce faster and more customized products and services. The learning and development (L&D) industry is no different and, these days, it is often a place where data transformation begins — especially as more and more employees look for personalized training programs.

Historically, L&D programs have been born out of necessity, not data. Consider the case of World War I: Men were being called overseas to serve, which meant that women were keeping businesses running in jobs where they had no prior experience. Industries had to develop training programs to help these women succeed on the job. As technology and resources evolved, organizations began tailoring L&D programs to their own companies versus an entire industry and, with the onset of data, companies could offer the ultimate individualized approach to skills training by looking at the unique needs of the individual and customer.

Adopting a data-driven culture is a must for organizations looking to stand out from the competition and attract and retain employees. By generating insights from various data sources that can include anything from customer satisfaction, waste reduction and churn to time-to-market, engagement and adoption rates, L&D professionals will evolve their programs to better benefit employees and fuel the bottom line. However, with all the data available today (2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated worldwide every day), where does one begin?

Follow the initiatives below to commence your successful data-driven L&D program and pave your way toward a data-driven learning culture:

Investigate the Existing Data Pool
Not all data are created equal and recognizing that is the first step toward success. In many organizations, attempts to extract L&D insights from data have historically been difficult to access or structure in a meaningful way. Instead of defining and curating useful data, many organizations would over-supply their employees with content and training materials based on last minute requests from business leaders or broad, industry-focused best practice programs. Before implementing a data-driven L&D program, take a step back to understand what types of information flow through your organization and how to best utilize it in your program.

Cultivate the Right Team of Data-Driven Leaders
Once you’ve organized and assessed your data, it’s time to turn to your most important asset – your people. Organizations must choose the right people to lead their transformation to a data-driven culture. While hiring data scientists might seem to be the obvious answer, it’s not.

With data analysis technology becoming more available and user-friendly, human data skills will become less important in the future. Instead, you should work to identify subject matter experts who possess the inherent context, personality and curiosity (fueled by learning), necessary to take on the challenge. These individuals can come from various backgrounds as long as they are detail-oriented, conscientious and can draw the right insights from the data in order to create meaningful stories for the business and, as a result, help drive transformational, data-driven change.

Once these leaders are in place, there needs to be open communication between them and the rest of the organization. For data-driven projects to be successful, it’s critical that the L&D team communicates with other company stakeholders from the outset to align on processes and expected outcomes from the start. This can be challenging due to business pressures and priorities and, in some cases, misunderstandings about the role and goals of the L&D function. However, with proper communication, you can ensure everyone is working toward the same goal: establishing a data-driven learning culture.

Look to Existing Data-Driven Processes as the Guideline for Success
As companies embark on their data-driven L&D journey, they should look to existing departments that practice strong data-driven processes for inspiration. For example, marketing and operations teams are usually built on a data-driven mindset. Marketing relies on data to gain insights into customers’ buying patterns and brand experiences. Operations leverages data in every move they make to optimize people, tech, and product functions across the organization. L&D can leverage these processes and strengths to achieve success.

Adopt the Technology and Processes Necessary for Success
A data-driven culture can only truly flourish with the right technology in place. Data-driven leaders should consider the benefits of next-gen technologies such as augmented reality (AR) to provide richer and more cost-effective options for on-the-job training, experiential coaching and collaboration for employees. Additionally, the 2018 Training Industry Trends Report found that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are being used to help companies better understand employee learning behavior. By looking at past and real-time behavior along with the adoption of intelligent technology, organizations can predict specific training needs and gain insight into the recommended content, and learning methods, for individual employees. Ultimately, the powerful partnership of data and new technology will help improve learning proficiency across your organization.

Identify KPIs That Are Right for the Organization
If the agreed upon goal for both L&D and stakeholders is creating a better customer experience, data can help organizations by verifying what is working throughout the entire customer journey. When it comes to setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals, approaches vary by organization. An organization’s goals can broadly range from waste reduction in a shipping company to increased customer satisfaction for a consumer product. Before embarking on data analysis, the company should clearly articulate the problem that needs to be solved on an enterprise-wide level.

Indicators such as Net Promoter Scores (NPS) can provide a good benchmark for organizations to understand how your customers feel about your products and services. If the score is low in one particular area, companies know they need to change something and if it’s high, they can feel comfortable in continuing their current strategies. Once a clear objective is put in place, L&D leaders can truly understand the success and necessary adjustments to their program.

For an industry with remote or deskless workers, such as restaurants, the data and KPIs that are tracked can measure process efficiencies. This includes factors such as customer wait time, or even the number of cups left at the end of the day compared to the number of soft drink sales. Any significant deltas captured in these metrics can tell an organization a great deal about the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of specific learning interventions — if measured properly. The lessons learned from these efforts can be applied more broadly and may very well affect multiple facets of business.

Looking Ahead
As businesses look to stay relevant and competitive, L&D professionals are central to the conversation and need to incorporate data-driven training to support company goals. By developing a learning culture that is built on data analytics, organizations will see improved employee satisfaction and output.

In the coming years, data-driven L&D leaders will play even more of an important role in creating organizational success. Therefore, they should consider how to implement goal-based learning and strategies, including leveraging next-gen technologies, in order to create a data-driven learning culture — and, as a result, lasting success.