Use Metrics to Cut ‘Sacred’ Learning Programs

By Kate Everson

Saying goodbye to a beloved but outdated learning program can be as heart wrenching as losing a beloved family pet — no one wants to see it happen, but it’s going to happen eventually.

Learning leaders can face protests when they decide to pull the cord or dramatically alter a program. But the same measurement strategies they use to build support for creating learning can also be used to ease the pain of cutting or changing it.

“Metrics are a quick way to create rationale behind it and create support, especially when it’s something that has been done historically by an organization for years and years, that ‘We do it because it’s always been done that way,’” said Peter Glowacki, principal at talent consultancy firm VGE Associates. “They re-enforce your point when you’re going into leadership who may have seen something done the way it’s always been done, and help get them to see it a little differently.”

Glowacki, who used to be director of training and development at law firm Sidley Austin, said using metrics to retool a learning program means flipping the measurement process on its head.

Typically, learning leaders conduct qualitative interviews first so they can figure out what metrics to gather to show a program is working. Using measurement to cut or change a program is the opposite —measurement shows there is a problem, and interviews with learners and managers provide context on what specific objectives aren’t being met.

But it’s not enough to bring the data to the meeting.

“Any time you’re going into an executive meeting and just providing information, you’re not doing your job,” said Kendall Kerekes, product management director at CEB Metrics that Matter. Leaders have to establish trust in the data by talking through the logic behind it and showing they’ve done their due diligence when collecting it.

Then, CLOs have to make proposals based on the data they’re presenting. Kerekes gave these three recommendations that can be made when the numbers show that a learning program isn’t working:

1. “Do nothing, but stay tuned.” Executives can often be trigger happy as soon as metrics show that an investment isn’t paying off. Hold their fire by explaining that more evidence is needed before an action can be made, be it a cut or a change.

2. “Let’s try construction before cancellation.” When metrics show a program having results in one area but failing in another, come to the table with an explanation of what parts need help and an action plan for improving them. “Often times they see the red and want to chop, but you have to have a game plan on what you want to do differently,” Kerekes said.

3. “Scrap it.” When a program absolutely fails, it’s time for a learning leader to say goodbye. This is where due diligence is particularly helpful, as thorough measurements can show whether the methodology was wrong, the content just didn’t connect or employees weren’t engaged.

“It’s when you didn’t do your job and you’re scrapping programs that your credibility is on the line,” Kerekes said.

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