Measuring Learning’s Impact: Stop Making Excuses and Just Get Started

Stop making excuses for not measuring the impact of learning and just get started. This was the consensus among the panelists at a recent Skillsoft Perspectives Conference in Orlando, Fla. The panelists were Laurie Bassi of McBassi & Associates, Jay Jamrog of i4cp, Kendall Kerekes of KnowledgeAdvisors, Patti Phillips of ROI Institute and myself, with Kieran King from Skillsoft moderating. We had 1,000 in the audience, a provocative subject and a great panel.

King set the stage by sharing research from Jack and Patti Phillips showing CEOs want to see the impact and ROI of their learning investments but instead receive only activity and satisfaction data (confirmed by research from Bersin and many others).

So, why aren’t learning leaders measuring impact and sharing with their CEOs? After all, this is not exactly a revelation. According to a survey by Cushing Anderson in May, the leading reasons are lack of resources, lack of support from the CEO, lack of funding and lack of skills.

My take: these are all just excuses which strongly suggest that many of today’s CLOs (or vice presidents of training) should be replaced.

I did not have the resources or funding I wanted at Caterpillar, and I never asked the CEO to support my measurement or impact strategy. I also came to my position with no knowledge of training, let alone the knowledge or skills to measure impact. These limitations did not stop me from putting a measurement strategy in place, and they should not stop you either.

To begin, there are numerous books and workshops available to help anyone new to the field or to measurement. And there are many great consultants and providers to help you (like the panel members). Even if you cannot afford hired help, you can quickly come up to speed on the basics.

Next, you need to adopt a management mindset and resolve to do the best you can with whatever resources you have. Forget perfection: perfect data, absolutely consistent data and comprehensive data. Stop waiting for the new LMS or for a bigger budget or for a dedicated staff person, or a completely automated system. Start with what you have and where you are.

Focus. What are your key programs in support of the key goals of your organization? Start there even if it is only for one program. You can use a sample of participants to gather the required data to estimate impact or you can use a survey. This does not have to be expensive or a major undertaking. You can make a start.

Adopting a management mindset with regard to measurement of impact also entails working with the sponsor upfront to agree on the expected impact of the initiative and on the roles and responsibilities of each party (training and the sponsor) to achieve the desired impact.

Once you have an agreed-upon plan with the sponsor, then you will need to manage execution on a monthly basis. Reaching agreement with the sponsor on expected impact requires NO additional resources, just a little time. And monitoring progress against plan on a monthly basis can be done on an Excel spreadsheet (which is what we did at Caterpillar).

Bottom line, the panel agreed there is a lot you can do to measure and manage impact. So, stop making excuses and just get started, even if that means starting to manage and measure impact on just a few select initiatives or even only one.

Don’t wait for new systems or technology or a bigger budget, and don’t wait to be asked for impact. Start now to whatever extent you can, and look forward to improving in the future.

About the Author:

David Vance is the former president of Caterpillar University, which he founded in 2001. Until his retirement in January 2007, he was responsible for ensuring that the right education, training and leadership were provided to achieve corporate goals and efficiently meet the learning needs of Caterpillar and dealer employees.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

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