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The Learning & Development Challenge

I have worked in Learning and Development for over 10 years now and in all that time, the question of how to measure the impact of learning remains unanswered. But ultimately it is simple – understand the problem you are trying to fix with the learning and then see if the learning fixes it.

So if it’s that simple why then do we continue as L&D professionals to ask the question – how do I measure the impact of learning? More often than not it’s because we are asked to provide a solution.  A Head of Business says to the Learning team “My team needs training on assertiveness” and we deliver a session on assertiveness.  If we truly want to measure the impact of learning, then we need to start with identifying the problem and not simply providing the solution. 

We need to consult with the business not just take orders. We need to ask questions to understand the problem they are having in their business. More often than not this will be supported by Management Information, for example, the amount of compensation being giving to customers as a result of a complaints has increased 15% in the past 3 months. A manager could look at that MI and think, our complaint handlers are not being tough enough with the customers so let’s get them some assertiveness training. But what if compensation has risen due to an action (or inaction) of the customer service advisors, resulting in more overall complaints? Training the complaints team in assertiveness is not going to resolve the root cause of the problem.

Investigating and understanding the root cause of the problem not only means that the solution you provide will be fit for purpose, but it also means you will have clear measures to determine the impact the solution has had on business performance.

Let’s take the example above a step further. On investigation, it is found that a key piece of training on a new process has not been delivered to a number of the customer service agents, which has led to a 20% increase in the number of complaints. It’s clear now that the root cause requires process training and once delivered you can monitor the number of complaints relating to that process – if they go down, you can demonstrate the business impact of the learning provided. Furthermore, the initial problem, the 15% increase in compensation can also be monitored to see if this reduces, demonstrating additional business benefit of the learning.

Now I began by stating that I have worked in L&D for over 10 years, so I know there are often challenges faced by L&D in engaging the business and really getting to the root cause of training requests. I have experienced first-hand being told not to ask questions and simply deliver what is being asked of me and sometimes that might just have to be what you do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t measure the impact of that, whatever it is you are being asked to deliver – here’s a simple technique as to how.

On receiving the request, ask them one question – How will they know the training has been successful? The answer to this question will help you develop your business impact strategy.

Let’s take a look at just a couple of potential answers:

Potential Answer

Follow up questions:

Business Impact Strategy:

“ ’X’ will reduce”

What is ‘X’ now? Where can I get the data from? Is it already periodically monitored or will this need to be implemented after the learning has been delivered?

You now have a set of I that you can use to measure how successful the learning solution has been. Develop a plan to capture and report on the MI.

“My managers will stop complaining”

What are your managers complaining about?

Depending on how the conversation goes at this point, you could ask if it would it be ok to speak to some of the managers yourself to understand the challenges in more detail.

This could be as simple as going back to your stakeholder to find out if the complaints have reduced or stopped altogether. In the event that you had permission to speak to the managers directly, you could also go back to them after learning has been delivered and ask them what improvement they have seen.

By asking that one simple question “How will you know the training has been successful?” you can begin to work with the business in a different, more meaningful way, rather than simply taking the order and delivering what was asked for at face value.

You may not immediately be able to consult with them to truly understand the root cause as it’s likely a complex picture, but if you can begin to demonstrate the value you are able to add to the business, you will build credibility and trust and who knows, next time, they might come to you, explain the problem first and ask you what the solution should be!