Spending on corporate training in the U.S. grew by 15 percent in 2013; the highest growth rate in seven years, according to the Corporate Learning Factbook 2014, produced by Bersin by Deloitte. In fact, budgets increased markedly for everything from company-specific training aimed at improving employees’ knowledge of the business to more general curriculum designed to foster personal growth.
Many studies have linked company training programs to retention, including an AON survey in which respondents ranked “opportunities for personal growth” as the main reason they took their current job and stayed in it. Still, training managers sometimes struggle to prove the success of their efforts. Here’s how to make viable connections between company learning programs and measurable business results.
1. Make sure you’re solving the right problems
Begin by ensuring your programs are designed around your most pressing needs. “It starts with senior leaders identifying the weakest links in the company's value chain that are caused by learning gaps,” says Matt Barney, Ph.D., founder & CEO of LeaderAmp Inc., author and former chief learning officer for Sutter Health. “Without this context, learning may be solving the wrong business problems. If the senior leaders can put a financial value on what it is worth to improve that bottleneck in terms of quality, scalability, or speed, then the relationship between learning and financial results is aligned,” he says.
Pete Sackleh, managing director of Deloitte University (DU), Deloitte’s 700,000-square-foot campus for interactive leadership development, says that before the company launched a $300 million learning initiative it identified gaps by going straight to the source: its employees. “Talk to your people about what they need. If it’s not valuable to them from a competency perspective, I’m not sure why you would do it."
2. Test and measure your efforts
It is easiest to measure long-term training programs that represent a clear investment and have a quantifiable “before” and “after” performance factor. Assessment is also simpler when your program has a clear goal. For example, if you know you spent $X to teach your employees a new sales tactic intended to increase average sales per person, you’ll be able to measure the program’s success by testing employees’ knowledge before and after the training and reviewing subsequent sales data. Do individual average sales increase after the program? Are people who completed the program selling more than those who have not? Over time, how do such revenue increases compare with the cost of running the program?
On the other hand, a program designed to address a vague goal such as “improve customer service” will be harder to measure, unless you take steps to gauge customer satisfaction before and after the training by defining concrete metrics. For example, ask customers to rate their satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5. Yes, it's subjective, but often even a simple approach like that is enough to note overall trends and specific improvement on the part of individuals who’ve completed the training.
3. Abandon metrics that are off-base
Dan Pontefract, author of Dual Purpose and Flat Army and "chief envisioner" at Canadian telecom company TELUS, notes that too many businesses still measure their efforts with metrics that aren't simply outdated, but irrelevant. “It’s unconscionable to measure learning by the number of ‘bums in seats,’ or whether or not people ‘liked the course’" he says. "This is not measurement. Measurement comes when learning is tied to employee engagement. This determines whether or not employees are contributing in a positive, purpose-filled manner that improves customer satisfaction, innovation, and productivity to deliver business results.” He adds that when TELUS offered more learning opportunities, employee engagement increased--measurably.
Metrics don't just indicate whether and to what degree a learning program is on target. They also help learning executives make a persuasive case for investing in such programs. Deloitte's Sackleh says that before the company launched DU, many board members worried it would be obsolete before it even got started. “It was a huge challenge, but now they see it as a physical manifestation of our investment in our team,” he says. “When any business, regardless of size, spends out-of-pocket to make an investment in its people, you have to weigh those dollars against what you might get in return. You need to make smart investments relevant to your business strategy. It almost always helps you deliver a better product and attract and retain the best and the brightest.”