A Look Back (and Ahead) on the Measurement and Management of L&D

The end of December is always a good time of the year to take a look back and ahead of the L&D profession. Looking back, I think we are blessed to have some great thought leaders who have provided a terrific foundation for both the measurement and management of L&D.

On the measurement side, I am particularly thinking of Don Kirkpatrick, who gave us the Four Levels and Jack Phillips, who gave us isolated impact for Level 4 and ROI for Level 5. I am also thinking about all of the work done by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) to promote measurement and to benchmark key measures through their annual industry survey.

On the management side, I’m grateful again for the contributions from Don Kirkpatrick and Jack Phillips and now, Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick and Patti Phillips; as well as for their guidance in how to manage—particularly with respect to partnering closely with goal owners and focusing on what it takes to achieve Level 3 application. In addition, I appreciate the work by Roy Pollock and his associates in giving us The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, which is a must-read book for anyone focusing on the measurement and management of L&D.

And, there are many more—like Ken Phillips and John Mattox and others too. And beyond L&D, the HR profession, in general, has benefited tremendously from thought leaders like Jac Fitz-enz, Jeff Higgins, John Boudreau, and Wayne Cassio. Like Kirkpatrick and Phillips did for L&D, these thought leaders basically invented measurement for the rest of HR.

We are very fortunate to have this strong foundation built over the last 30+ years. Looking ahead, the question is, where do we go from here? As a profession, we now have well over 170 measures for L&D and over 700 for HR (in general). I don’t think we need more measures. What we do need, however, is a better way to utilize some of the measures we have—especially Levels 3 (application) and 4 (results or impact) and 5 (ROI) for L&D. Level 3 is the starting point and should be measured for all key programs. Research by Phillips clearly indicates that CEOs want to see impact and ROI more than any other measures, which will become increasingly urgent as the next recession draws closer (pencil in 2020 or 2021 for planning purposes). While some progress has been made over the last 10 years, it is not enough, so this remains a high priority for the profession moving ahead.

Another priority for us is to do a much better job managing learning. By this I mean running learning with business discipline, which starts by partnering closely with goal owners and agreeing on specific, measurable goals or targets for the learning (assuming of course that learning has a constructive role to play in achieving the business goal). And, once specific plans have been made, to execute those plans with the same discipline your colleagues in other departments use. This requires monthly reports and comparing results to plan so that corrective action can be taken as soon as possible, to get back on plan and deliver promised results.

Managing learning this way is hard for many and some simply do not want accountability. But, it is an area where the payoff of better performance and greater value delivered per dollar is huge. In fact, I would contend that it has a bigger payoff than even measuring at Levels 3-5.

To summarize, I think there is an opportunity to structure our departments differently to enable better management overall. To develop a close partnership with goal owners (like the head of sales, for example) and to really run learning like a business, there needs to be one L&D professional in charge of the program(s) identified to meet the business need. This person would:

  1. Meet with the goal owner initially and oversee the needs analysis
  2. Get agreement up-front with the goal owner on specific measurable plans for the learning program as well as roles and responsibilities for both parties
  3. Supervise the design, development, and delivery of the program
  4. Meet regularly with the goal owner to manage the successful deployment of the learning, including reinforcement by leaders in the goal owner’s organization

I know this may be a challenge in some organizations, but I think it is indispensable for a successful partnership and for accountability within L&D.

I truly enjoy being a part of the great profession and the opportunity to work with all of you. We have come a long way in a relatively short period of time and I believe the future is very bright if we continue to build on foundation that has been laid to take learning measurement, reporting, and management to the next level.

I look forward to what we can accomplish working together! Happy New Year and Best Wishes for the coming year!

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