Setting Standards for our Profession: Three Standard Reports By Dave Vance

Last month we talked about the need for standards and introduced three types of measures which would serve to organize our measures just as accountants use four types of measures in their profession. This month we will introduce three standard reports for L&D which contain the three types of measures. These three reports, used together, provide a holistic and comprehensive view of learning activity just as the three standard accounting reports (income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow) do for financial activity.

The three reports are Operations, Program, and Summary. While a version of these reports (called detailed reports) contains just historical information (like actual results by month or quarter), we will focus on reports for executive reporting which in addition to last year’s results include the plan or target for the current year, year-to-date (YTD) progress against plan, and, ideally, a forecast of how the year will end if no special actions are taken (like extra staffing, budget or effort beyond what is currently planned). The reports are meant to be used by the department head and program managers in monthly meetings to actively manage the function to deliver results as close to plan as possible. Of course, before the year starts, L&D leaders will need to decide what measures are important for the year and what reasonable plans or targets would be for those measures.

We will start with the Operations Report which contains effectiveness and efficiency measures. Recall from our discussion last month that effectiveness measures are about the quality of the program (like levels 1-5) and efficiency measures are about how many, at what cost, etc. (like number of participants, hours, utilization rate, and cost). The Operations Report is meant to capture the 5-10 most important effectiveness and efficiency measures at an aggregated level which may be for the enterprise, region, business unit or product group depending on the L&D department’s scope. So, for example, the Operations Report might show last year’s actual, current year plan, YTD results, and forecast for unique and total participants for all the courses being offered. It might also show the average level 1, 2 and 3 for all courses being offered. The department head would use this report monthly to see if the department is on track to meet plan for the year. If it appears the department is not on track, then the senior L&D leaders need to understand why and agree on what actions to take to get back on plan.

The Program Report also contains effectiveness and efficiency measures but its focus is at the program or initiative level rather than the enterprise level. It is designed to show the key programs in support of a single company goal like increasing sales by 10% or reducing operating cost by 5%. Under each identified program would be the most important effectiveness and efficiency measures. The Program Report also would contain an outcome measure showing the planned impact or contribution from learning on the goal. So, the report pulls together the key programs and measures required to achieve the desired impact on the goal. The owner of the goal (like the SVP of sales) and the L&D leaders would agree on the programs; outcome, effectiveness and efficiency measures; and plans or targets for the measures before the programs begin. The goal owner and L&D also need to agree on their mutual roles and responsibilities, including how the owner plans to reinforce the learning. Program Reports would be used by the department head and program managers each month to ensure everything is on plan to deliver the agreed-upon results.

While the Operations and Program Reports are used to manage the function each month, the Summary Report is designed to show the alignment and impact of learning as well as its effectiveness and efficiency. The Summary Report starts by listing the company’s top 5-7 goals in the CEO’s priority order and then shows the key learning programs aligned to each. (In some cases there will be no planned learning.) Where learning does have a role to play in helping achieve the company goal, the report ideally will include an outcome measure or some measure of success. Next, the report will share three-four key effectiveness measures and three-four key efficiency measures. The target audience for this report is the CEO, CFO, SVP of HR, other senior leaders as well as employees of the L&D department. The report lets the senior company leaders know four important things: 1) L&D knows what the company’s goals and priorities are, 2) L&D leaders have talked with goal owners and the two parties have agreed on whether learning has a role to play and if it does, what kind of contribution may be expected from learning, 3) L&D leaders are focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of learning, and 4) L&D leaders know how to run learning like a business by setting plans and then managing each month in a disciplined way to deliver those plans.

Use of these three standard reports and the processes associated with creating them will dramatically improve the impact, effectiveness, efficiency, stature, and credibility of L&D. Along with adopting the three standard measures, it will also be a major step towards L&D becoming a true profession with our own standards and reports.

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