A New Year’s Resolution to Better Manage Learning

A New Year’s Resolution to Better Manage Learning

By Dave Vance

In the spirit of the New Year, here are my suggestions for ten steps to better manage learning to have greater impact on your company and to run your department more effectively and efficiently.

  1. Be clear about your mission. Why was the learning function created and what is it expected to do? Is your primary purpose to help the business achieve its goals, increase employee engagement, improve retention, or what? The answer is hugely important.
  2. If your mission is to help the company achieve its business goals, know what those goals are each year. Meet with the owners of those goals and reach agreement on whether learning has a role to play.
  3. If your mission is to increase employee engagement or retention, then meet with the head of HR and other senior leaders to plan how learning can contribute.
  4. In either case, set specific, measurable outcome-related goals for your learning initiatives. How much of an impact can learning have on achieving the business or HR goals? A lot? A little? You and the owner of each goal need to be crystal clear on this.
  5. Once you have agreement on the planned impact of learning, you and the goal owner need to reach agreement on your respective roles and responsibilities. What, exactly, must each of you do for learning to have the agreed-upon planned impact? The planned impact will only happen if both of you work together to make it happen.
  6. Set specific, measurable goals for the L&D department for the coming year. These generally will involve targeted improvements in effectiveness and efficiency measures across all the learning you offer. Examples of effectiveness measures would be improvement in participant and sponsor satisfaction, first-time pass rates, and application rates. Examples of efficiency measures would be number of participants, percentage of courses or hours that are web-based or blended, percentage of employees reached by learning, and completion dates.
  7. Create a convincing business case for the coming year incorporating the planned impacts and actions and the costs to achieve them. Include this in a written business plan for the year which would include an executive summary, last year’s accomplishments, a discussion of current and proposed staffing and spending, the business case, work plans, and a measurement & evaluation strategy. Have the plan approved by your CEO and governing board.
  8. Create reports containing plan and year-to-date results to use each month to manage the department to deliver the planned results. Update monthly. You should have a report for each major goal supported (program report) and a report for the key effectiveness and efficiency measures (operations report). You should also create a one-two page, high-level report with no learning jargon to share with the CEO, governing body, senior leaders and employees to highlight your alignment to and impact on key company goals and your efforts to improve effectiveness and efficiency (summary report).
  9. Use these reports in regularly scheduled monthly meetings to review progress against plan and, when results are not on plan (which will be often in the real world), to discuss and decide on appropriate management actions to get back on plan.
  10. Look for ways to celebrate your success and to continuously improve. It is a journey and you will never be perfect.

Note that the ten steps above did not include a request for more staff or budget. You can begin implementing these steps with your current resources if you are willing to make some trade-offs. For example, you may need to re-assign some staff or reduce the number of projects. At the end of the day, you may have to decide if you want to do better or if you want to do more. My suggestion is to consider doing better rather than doing more, which in the longer run is actually the best way to also do more. Show your company’s senior leaders you are an outstanding manager of the resources they have given you and they are likely to give you more. So, manage learning with business-like discipline by knowing your mission, aligning your learning priorities to that mission, setting specific & measurable goals, and using monthly reports to ensure that planned results are delivered.

Best wishes to all in this great profession in the New Year!




  1. Great list of New Year’s resolutions David! Besides the very first one, which I think is absolutely crucial for a successful L&D department, I really like the 6th one, the one about setting measurable goals. Most of us start the year by creating a list of professional goals that we hope to achieve, but it shocks me how most of these goals are nearly impossible to measure. As learning and training professionals, we should know the importance of being able to chart the progress of a specific task, hopefully we are doing it in our own programs. I recommend that we all take a step back from our resolutions, and really ask ourselves if they can be adequately measured. If the answer is no, then it’s time to rework them.

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