Top Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Learning Profession

January is always a good time to reflect on the past and ponder the future. It’s also a good time to make some resolutions to improve in the coming year and decade. Here are my top five suggestions for the profession in the areas of measurement, analytics, reporting, and running learning like a business.

1. Resolve to measure more at levels 3 (application) and 4 (impact).

In November, ATD released its latest survey on evaluation that showed 60% of respondents evaluated at least one program at level 3 which is up from 54% in the 2015 study. Likewise, 38% measured at least one program at level 4 which is a slight increase from 35% in 2015. The good news is that the numbers are moving in the right direction. The bad news, is that they should be much higher. Over 80% measure levels 1 and 2. This should be the target for level 3 as well. And, we should measure level 3 for more than just a few programs. It should be measured and managed for all important programs. Once we start measuring application at a higher rate, we can turn our attention to measuring more programs at level 4. Phillips has shown us that this measure is what CEOs most want to see from us and we’re not giving it to them. We need to fix this.

2. Continue our shift from order takers to strategic business partners.

This will require us to have a discussion with the CEO before the year starts, to discover the goals fro the coming year and the goal owners. We need to talk with the goal owner to determine if learning has a role to play, and if it does, work with their staff to recommend an appropriate program. The goal owner then needs to approve the program and we need to reach agreement on the planned impact, other key measures of success, timing, and roles and responsibilities. One of the most important responsibilities of the goal owner will be to ensure that supervisors reinforce the learning with their employees in order to achieve a high application rate. All of this should be completed before the new year starts.

3. Be more disciplined and honest about how well aligned courses are with your organization’s goals.

Most learning departments would say they are well aligned but really, they’re not. What do I mean by “alignment”? It means the courses were designed (or purchased) in response to an identified need in support of a goal. If you say you are “aligned” to your organization’s top five goals, you should have a strategic alignment table which lists the top five goals—and under each one, you show the programs designed (or purchased) specifically to help achieve that goal. Instead, most use backward mapping, which starts with the course catalog and then seeks to map a course to all relevant goals. Since most courses indirectly support most goals, many conclude they are well aligned. For example, you might find that courses to improve communications skills are “aligned” to each of the top five goals (like increasing sales). The two approaches are very different—which explains why in surveys such a high percentage report they are aligned.

4. Be more sophisticated in your analysis of data.

Historically, data has been aggregated and reported as a total or average. Say for example, we report that the average participant reaction (level 1) is 76% favorable or that the average application rate is 51%. These are excellent summary measures but often do not tell the entire story. Perhaps the overall 76% favorable rating is due to the majority of participants being very satisfied but a sizable minority being very dissatisfied. We would want to know this information so we can explore the reasons (i.e., wrong target audience, bad instructor, etc.). Look at the distribution, not just the average or total and then use the information at a “by-name” level to take action (i.e., letting the supervisor know they are going to have to work harder with an individual to get application). This is the potential of microdata, which is really just a fancy term for data at the individual employee level. Ken Phillips is doing interesting work in this area.

5. Create and use more management reports.

Today, the industry primarily generates scorecards and dashboards. Scorecards show historical data in tabular form (like number of participants or courses for the last six months) while dashboards include some visual and/or interactive displays. Both however are designed to inform by sharing historical results. In other words they are “backwards” looking. Of course, it is important to know where we have been so we need scorecards and dashboards—however we also need to look forward. For this, we have management reports that show the plan (or targets) for the year, comparison of year-to-date results with plan, forecast (how the year is likely to end), and forecast compared to plan. They are designed to help leaders manage their initiatives to deliver promised results by answering two questions: “Are we on plan year to date?” and “Are we going to end the year on plan?” Management reports complement scorecards and dashboards by providing that forward look which can be used to actively manage initiatives.


Speak Your Mind