The commercial business landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. Today’s businesses compete in immeasurably larger, more cost-conscious markets. Workforces have greater flexibility and mobility, and the inexorable advance of technology has opened up possibilities previously unimaginable.
However, the basic approach to learning and development remains largely unchanged: Learning leaders impart skills and measure outcomes only after training is complete — if they measure at all. This is inadequate for today’s business environment. Corporate learning recipients, and the organizations they work for, are not experiencing the outcomes they desire at the rate they should.
A perceived unwillingness to evolve has brought the L&D industry to a crossroads. For companies to survive in the modern business environment, they must transform their approach to become more adaptable and more responsive. If learning and development effectiveness is measured as it is taking place, and training adapted accordingly to ensure desired outcomes are achieved, there is no reason why success rates should not reach 100 percent.
Yet, according to figures from Bersin by Deloitte’s April study “Building Competitive Advantage with Talent,” only about 10 to 15 percent of companies possess well-developed learning and development programs that are properly aligned with strategy and outcomes.
Traditionally, feedback was typically available from basic questionnaires completed after training was completed.Today’s more sophisticated systems might include psychometric and 360-degree appraisals, human resources metrics such as sickness, absence, retention and business metrics such as return on investment, market share and revenue. Now a more agile L&D process is required.
If executive learning and development was evaluated by leaders success in transferring their newly acquired knowledge back into the workplace to generate business benefits — rather than by the more familiar assessment methods of tests, projects and satisfaction surveys — users would have a more meaningful measure of effectiveness.
One effective solution is to introduce the concept of efficacy into corporate learning and development. Defined as the power or capacity to produce a desired outcome, efficacy means learning has to take a rigorous, evidence-based approach to achieve its optimum effectiveness.
For instance, instead of putting an expensive executive L&D program in place and considering return on investment after the event, organizations need to be agile, measuring progress and intervening throughout the learning process. By following this metrics-driven approach, businesses will be much more likely to see improved quality, speed, cost-effectiveness and certainty.
Consider the software development industry — a sector once well known for its failure to deliver required outcomes on time and to specification — as a model. Now the information technology sector’s rapid adoption of agile methodology has successfully transformed the industry.
Instead of developing a plan and hoping the intended outcome will materialize, project managers measure progress and make small changes along the way to deliver the desired objectives. This agile approach to IT programs enables the software industry to operate with higher quality and speed — and with lower costs, risks and complexity.
With IT, it is relatively easy to measure ongoing progress as most work is carried out on a computer that facilitates the automatic recording of a wide range of data. In other sectors, this may not always be the case. Nevertheless, few industries untouched by modern technology; so where data collection and analysis were once cumbersome processes, technology is increasingly automating these tasks.
With a basis in improving individuals’ outcomes, whatever business they work in, agile learning and development provides a distinctly measurable form of training. It should be perfectly possible to constantly measure and make changes along the way, so organizations can reach their desired outcomes regardless of industry.
Measurements obtained while L&D training is actually taking place provide course leaders with sufficient information to make appropriate, incremental modifications to a course as it is delivered and, consequently, affect its outcomes. Continually gauging progress in this way enables leaders to predict early in a learning and development program how effective the learning will be with surprising accuracy.
It is true that in the past there would have been some businesses where it would have been impractical to perform the necessary measurements for agile learning and development. But Internet-enabled technology has changed that. Now there is virtually no organization in which agile executive learning cannot be applied.
Abbas Hasan is chief operating officer at the Financial Times, IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, a joint venture between the Financial Times and Spain’s IE Business School, with a network of business school alliances in the USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.