Benchmarking is as common in learning and development as mobile learning is on cellphones. But that doesn’t mean it’s done well or that the data is useful.
In September, Towards Maturity, a benchmarking research company, released that its Personalised Benchmark Report had experienced a record 25 percent increase in the number of reports delivered to learning and development professionals this year.
Laura Overton, managing director for Towards Maturity, spoke with Chief Learning Officer about the ways learning leaders use data to shape future strategy.
There’s a 25 percent increase in the number of reports delivered to L&D professionals this year. What are they doing with this data? What should they be doing with it?
Benchmarking in most parts of the business is all about improving performance, but traditional L&D benchmarks have focused instead on cost and efficiency – how many in the team, budgets, etc. The data in these reports don’t focus on input but on outputs and the practices of those who are performing will in the areas that count.
We’ve found over the years that top performing learning teams – those reporting the most significant impact on business and individual performance – are modernizing their learning approach and doing things differently to their peers. The Towards Maturity Personalised Benchmark Reports help L&D leaders compare their L&D tactics against those of the top performing teams.
The data they receive is in two parts: Performance indicators: We report back on 12 learning output indicators so individuals can compare the outputs of their strategy with their peers; and effective practice benchmarks: We report on 25 effective practice benchmarks ranging from behaviors linked to alignment, engagement, design, demonstrating value and more. By comparing their scores against their peers, participants can highlight priority action areas to drive their strategy, and more importantly their results forward.
This data is being used in a number of ways:
- To influence change within the L&D team
- To help build a better business case with business leaders
- To prioritize action areas
- To highlight current strengths and weaknesses
- To demonstrate progress year on year both internal to the team and externally to business stakeholders
What surprised you about this research?
The research shows the aspirations of L&D leaders increases year on year – with over 90 percent wanting to provide more flexibility and access to learning, improve onboarding processes, to improve application of learning back at work, to improve the sharing of good practice, for example. However, it seems that little progress has been made with no more than a third reporting they are achieving their objectives goals across the key drivers. The top performing teams are twice as likely to be achieving their goals and to report fewer barriers. What they are doing isn’t rocket science, but whilst they storm ahead year on year, the majority of L&D teams seem to be stuck in a rut.
What one thing would you advise learning leaders to heed as they begin to shape strategies for 2016 and beyond?
Apply business thinking to learning strategy. Don’t get seduced by fads and the latest shiny toys. Take time out to listen to the needs of the business first, and then find fast, agile ways to meet them.
Do learning leaders really need all of this benchmarking data?
No, if they are content with their current program of work and have no desire or reason to change. Yes, if they believe the world of work is changing around them, and that they need to do things differently. This type of data helps them to make sound evidence-based decisions that reduce risk and increase results.
Are they using it to make decisions? If not, why not?
Many L&D organizations around the globe are using the report to refine their thinking, challenge their teams, influence their stakeholders and confirm they are on the right track. However, many L&D leaders are still shy of using data to inform decision making, instead relying on the latest technology, tool or model to help realize their vision. A quick look at the evidence, however, would help many organizations avoid messy mistakes and identify the tactics that work.
Would time spent collecting data be better spent elsewhere?
Benchmarking isn’t a data collection exercise; it’s a performance improvement tool to review current practices against those of the best performers in order to improve outputs and results. For L&D professionals benchmarking is about stopping and reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t in order to make improvements in tactics and outputs. Taking time out to review and compare is time well spent, but often L&D are too busy to do this even though we encourage others to do it.