January is the start of a new fiscal year for many organizations. This makes it a great time to reflect on the importance of setting good goals for your outcome, effectiveness, and efficiency measures — basically all the measures that are really important to you for 2015.
Too many practitioners still focus primarily — or in many cases exclusively — on trying to determine or demonstrate the value of their training initiative after it is completed. While an after-action review is certainly warranted for key programs, more attention needs to be paid upfront to what you want to achieve. In fact, if you have limited resources, it would be better to spend more time upfront setting good goals than to spend time after the program is deployed determining its actual impact.
Why is the upfront goal setting so important? Because this is your opportunity to talk with senior leaders in your organization about their needs and whether learning might help achieve their goals, such as a 10 percent increase in sales. And if you both agree that learning could help achieve the goal, then spend the time with the goal’s owner, like a senior vice president of sales, to reach agreement on three things:
- The specifics of the initiative — i.e., number of participants, completion date, learning objectives.
- The planned impact of the learning initiative on the goal — i.e., 20 percent contribution to a 10 percent increase in sales.
- The roles and responsibilities for both you and the goal owner to achieve the planned impact.
Reaching agreement with the owner on these three items will establish you as a strategic business partner and position you to meet regularly throughout the year to discuss and manage the initiative’s progress. And let’s face it, without the active engagement of the goal’s owner, your learning initiative, no matter how well designed and delivered, has little chance of truly impacting your company’s goals. So, spend the time upfront to form this partnership with senior leaders and to help them understand their critical role in the initiative’s success.
Likewise, the chief learning officer or the learning and development department head needs to spend the time at the start of a new fiscal year to meet with staff and agree on two things: the effectiveness and efficiency measures that will be included in the plan and the plan value for each of these measures. Most organizations these days can report on hundreds of measures each month, and unfortunately this often leads to paralysis.
The senior L&D leadership team needs to decide on the vital few measures to be actively managed throughout the next 12 months. Out of the hundreds of possible measures, what are the 10-20 that are most important? This is where the team will need to direct its attention, and it starts with agreeing on a plan or goal for each of these measures.
For example, if the team believes it is important to improve overall employee satisfaction with learning (Kirkpatrick Level 1), then it needs to set a reasonable goal for improvement — like an increase from 71 percent favorable to 74 percent — and decide on action steps to be taken to achieve that improvement. If the team believes it is important to increase the utilization rate for e-learning courses or reach a larger percentage of employees, then it needs to set a goal for each and agree on steps to take to make it happen. This is what we mean by running learning like a business: Set goals, review progress against goals each month, and take corrective action to get back on plan when required.
Hopefully, you can see the power behind this approach. By focusing first on setting good goals, you have set yourself up for success. You establish a strong partnership with senior leaders to deliver agreed-upon outcomes, and the L&D senior leadership team has clarity on its goals for effectiveness and efficiency measures.
Good goals allow for focus and accountability, and these helps drive results. If you have the resources, by all means do a good job both upfront in planning and at the backend in determining actual impact. If you are only working the back-end today, consider shifting some of that time to the front-end to set good goals.