Over the past several years I have noticed an increase in references to business metrics from learning professionals. At first, it was encouraging to hear my peers using metrics to describe the outcomes from their work. It showed an understanding of training as a business function. But, on closer inspection, I had a realization. Many who identified metric outcomes did not really understand how, or how much, learning influenced those metrics.
Moving from Traditional Practice
The truth is, learning professionals have traditionally focused on influencing students with the general notion that when they trained employees it was good for the business. So, the only metrics we focused on were the number of courses we developed. Or, the number of students who participated in our courses. This line of thinking created a big void in understanding the value of learning in business success.
I would like to think our profession has evolved past our traditional practice. However, when I hear learning professionals talking about metrics, I am not so sure.
Bottom line, our job is not to only list organizational metrics as something we influence. Our job is to do two things. One is to identify the organizational metrics we are most responsible for impacting. Another is to show how learning progresses from the student to the job in order to change those metrics.
Metrics in Practice
In other words, there are metrics in every organization (identified as key performance metrics) that are measurements of PERFORMANCE. They measure the rate or quality of a skill. Using these metrics, we track the performance of a role within an organization. For example, the sales role may be monitored by the number of closed sales or the average profit from a sale. Other examples include the role of an engineer monitored by metrics showing the number of failures from their design. Or, the role of a marketer monitored by metrics showing the number of leads generated from an ad campaign.
The goal of employees taking a course is to learn or improve a skill used on the job. To manage their function, leaders in every department track metrics that reflect the results from key performances on the job. These key performance metrics should be the organizational target for learning courses. So, when designing courses, learning professionals should target both skills and the metrics measuring the performance of the skills.
When you stop to think about it, the formula to learning metrics is simple. Learning programs provide employees with skills to do their job. There are productivity and quality metrics for almost every role in an organization. We use these business unit metrics to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of a department. Our job as a learning professional is to first connect the subject that we are teaching to a skill on the job. Second, we need to show if the employee gained the skill and if the skill was being applied on the job. By doing these steps, we can verify if the key performance metric changed in response to learning.
Tying the influence of learning programs to strategic metrics (metrics reflecting company-wide results) completely ignores our real benefit to business success. But, identifying our impact to key performance metrics shows a direct gain from learning. Employees perform better, departments perform better, and the business performs better.
So, if you are a learning professional, I challenge you. Identify the business unit metric that measures the result of the skill you are teaching. Design your program to improve the skill so you can impact the metric. If you measure the achievement of the skill you can verify the effectiveness of your course. Measuring the application of the skill allows you to verify true learning impact on business success.