A while back, I took part in a discussion that asked a great question. What is the learning and development function? Is it a value-add business partner? Or is training just a nice perk for employees? Feedback from that question was used in an article in the February issue of Chief Learning Officer. The article is Learning: Nice to Have or Indispensable Business Asset? by Robert O. Brinkerhoff and Susanna Brinkerhoff Zens. They start the article with a great quote: “Most people like learning new things, but without accountability for improved performance back on the job, learning will always be vulnerable and its value questioned.”
One Training; Two Perceptions
The authors set a scene that you likely can relate to. A company runs a 12-month leader training program for high potential employees. It includes trips, guest speakers, workshops, and so on. At the end, training evaluation occurs. Students are asked what will happen to you on the job if you apply nothing from your training. Most respond with “Nothing.” The C-Suite execs were asked the same. Let’s say the C-Suite and the trainees parted ways on the answer. What the business leaders hoped for the training did not feed down to what the trainees thought. The trainees thought it was just a fun perk. The C-Suite hoped to see new leaders emerge. The training evaluation uncovered this difference. The data came too late to fix the learning problem. The authors say, “if the principal perception of learning’s value is as a staff benefit…then it is constantly on the budget chopping block.” The two trains of thought about the program by the two groups shows this problem.
Tie Training to Business Metrics
The authors’ action plan mirrors my own work here at eParamus. The first step: All training needs to tie to critical business goals. L&D must achieve critical business goals, like all other business units are asked to do. The authors’ next idea takes aim at the low transfer rate of learning. The authors say training must link directly to business goals (metrics). They say, “This linkage must be deep enough to clearly delineate who is to learn what, what specific on-the-job behaviors must be executed differently or better, what job outcomes should be achieved and to which business goals these short-term outcomes should contribute.” Exactly! That process is outlined in my book, ROI By Design, if you want to learn more. This link is needed to prove L&D value.
Training Evaluation Changes L&D Perception
Their final suggestion is to use training evaluation as a strategic tool. Evaluation at key points shows where learning did—or did not—occur. They also make a very interesting statement: “…evaluation is about the business, not the training.” Yes, evaluation tells you if the training worked. But, at its core, training must show how it helped the business. With the right process, training evaluation will show a clear path of what worked and what did not in terms of behavior change and change to company metrics. As evidence builds over time, the business and L&D learn how to move forward together. Training becomes better and more targeted. With this data, L&D becomes the key partner that business is asking it to be. What do you think? How crucial is training evaluation to the learning process? Can L&D be seen as a business partner without it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.