As we inch closer to 2020, learning leaders are examining if they have moved the needle for the Vision 2020 strategy they created for their organizations three to five years ago. Because most of these goals revolve around performance and agility, it’s up to learning and development (L&D) to own the execution and impact of this pursuit of exceptional performance.
At the same time, organizations are struggling with measurement. According to the 2018 State of Leadership Development report, only 24 percent of organizations attempt formal impact measurement. Today’s L&D leaders are required to implement strategies to address specific gaps in performance while still upholding longstanding legacy programs that may have high visibility and buy-in from the organization. As such, organizational strategy begins to look like a patchwork of an organization’s long history and ongoing pain points all tied together, making it difficult to successfully measure impact.
In the time since organizations created Vision 2020 strategies, L&D has continued to make significant strides to become a core part of organizational strategy, with more and more senior leaders viewing L&D as vital to the organization’s success. Therefore, we need to go back to the essentials of learning evaluation and think a bit differently about what we’re trying to accomplish with our Vision 2020 efforts and how we measure that impact. And, it all goes back to organizational strategy and how leadership development and senior leaders support it. So, let’s delve into five fundamental principles of learning evaluation through the lens of leadership development.
Start With StrategyLeadership development must enable two different but complementary strategies for the business—helping drive near-term performance, and ensuring long-term sustainability to prepare for the future. It’s important for all stakeholders to understand the strategy each leadership development solution supports. In doing so, they will have a keen understanding of the type of metrics with which to measure leadership development performance. For example, performance-based leadership development will support performance-based results, and leadership pipeline-based development should support talent metrics.
Pinpoint the Key Metrics Up FrontL&D managers need to determine what they want to measure, figure out how they want to measure it, and obtain executive buy-in early in the process. A common pitfall of leadership development is that L&D teams build the learning experience, roll it out, and then reactively attempt to show value through measurement. This approach rarely succeeds. Measurement needs to be a key part of the leadership development strategy from the beginning—not an afterthought. Using the exact metrics that are being tracked in the leadership development program can help guide the program building and ensure there is a correlation between training and business performance.
Solve a Specific ProblemWhen we build functional training, we’re usually clear about the organizational issue we’re solving for: Are people using the new software? Are we improving the close rates of our sales force? When it comes to leadership development, it is imperative that we get very specific with our stakeholders. For example, a recent survey by Gartner found that only 40 percent of employees feel their manager is helping them develop the skills they needed to effectively execute their job. Therefore, leadership development on coaching to enhance performance metrics or job competencies would help solve that specific problem, and could be measured through business performance metrics or competency assessments. By being specific in the focus of the learning, organizations can readily assess program effectiveness and—depending on the metrics—determine the tangible business impact.
Aim for “Impact” Instead of “Proof”L&D leaders often worry that there are too many variables to definitively “prove” a leadership development solution was the root cause of any measurable improvement. In reality, L&D leaders are usually more concerned about definitively proving impact than business leaders are. Business leaders are often quite satisfied to see a healthy correlation between a well-executed program and business results. As such, L&D teams should not shy away from learning evaluation to avoid or defend their “proof”—business leaders will welcome a partnership in moving the business forward if you manage expectations around your measurement approach.
Choose Your Meaurement SpotsEffective evaluation of L&D initiatives takes time and a team well-versed in how to evaluate programs properly. If learning evaluation is not a strong muscle for an L&D team, be selective on the evaluation projects and use the first attempts as a learning exercise for the entire team. As the use of learning evaluation grows for leadership development, stakeholders will begin to gain more trust and confidence in all programs across the leadership development portfolio, even those that may not have impact measures. Over time, and with practice, L&D teams will have a stronger understanding of the overall business goals and will be able to better determine their program impact and results.
By putting these measurement techniques into place, L&D teams can ensure their leadership development experiences are purposeful and strategic toward meeting those Vision 2020 goals. And, as senior leaders see these connections to broader company initiatives, the entire organization will be able to see Vision 2025 goals through a much clearer lens.