Why Is Measuring Impact So Tricky For Learning And Development?

Why Is Measuring Impact So Tricky For Learning And Development?
Summary: Learning and Development (L&D) can no longer afford to say that measuring the impact of learning is too hard. Measuring impact and demonstrating that impact has become a business imperative, and Learning and Development knows it has to deliver.

Measuring Impact: Why It's Tricky For Learning And Development

So, why measuring impact is so tricky for Learning and Development departments in organizations?

The world we now live and work in is constantly changing. Businesses need to be able to react more quickly than ever before and keep on top of trends as they emerge. Data analytics are critically important in helping businesses react quickly, in building competitive advantage and in maximizing the customer experience.

Towards Maturity’s latest In-Focus report, Making an Impact: How L&D Leaders can Demonstrate Value, shows that Learning and Development knows it has to get better at evaluation – 96% of respondents agreed that they were looking to improve the way that they gather and analyse data on learning impact. Sounds good, however, only 17% are doing it. Not only that – it’s a drop from 26% back in 2010.

The report asked Learning and Development what it is currently tracking. The answers were:

  • 71% track completion rates.
  • 19% track reduction in study time.
  • 12% track improvements in productivity.
  • 10% track ROI.

Additionally, only 31% of Learning and Development leaders identify KPIs that they want to improve up front with senior managers in lines of business.

Other research tells the same story. Last year’s annual CIPD L&D Survey found that most professionals still limit their focus to learner and manager feedback. Only 7% of Learning and Development professionals measure the impact of their initiatives on the wider business or society, yet this is where real evaluation happens.

We Need To Stop Chasing ROI 

There has been too much focus on ROI and Return on Expectation (ROE) – the cost of learning, rather than the impact of learning. With ROI and ROE, the focus is so often just on the end result, when Learning and Development needs a much more holistic overview of the learning landscape in an organization. Learning and Development needs to know the starting point if it is to gain a clear understanding of the impact of learning. Baseline metrics are really important, but are often overlooked.

The question is: If Learning and Development knows measuring impact is important, then why is it failing to deliver? There are several contributory factors that explain why Learning and Development has so consistently struggled to gather and disseminate meaningful data on its impact.

Firstly, Learning and Development has often been under and put itself under pressure to measure the wrong things. The focus has been on data such as how many training courses a company has put on in a year, how many people attended those courses, and how many people liked them. This kind of information is useful, but only to a very limited extent. It tells Learning and Development and the wider organization little or nothing about how effective a learning intervention has been, how it has added value, or what impact the training has had on individual and business performance.

We Need Data That Proves Impact 

Learning and Development teams need to collect meaningful data; data that shows impact and can inform the decision making process. Admittedly, there is a lot of complex data that Learning and Development needs to collect and analyze in order to do that, which is another of the factors that has prevented Learning and Development from making progress in how it collects data. It can be hard for Learning and Development to know where to start – how do you measure the effectiveness if your organization is starting out with the 70:20:10 framework, for example? How do you measure the impact of mobile learning, when it is hard to keep apace with the latest technology and how everyone is learning?

New models are evolving all the time and Learning and Development is awash with new tools and learning techniques. However, it is so important that Learning and Development does keep up, knows which methods are working, and what learning interventions are yielding results. How can it do that? By measuring impact.

The 2015 CIPD L&D Survey asked respondents what was preventing them from evaluating the impact of Learning and Development properly. Almost half (45%) of those polled said the most common barrier was "other business priorities". Several other internal barriers were also cited: 32% said there was a problem with the quality of analytical data and 25% blamed the capability of Learning and Development and HR to conduct evaluations. This is where we think benchmarking really comes into its own.

How Benchmarking Can Help In Measuring Impact 

It is so important that Learning and Development professionals understand where they are at, where they need to go, and then how to get there. You have to know these elements if you are to measure impact in a meaningful way that will drive business success. Benchmarking gives Learning and Development and HR the tools and processes to evaluate impact, establish what is working, and identify what isn’t. Just conducting the benchmarking process is hugely beneficial, and at the end of it participants receive a Personalized Benchmark Report. In fact, over 84% of people who used the Towards Maturity Benchmark last year said that the review process alone gave them new ideas.

If you want to find out which actions will enable you to create change and have a real impact on business, the Towards Maturity Benchmark is a great place to start. It's confidential and free - just head to www.towardsmaturity.org/benchmark to get started.