What’s the connection between employee learning and performance? How does this affect business outcomes? In the last few years, the business investment in learning has reached $70 billion in just the USA, and according to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, 40% of companies place learning and development as a “very important” factor. While many organizations understand the role that a skilled labor force has on the bottom line, there are no clear systems for measuring this success.
Outside of profit margins, what can the average business do to ensure that its learning and development programs are aligning with future performance?
In a recent brief, HR Dive highlighted a MIT study that indicates most executives do not realize the impact that internal learning and development programs have on employee performance. It’s as if there is a breakdown between what training and performance goals have in common. Maybe it has something to do with the length of time that it takes for employees to implement their newfound skills on the job. Or perhaps it’s because executives are only looking at hard numbers that can be compared to previous business metrics. In any case, organizations can be doing more to connect the dots between training and profits.
Reading performance data to understanding the value of training
Shawna Berthold, who contributes to ERE Media’s Talent Management and HR Network, says that the best course of action is to combine learning with performance management. Berthold advises that companies must, “leverage technology to better understand the multitude of performance data employees produce each day.” And furthermore, “managers need to know how to interpret and understand that data and how it can be used to create alignment between employee performance and business objectives.”
It comes down to each individual's desire to become a future leader
Learning should also be designed around leadership topics, based on the unique talents that each employee brings to the table. While work skills and corporate culture are things that must be learned, training and development programs need to be geared for the long term success of the company. This means identifying and grooming leaders found at every level of the company, then matching them to the right mentors and training opportunities. Each individual can then be measured against previous performance numbers and monitored in future performance cycles.
“Encouraging employees to take charge over their own career development” and performance is a key to success, says Joanne Wells who writes for Learning Solutions Magazine. Wells also adds that it’s the job of managers to support the career goals of employees, but to make sure they take responsibility for their own success. “Organizations should approach learning and development as a process, not a test to pass or fail”, says Wells.
Setting an example for measuring L&D success
A great example of a company that is doing an excellent job at encouraging employees to participate in their career development and then connecting this learning to actual performance is Johnson & Johnson. They use the ‘Connect, Shape, Lead, Deliver’ philosophy to promote a culture of learning and performance.
All full and part time employees of Johnson & Johnson have equal access to online and onsite training, to enable them to become the innovators of the company. The company also places a huge emphasis on leadership development programs, with a unique Performance and Development program. So far, the company has assessed 71% of employees, measuring them against operational KPIs and other performance metrics to ensure their learning programs are meeting their succession planning requirements.
Two-way feedback matters in employee training
Another way that companies can measure the success of learning and development programs is by gathering feedback, says Nickos Androitis at eFront Learning. Androitis advises that measuring corporate learning happens in three stages: Identifying corporate learning objectives, conducting a needs assessment of current employees, and capturing feedback on the ultimate performance of trained employees.
"Feedback is a two-way street," he adds. "You have to deliver it to your learners as commentary on their progress, while your learners have to, among other things, provide commentary on the course itself." Performance reviews are even more powerful when there is learning feedback tied to them, and employees have a chance to share their ideas and feedback too.
From an HR standpoint, measuring learning effectiveness comes down to other human metrics, such as employee length of service, if employees are taking on new responsibilities and moving up the ladder, and if retention rates are good. Even recruitment results can be an indicator that the company has a positive learning and development process, from the goals of new hires who want to take advantage of corporate learning benefits.
Is your company doing enough to measure the outcome of internal learning and development programs, or simply offering the minimum to teach skills? Putting the focus on developing leaders can have a much better return on investment when training is connected with performance.