It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally starting to see more learning leaders taking a serious look at implementing meaningful metrics and measurements. As a result, relationships and conversations between the learning & development organization and business stakeholders have begun changing for the better.
That said, there are times that learning leaders need to root themselves in some foundational principles of learning metrics. We get so caught up in new thinking, models, and frameworks that we tend to lose focus on the fundamentals of how to run our L&D business.
No matter what model, framework, system, tool, methodology, or new approach we want to adapt, adopt, and deploy, there are at least three fundamentals that we should never lose sight of—principles that should be applied to all learning metrics.
1. Differentiate between metrics you actively manage and those you monitor.
This concept is preached by David Vance and Peggy Parskey from the Center for Talent Reporting. The principle is so simple, yet so rarely considered. Just like in medicine, some “vital statistics” are always monitored—the moment something changes in the wrong direction, an alarm sounds, allowing for the “metric” to be actively managed. Similarly, when selecting your metrics, determine which metrics you intend to monitor, and which you intend to actively manage. Furthermore, know what the target thresholds are for the monitored metrics that will trigger the “alarm” for active management. For example, you may want to monitor L&D staff utilization, and only actively manage it should the metric fall out of the acceptable range.
2. Align to industry formulas, where practical.
Another issue that often comes up is defining the specific formula for a metric. Frequently, the formula is not considered deeply enough to add the full value that it can. This can result in metrics with little credibility or validity, and which should not be informing any decisions. It’s true that each organization has its own characteristics, its own language, and specifics that need to be considered. However, using a standard formula defined by an existing industry benchmark can be very helpful when planning your metric strategy, goals, and even budget. Industry benchmarks are only valuable for planning and comparison if you are comparing apples with apples—to do that, the formulas need to match.
CTR does a fantastic job in its L&D metrics library of not only providing the recommended formula, but also noting which industry organization defined it, or even which other industry benchmark it is similar to. A good balance between very-company-specific and industry-aligned formulas will allow for at least some comparison, planning, and target setting against industry metrics. Whether it is CTR’s Talent Development Reporting Principles (TDRp), Bersin by Deloitte, Training magazine, ATD, SHRM, or any others, consider aligning at least some meaningful metrics to an industry definition and formula. With our above example of staff utilization, one TDRp formula we could use is “Learning staff, % of total hours used.”
3. Measure to inform decisions and actions.
Whether you are monitoring or managing a particular metric, there must be an underlying business reason to do so. Having a metric that does not inform a decision or an action is of no value. Also, consider why you are measuring something and what that metric will influence. Learning metrics are there to help us improve what we do as L&D professionals. Whether it is improving the efficiency of our learning organization, the effectiveness of our learning solutions, alignment with our stakeholders, or the contribution our interventions have on the strategic business goals of the organization, metrics play a critical role in influencing the value we bring to our organizations and, almost more critically, the credibility of L&D in the eyes of external stakeholders and the C-suite.
It’s better to have a few good metrics that inform meaningful decision-making and allow for agility in improving the value L&D brings to your organization, rather than hundreds of metrics that offer limited value. Sticking with our example, we could monitor the utilization of learning staff and start actively addressing this metric should the percentage increase above, say, 90%, by engaging a learning solutions provider to assist with some of the workload until it returns to the acceptable range.
Learning leaders are starting to take more notice of the deep value that metrics can bring toward the constant improvement of everything we do in L&D. No matter what the specific model, framework, and approach your organization chooses for learning metrics, there remain some fundamental principles that will help ensure that we ultimately have a metrics strategy that guides us, helps us improve, changes conversations with our stakeholders, and increases our credibility as business leaders.
Learning metrics are our friend, our source of feedback and intelligence, ensuring we are constantly focused on maximizing the value we bring to our organizations.