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L&D peers join LEO to discuss the business impact of learning

It’s tough, very tough! This was the general consensus that emerged from what turned out to be a highly engaging workshop last week. Thirty L&D executives came together to share their thoughts on the best way of measuring the impact of learning on business performance.

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Gareth Jones, one of LEO’s principal consultants and the event facilitator, noted that the ‘father of evaluation’ Donald Kirkpatrick published his evaluation model in 1959 – a highly influential ‘four level’ model for training course evaluation. ‘Since then we have been to the moon, cloned Dolly the sheep and invented the internet!’

Although many in the room said measuring business impact was difficult, they also felt that the time was right to tackle it and welcomed the opportunity to address the challenge of the session: to design a business impact strategy that would unlock this Gordian Knot.

The setting was perfect, the Conversation Lounge in the Royal Institution in London, a place where people have come together over the last 200 years to debate and develop solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.

The guests were drawn from public and private organisations and made their way to the RI’s Mayfair headquarters to listen to the results of the research into the headway our industry is making into measuring learning impact. This was carried out by LEO, together with Watershed and iVentiv network. The session was kicked off with a report on the results which you can view here.  The main point made was that while the L&D world can point to rare examples of good ROI studies, we now need to use the availability of new technologies and big data to move to making measuring ‘business impact of learning’ a sustainable and ongoing activity, so that L&D can build up a picture of what works and use that to drive better business performance.

Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning and Development Content at the CIPD, came next with some very thoughtful observations on the present lack of knowledge and skills in our industry required to collect and analyse data. Gareth carried out a short exercise when he invited everyone to stand and then asked all those with an arts and humanities background to sit down. 60% of the audience returned to their seats. He then invited those with a data/mathematical background to remain standing. There were just two mathematicians on their feet! He did acknowledge too that there were a number of geographers sitting down who of course are excellent at manipulating data. Andy went on to explain why the CIPD has now added a 6 week module on data and analytics to their Level 5 L&D qualification.

L&D and procurement expert Heather Scothern continued with thoughts on the importance of making powerful allies within your own organisation and suggested procurement should be top of the list. It provided a great insight into how we should tap into an organisation’s existing processes if we want impact measurement to become part of ‘business as usual.’

The third speaker was Mike Rustici, software developer and entrepreneur from Watershed. He opened with the quotation: ‘Scalable learning is the new reason for large organisations to exist’. In other words, big organisations are much less about organising assets and the efficient production of tangible assets. It is now about bringing in highly talented people who can learn at a pace that gives the business competitive advantage. Think Kodak, think Blockbuster then think Amazon and Google. ‘We’re moving from Return on Assets to Return on Talent!’ This is the most strategic thing an organisation can be doing.

The speakers were interspersed with table discussions during which the guests shared their expertise and ideas on how to move the blockages and set out the critical elements of a successful impact measurement strategy. Everyone was extremely generous with their thoughts that were captured by a group of LEO ‘scribes’.

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Judging by the highly complementary feedback, the opportunity to meet and talk about this topic was well received. “This was overall an excellent event – well organised and very useful,” “It really helped me make a plan to go back to work with,” “It was great to hear other people’s stories.” I think the main impression I came away with is how important everyone feels this subject is. And how urgent it is that we work together to find a solution.

The event is the beginning of a journey; we will be working with this group to develop the thoughts and ideas into a strategy. There will be academic input, but we want the tools and techniques that we settle on to be grounded in best practice and the reality of a pressurised workplace.

The group thinking and outcomes will be published and released in the coming weeks. You can join the conversation using the hashtag #LEOLearningImpact on Twitter and LinkedIn. Alternatively, if you’d like to speak to me directly about your thoughts on the topic, please email me at piers.lea@ltgplc.com.

Piers Lea is LEO’s Chief Strategy Officer.