Posted on 30th September, 2019 by Gareth Jones
This post from Strategic Consulting Lead, Gareth Jones, looks at why many L&D departments lack full-time data analysts and offers three solutions to the current lack of L&D data collection skills. The solutions are presented on a sliding scale, from ‘just starting out with limited resources’ (‘Good’) to more mature, complex solutions (‘Best’).
For many L&D teams, data collection and analysis is a completely new skillset and there’s often no one in the existing team with the capabilities to take on this work. From our annual surveys into measuring the business impact of learning, measurement workshops and customer work, we’ve seen these barriers crop up again and again.
After years spent investigating the measurement effort in our industry, we’re in a position to offer some really practical solutions. Because of the wide range of organizations we’ve worked with to implement measurement programs, we know that every organization is different and that these barriers may have particular nuances for an individual business.
These are often around:
- Maturity: The level of maturity your L&D function currently operates at.
- Investment: The ability to secure investment for measurement programs can vary greatly between organizations.
‘We Think In Pictures, Not Numbers’
We know from engaging with L&D teams that a lack of data analytics and analysis skills is often a key barrier to implementing a data-driven measurement program.
As we’ll explore in more detail later, an effective measurement program, even at its most basic level, is going to require at least a rudimentary understanding of how to collect and evaluate data from different sources.
Here’s a representative soundbite from one of our measurement workshops:
“We think in pictures, not numbers—data doesn’t come naturally to me.”
Research seems to back up this sentiment too. A report by Towards Maturity has demonstrated that there’s a significant skills gap around data analytics in L&D.
Part of this problem is also a cultural or mindset issue. L&D professionals haven’t historically prioritized more numerical or analytical skills, and L&D has traditionally been populated with professionals from humanities backgrounds. At many of our workshops, we’ve done a quick straw poll on this point and each time we’ve found that the majority of attendees studied humanities subjects.
Ultimately, the approach you take to bridge the skills gap comes down to the level of investment you can put towards the problem.
So here are three solutions to the problem around the lack of data analytics skills in L&D and our recommends, ranked in terms of maturity and investment.
1) Good: Get Started With a Secondment
In the short term, if you’re not at the point where you can secure investment to hire in expertise, the next best thing is to make the case for a secondment of someone with data skills into your L&D team. This person needs the remit to fast-track a measurement strategy and put in place the basic processes that the whole team can benefit from.
2) Better: Hire a Full-Time Data Analyst
If you have the funds, then the most sensible way to plug the gap quickly is to employ a full-time data analyst who has the full suite of skills required to single-handedly manage your measurement efforts. From our experience, we’ve found that businesses who take this approach get better results, quicker.
3) Best: Upskilling L&D
The previous recommendations could be said to take the form of an ‘emergency parachute’ approach to dealing with this problem. But the ideal way to effectively resolve this barrier needs both a short- and longer-term, strategic approach. In the short term, hiring in suitably experienced staff will help, but this approach should sit alongside a concerted effort to educate and upskill the team as a whole.
Even if staff aren’t responsible for ‘getting their hands dirty with the data’, they at least need to understand the principles of data analysis and how to take a data-driven approach to the design of their learning programs. The importance of impact measurement should be one of the core values the entire team holds dear.
The end-goal of effectively implementing a learning measurement program is not only to demonstrate impact, but also to use data insights to drive the future design and delivery of your learning programs. That means everyone in the team needs to understand how to interpret measurement data and draw valid conclusions from what they observe.
L&D Data Collection in Practice
This is exactly what InternContinental Hotels Group did to great success.
IHG was already part-way through their measurement journey when they got in touch. They’d put in place a dedicated analytics team and had already started to measure the impact of a major management program. But this team realized that the key to scaling up and achieving their measurement goals was upskilling the wider L&D function. They approached us to design a training program that would educate L&D staff on the principles of measurement, as well as how to apply those principles in practice. They were also given the opportunity to explore how to extract useful data from their learning platforms.
Read more about our work with IHG here.
L&D Data Collection Is Just One Piece of the Puzzle
The struggle to source quality learning data is just one barrier to measurement success. We’ve identified others, including:
- Stakeholder buy-in
- Gathering useful of quality data
- Understanding what measurement tools are needed
- How to effectively use data insights once they’ve been collected