Posted on 21st November, 2019 by Gareth Jones
This post from Strategic Consulting Lead, Gareth Jones, looks at why it can be hard for L&D departments to get buy-in from business stakeholders when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of learning programs. Understanding what makes a stakeholder tick is key to getting a seat at the table.
“We Can’t Get Stakeholder Buy-in”
The term ‘getting a seat at the table’ has often been used in discussions around learning measurement. This is both a starting point and an end-goal.
It’s a starting point in that L&D needs to engage senior stakeholders effectively to secure the investment and resources needed to implement a successful measurement program, as well as gain access to the data they need to start demonstrating impact.
And it’s an end-point because the goal for many L&D teams is to be able to bring valuable data on the impact learning has on the business back to these stakeholders to secure ongoing investment and shape the way learning is delivered to better support organizational goals.
But we’ve been told that many stakeholders are skeptical that it’s actually possible to measure the effectiveness and value of learning. Especially in relation to demonstrating the business impact learning can deliver.
Part of the problem is that, historically, L&D functions are siloed within organizations, operating in isolation in contrast to other operational functions that are regularly interacting, such as marketing and sales. Understandably, breaking down this barrier and challenging perceptions can be difficult. L&D teams need to prove they understand the overarching goals the business needs to achieve and make the case that learning has a vital role to play in achieving them.
Understand What Matters to Your Stakeholders
If you’re starting from scratch, your first step to achieving this goal has to be a rigorous stakeholder analysis.
Understand who your supporters might be, but also who your blockers are. Document how you’re going to engage with both of these groups, thinking about how you may be able to demonstrate the value to their function or role of supporting L&D, answering ‘What’s in it for me?’
To engage stakeholders in other operating functions, it’s critical to communicate with them in a way that demonstrates you ‘speak the language of business’. This sounds like a nebulous term, but ultimately it’s about empathy and understanding. By asking questions and understanding the challenges they face, you can then suggest ways that learning (or alternative methods) to support or address their pain points.
Be tactical. Find someone in the business to be your sponsor or champion. This could be someone you’ve already supported with a targeted learning program. Ideally, it should be the manager who has commissioned the program and doesn’t need anyone’s permission to measure its impact.
The next step is then working with them to understand how you can build a picture of impact, identifying the key measures or evidence they would be looking for to demonstrate that a learning program has been effective.
Critically, persuade them to work with you to run a pilot. While this seems like a very small-scale approach, once you have at least one story or use case of impact, you can spread that story through your stakeholder network so you can move to the next stage.
How to ‘Get a Seat at the Table’
Key to this approach is pivoting from asking ‘what training do you need’ to ‘what challenges are you facing’. Start to act like a performance consultant—demonstrate through your behavior that you really care about how the business is doing and what can be done to improve performance.
It’s essential that, if you want to move beyond stakeholders who are passionate enthusiasts, you start to build the business case for investing in staff and tools. Investment committees need to see hard numbers and are generally left cold by passionate advocates. A pilot will give you a very good idea of the specific challenges you will face in your organization, the quality of the data, and what resources the management team might be able to make available.
At an advanced level of maturity, we’d be expecting an organization to implement a formal governance structure that sets out the expectations on all stakeholders throughout the business on a BAU basis.
Identify the programs that will have an impact on critical business key performance indicators. For example, this may be sales training programs that could directly influence profitability or process improvement initiatives that could be linked to efficiency.
This means consolidating your stakeholder base and moving from a tactical to a longer-term, strategic approach. At this point, you’ll have identified a senior stakeholder as a measurement champion you can work with to set priorities and direction. This person may also facilitate board-level reporting of learning impact. This is essentially ‘getting a seat at the table’.
You’ll Need Champions Within L&D Too
Develop a group of champions within L&D and scale up your stakeholder engagement efforts by identifying a range of programs (and their business owners), where you can demonstrate the difference that effective learning can make on performance.
Build up a range of stories of where learning has started to generate impact and set your sights on engaging at least one senior stakeholder who could unlock the doors to a formal measurement program rollout.
We’ve seen this with one professional services organization which has succeeded in the rollout of a global measurement program, including investment in learning measurement tools by taking the ‘start small, go big approach’ outlined above. They focused on proving the validity of their approach with just one territory and then using the evidence of success to make the case for scaling up.
For more on overcoming L&D barriers to measurement success, download your copy of our ebook, ‘5 Barriers to Effective Learning Measurement and How to Solve Them’.