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Robin Hoyle

Huthwaite International

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

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Communicating the value of L&D

What is the true value of L&D on performance and how do we measure this impact? Focusing L&D activities on measurable performance improvement is the key.
selective focus photography of woman holding yellow petaled flowers: Communicating the value of L&D

It is often said that value – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. There is truth in that – value is often about perception. If someone thinks what you do is valuable to them, then it is. 

But what if the perception is not what you or your L&D colleagues would want? What if there is a perception that L&D contributes little of substance to the operation of the organisation? 

In these cases we need a definition of what value is. We also need a route to communicating it to the business. 

And when we think about the business, that means those who participate in our learning initiatives:

  • The managers whose support we require
  • The senior executives who need to sign off on budgets and give visible support to these initiatives
  • The strategists who, without a clear understanding of the capabilities of the people in the organisation, are unable to produce plans which are in any way rooted in practical reality

Each of these groups will have different requirements to gain value. 

Let’s start with a definition. 

Value – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder

Value is benefit minus cost

Unpacking that is simple in terms of learning programmes that are designed to deliver organisational benefit though increasing efficiency and/or effectiveness. 

Efficiency measures might be about reducing waste, shortening the time to undertake necessary tasks and being able to increase output without a concomitant increase in costly inputs.

Effectiveness is enabling people to do things better – higher quality, better results, greater customer satisfaction, more accuracy, etc.

Often these two factors have a financial impact. Therefore, calculating money saved or revenue gained and setting that against the cost of the learning intervention in terms of spend and staff time is pretty simple. Not forgetting to include both costs of development and delivery. 

Effectiveness is enabling people to do things better

What’s important? What’s relevant?

But which measures of efficiency and effectiveness are relevant to your different audiences?  What about if you are working in a non-profit or public sector organisation? 

In all organisations, if something is important, then someone is gathering statistics on performance. These might not be the ideal measures. 

We have organisations that accord importance to things they can count rather than things which are genuinely important measures of performance. 

As L&D consultants we have a role to play here – advising on measures which are relevant to the organisation’s mission and purpose and what good really looks like for our people, their managers and the people they serve. 

A positive shift

Once you have identified good measures that people care about, then the value of L&D will be created – and easily communicated – when it positively shifts the dial on those relevant and important measures of performance. 

These are not always financial measures. It may involve achieving good employer status, or reducing staff turnover. Or it may be about staff satisfaction measured via employee surveys. It may be that your organisation is measuring patient or service user satisfaction or outcomes. 

Whatever your organisation chooses to measure, those activities are where the low hanging fruit of value are to be found.

Isolating the impact of L&D on positively impacting performance can be tricky

How to assess impact

Now, of course, isolating the impact of L&D on positively impacting performance can be tricky. 

Without a control group – a team or department who have not been involved in our capability improvement  intervention – creating a comparison which shows the impact and value of our work can be difficult. 

But even if you don’t have this option, focusing our learning interventions on visible and measurable performance improvement is vital if we are to change perceptions about the value we bring to the business. 

The problem is that many organisations treat compliance like a sheep dip. We create a piece of click through e-learning – with a mandatory test – and provide it to everyone regardless of current knowledge, behaviour or need. 

Worthwhile learning?

I spoke to someone in an organisation recently who has to go through an annual generic e-Learning module on Fire Safety. It takes around 30 minutes. More if you don’t concentrate on the test at the end and have to start again. And includes reference to equipment which is neither available or necessary in the organisation! 

Valuable? Five hundred staff taking at least 30 minutes every year to complete a module which they don't remember 10 minutes after completing. Including content they either don’t need or never would need is not valuable. That’s 250 hours of staff time – the equivalent of employing someone for around six weeks per year. 

In that example, value would be gained by creating a meaningful assessment of fire safety knowledge and providing ‘gap filler’ training relevant to role and department. I could do that in much less than six weeks and I suspect many of you could too.

One thing which is hopefully obvious to you as you’ve read the above, is that the focus is on what people do – and are enabled to do – as a result of our learning intervention. 

Focusing our learning interventions on visible and measurable performance improvement is vital

The destination not the journey

It is not about test scores or number of participants or completions. Acquiring new knowledge might be part of the journey which adds value but it is rarely the destination. The destination is about what people can do, and what they actually do,  as a result of our work. 

How do you gather the data on this performance change? How is it built into your design? 

When your approach to designing any capability improvement intervention is not to start by defining what people need to do, how well and how you are going to evidence that – then there is little hope of being able to add value. 

If you are not setting out to move the dial on the measurements that matter to your audiences, then communicating your value will require them to enter your world, rather than you entering theirs. 

Furthermore, if you can’t design in the value you can add – what will you talk to people about? How will you change those perceptions of the value you bring?

That process of focusing your L&D activities on measurable performance improvement is the key to communicating the value of L&D.

If you enjoyed this, read: How learning leaders can craft the optimal learning environment

Author Profile Picture
Robin Hoyle

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

Read more from Robin Hoyle

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