Achieving Desired Business Outcomes
How do you achieve desired business outcomes from training? This is a central question for any organisation and the answer lies in analysis, planning and design of learning solutions in conjunction with an experienced learning and development specialist.
At one end of the spectrum, you can simpply send individuals to ad hoc training courses to meet an immediate skills need, or because a staff member has identified a course they would like to attend as part of their performance review process. There can be some positive outcomes from this approach, but unless there is significant support and accountability back at work to ensure that the new skills and knowledge are implemented, often the change at work is minimal, if at all.
At the other end of the spectrum is to take the Kirkpatrick approach which involves considering what your desired business outcomes are from a learning solution, then working backwards from there to identify what success would look like if those business outcomes were met - how would you know? What behaviours would you see at work? What would be different? Then you can think about the best way in which to achieve those outcomes. For the best results, partnering with a reputable learning and development specialist to help with analysis, planning, design and delivery of a customised programme for a group of staff or the whole team provides the best chance of success.
I like to equate the design of such a programme with the Input-Processing-Output model which is a very simple model for brainstorming and initial planning of an information system. There are various versions of this model; I like this one because it includes Feedback.
There are two keys to using this approach. Firstly, consider all aspects of each component and write them down so you can develop strategies for each one. Secondly, start with the Output, or more relevant for learning solultions is "Outcome" - what are the desired business outcomes? These could be anything from improved customer satisfaction to increased efficiency. The trick is to consider how you will know that you have achieved your desired outcomes. What are the indicators of success? For increased efficiency they could be a reduction in average processing time or speed to market. Indicators of success for improved customer satisfaction could be an increase in new customers, or a better ratio of compliments to complaints.
Then consider the Inputs. There are some obvious ones – staff members (participants in the programme), workshop presenters, coaches, mentors, training venue, etc. Now consider some other inputs that may not be so obvious, but are vital for programme success; senior management for example. Having the CEO committed to the programme and visible to the participants at least at the start of the programme should not be under-estimated. The participants’ managers are another important input as there will be an obligation on them to ensure their staff are given time and support back at work to apply what they have learned.
Depending on the programme being delivered, the Process might involve active participation by your staff in workshops and coaching sessions. It will definitely involve learning about tools and methods they can apply at work, and it should involve planning and applying new learning back at work. You should consider factors around these processes; how can you ensure that staff will actively participate in the learning sessions? How will you support them back at work to implement what they have learned? How can you ensure the participants’ managers will provide the support needed for success?
And not to be under-estimated is the Feedback. How will you track this programme and know that it’s working? You need a mechanism by which changes can be made to the programme if necessary and you’ll want to know how successful it is on completion. A good learning and development specialist will know how to do this. The Kirkpatrick approach to evaluation provides four levels, each of which can be reported back to the organisation:
Level 1: Reaction - this is the typical end of workshop evaluation where participants have the opportunity to rate their experience. Were they engaged? Was it relevant to them? Was it at the right level?
Level 2: Learning - this can also be covered by the workshop evaluation. What did they learn? What will they implement at work? To what degree are they confident and committed to applying what they learned at work?
Level 3: Behaviour - to what degree are participants applying what they learned? Is there evidence at work of application? This can be observed by managers of the participants, by coaches or mentors, by interviews, surveys. Use of a workplace application tool is particularly useful because the participant can provide evidence that they have planned, implemented and reflected on application of learning.
Level 4: Results - have the desired business outcomes been achieved? What is the Output? This is the real test of success - some time after the conclusion of the programme. Will your indicators of success demonstrate positive change? What metrics can you use to evaluate success?
With a little time, thought and planning, with assistance from an experienced learning and development specialist, you can see real changes at work and achieve your desired business outcomes.
Perhaps because of my information systems background, I like to equate the design of such a programme with the Input-Processing-Output model - a simple model for brainstorming and initial planning of an information system. There are various versions of this model; I like this one because it includes Feedback. Using this approach, you’ll consider all aspects of each component and write them down so you can develop strategies for each one.