In today’s world of work, attracting and retaining the right people can be the difference between business success and failure. In SHRM’s 2021-2022 State of the Workplace Study, finding and recruiting talent with the necessary skills was ranked third on a list of top four priorities for human resources (HR) professionals. Ranked in the top two were, “maintaining employee morale/engagement” and “retaining top talent,” respectively.

However, many companies are less focused on recruiting and securing new talent because those approaches are expensive and time-consuming. Also, training new employees can take more effort compared to reskilling and upskilling current workers. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and The Great Resignation, companies have lost a lot of headcount and as a result, are more focused on upskilling and reskilling current workers to meet business demands.

Learning and development (L&D) programs have changed to match these new realities. Instead of training a worker for a given role, courses are focused on training employees on new skills that can be applied across the organization. This helps break down silos and create more well-rounded employees who can take on various responsibilities and execute tasks across a broader spectrum, whether managerial, labor-focused or customer-facing in nature. The learner also gains the ability to move vertically and/or laterally within the organization and approach learning in ways that best suit their career path.

Measuring Learning Outcomes for Success

Upskilling and reskilling have become, and remain, important areas of focus. Often, the top skills organizations focus on are adjacent skills that are transferable across departments. While these skills provide immense value to a business, because they are applied to different practice areas and across various teams, it’s often hard to make a direct connection between training and how these skills are implemented on the job. Assessing and measuring the desired outcomes from training can be difficult and understanding the value of an L&D program and its impact on an organization can be equivocally hard to communicate.

In today’s uncertain business environment, it’s imperative that we know how to identify and support any desired outcomes from upskilling and reskilling programs. That way you can prove the impact of training on the business’s bottom line, as well as help employees move into the roles they want to work in. Here’s some tips to getting started:

  1. L&D programs should focus on people and business outcomes. Programs that aim to tackle too many subjects often end up diluted. Successful programs relate to core skills that help strengthen employees in their current roles as well as prepare them for future opportunities. Skills such as project management, problem-solving, business acumen, creativity, influencing, and technology use are examples of skills many companies are focusing on.
  2. Clearly define accountability. There is often a lack of accountability for which organizational team members are responsible to report measurement results, make decisions and provide action recommendations from the data. The end result for measuring L&D programs should go beyond a learning event or the delivery of content. The finish line now extends beyond a post-event survey. Measurement should extend into multiple milestone and assessment moments that may range from 60-180 days out and need to include new ways to show that the learning is being used and an organization is getting the skills they desire.
    1. One way to show that learning is being used is to test employees’ acumen of new company technology.
    2. Another method may include soliciting pulse feedback from direct reports of newly promoted managers at various points in time, to see if manager training courses are helping elevate a new generation of company leaders.
  1. Not all L&D measurement programs are the same. Match the level of measurement to the course design and the outcomes it’s intended to drive. For example, you would measure the outcomes of compliance-based training differently than a course on project management.
  2. Avoid random acts of data collection. Measurement needs to be strategic: You don’t have to measure everything all the time or in the same way. From the start, ensure that data collection methods connect back to business goals and objectives. Instead of trying to boil the ocean and measure as much as possible, align measurement activities to business priorities.
  3. Add links in the chain of proof for your L&D programs. This makes it easier to communicate the value of L&D programs and how employees are responding to them. One approach is to have a post-event survey connected to a follow-up questionnaire 60-90 days later and even a survey to a learner’s manager, strengthening the links from training to application. Another approach is to add questions that may connect to other strategies such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). These questions can help businesses understand how employees are reacting to L&D programs. Examples may include:
    1. Did you feel like your voice was heard during training?
    2. Did you feel like the training used relevant examples that everyone in our organization can relate to?
  1. Leverage support from other experts. Not all organizations have the internal resources or capabilities to execute L&D programs on their own. Outside partners may provide technology, strategic counsel, analytics expertise and measurement acumen to help a business define and report on training return on investment (ROI).

Become a Proactive Partner

In today’s business environment, L&D must become a proactive partner instead of a reactive partner. This means that they must look ahead to anticipate business needs by supporting necessary growth and development. This also includes aligning business objectives with current workers’ needs. Success starts at the beginning. L&D managers will benefit from asking the following questions when planning program executions with other business leaders:

  • What does success look like for both training program implementation and what learners take away from a given course? And how will we know when success has been achieved?
  • What initiative, skills or outcomes does a given training tie to?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Are the goals of a measurement program to simply monitor data points and inform organizational leadership of surface level observations; or are the objectives to go further and evaluate and analyze a program’s impact for specific outcomes over time?
  • How much impact do you think training will have on a problem?
  • What does manager support look like?
  • What does a training environment look like?
  • What are the barriers that may arise?
  • Are we using pulse surveys to figure out impact as we go?

Successful L&D programs benefit a business by ensuring that employees have the necessary skills, knowledge and confidence to take on business-critical tasks that drive efficiency and growth. The key to finding this success is knowing how to measure meaningful outcomes in ways that are easy to communicate to company stakeholders. By doing so, you can prove the impact of training on the business, promote yourself as a contributing partner to the business’s bottom line, as well as retain top talent by giving them access to move toward their career goals.