Many learning organizations today are in need of a new approach and a fresh strategy. Technology and accompanying business realities have not only changed the way we work, but also the way we learn. These changes are occurring at the same time as organizations demand more accountability from training managers. The need to show the real business impact of our efforts is greater than ever before.

Most challenges faced by training managers today, I believe, fall into a three broad categories:

  1. Developing effective, impactful learning solutions that keep pace with technology and changing learning behavior
  2. The constant struggle to measure impact and show our value to the organization
  3. The inability to be perceived as a strategic partner

The Learning Challenge

Most training departments are not having the impact they desire, and the result is a tremendous amount of dollars wasted in scrap learning—learning delivered but not applied. As the industry evolves, researchers have begun to study how much of the training we provide actually gets used. The results are pretty staggering. According to a 2014 study from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), the average company invests 45% of their learning investment is into scrap learning (CEB, 2014). Rob Brinkerhoff, a professor at Western Michigan University and thought leader in the field, puts that number 80 to 85% (Phillips, 2016)!

Think about that. For every $1000 you spend developing and delivering training, $450-850 of it is wasted! According to Training Magazine’s 2016 Training Industry Report, the average training budget at midsize companies is $1.4 million. Multiply that by the conservative scrap estimate of 45% and that’s $630,000 per year that will yield no results. With average annual budgets of $14.3 million, large companies can be wasting in excess of $6.4 million per year!

If we built wooden boxes and at the end of every day saw nearly half of our wood supply in a scrap pile, we would fix the problem quickly!  Now, someone has shone the light on our scrap pile, and it is clear that we are not having the impact we should.

This is due largely to outdated training methods. The way we used to do things no longer works very well. Forward-thinking organizations must adapt their approach to learning and development. Learning solutions must focus on ensuring that learning gets applied on the job, taking into account the new realities of modern learning. Designing, developing, and delivering learning with transfer as a top priority, in a manner that modern learners connect with, will reduce scrap learning and produce measurable performance improvements.

The Measurement Challenge

The next challenge, of course, is that L&D professionals have never mastered the skill of producing meaningful measures that matter to their senior leaders. In a 2008-2009 study, Jack and Patti Phillips surveyed the CEOs of Fortune 500 and large, private-sector employers. The results, summarized below, identified the top measures CEOs want to see—alignment and impact, unsurprisingly, are ranked at the top. Yet, what they typically receive from L&D are the very things they care about least—participation numbers, efficiency and cost per learner data, and participant satisfaction.

What CEOs Want
What CEOs Get
1.    Alignment 8%
2.    Impact 4%
3.    Awards 40%
4.    Application 11%
5.    Learning 32%
6.    Participation numbers 94%
7.    Efficiency/Cost information 78%
8.    Participation satisfaction with training 53%

(Jack & Patti Phillips, Measuring What Matters: How CEOs View Learning Success 2009)

Attend any conference or open any industry journal and it’s clear that we still struggle with this today. Effective organizations must adopt a model for measurement that will allow you to provide leadership with the impact that your efforts are having on business outcomes. To do this, of course, you must successfully align your efforts with their goals.

The Strategic Partner Challenge

It’s clear that we are unlikely to be producing the results that we intend. And, even if we were, we lack the clear means to measure and report them. It’s not surprising then that we are not viewed as strategic, valued business partners. Indeed, just 34% of business leaders think that Learning & Development impacts business outcomes (CEB, 2017). Worse, 56% of managers felt that employee performance would not change or would improve if L&D were eliminated completely (Jefferson, 2013).

Consequently, as Dave Vance, Executive Director of the Center for Talent Reporting, states, “we don’t have a seat at the table, we struggle for resources, and organizations underinvest in learning” (2014).

Addressing These Challenges

To effectively manage these challenges, training managers and directors need to lead their organization through a period of upheaval and transformation.  This is best accomplished by creating a strategic plan addressing three key areas:

  1. Learning transfer – instructional designers and training teams must spend as much effort ensuring the new skills are applied and used as they do on the actual learning.
  2. Modern learning – develop a learning strategy focused on meet the needs of the modern learner.
  3. Measurement & evaluation – implement a framework to align learning to company goals, agree upon and measure impact, and deliver planned results.

References

CEB. (2014). Confronting Scrap Learning: How to Address the Pervasive Waste in Talent Development. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: http://www.astd-tcc.org/resources/Documents/CEBMTMWhitepaper-ConfrontingScrapLearning.pdf

CEB. (2017). Are You Wasting Your Investment in Learning? Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: https://www.cebglobal.com/insights/learning-measurement.html

Jefferson, Andrew & Pollock, Roy. (2013) It Doesn’t Matter How Good Your Training Is. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/ATD-Blog/2013/05/It-Doesnt-Matter-How-Good-Your-Training-Is

Phillips, Jack & Phillips, Patti. (2009). Measuring What Matters: How CEOs View Learning Success. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: https://www.td.org/Publications/Magazines/TD/TD-Archive/2009/08/Measuring-What-Matters-How-CEOs-View-Learning-Success

Phillips, Ken. (2016). How Much is Scrap Learning Costing Your Organization? Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Learning-Executive-Blog/2016/08/How-Much-Is-Scrap-Learning-Costing-Your-Organization

Training Magazine. (2016). 2016 Training Industry Report. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from: https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/2o16-training-industry-report

Vance, Dave (2014, September). Time for a Change: What Learning and Development Must Do to Successfully Engage the Future. Speech presented at the Association for Talent Development, San Antonio, TX.

About the Author

Steve Dahill is a forward-thinking, creative, results-driven learning and development leader with more than 15 years of experience impacting learning & development strategy, individual performance, and business outcomes.

In addition to his extensive experience as a learning professional, he has also founded, led, and grown two successful start-up businesses.

Steve is always interested in hearing from like-minded, forward-looking organizations who are interested in taking their L&D efforts to the next level.

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