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Credible Measurement: The Key to Elevating Learning Initiatives in Your Organization

In the ever-competitive scramble for resources, learning and development (L&D) departments often struggle to demonstrate their value. Learning leaders want to show their impact on the business, but most don’t know precisely how. They know their initiatives have merit, but in the rest of the enterprise, they’re sometimes seen as a necessary expense rather than as an investment.

Learning organizations can turn the tables on that problem by adopting a measurement strategy—one that’s credible and convincing to the internal business partners they serve. Three crucial elements of this strategy are a measurement framework, alignment with the business, and strong partnerships with our business stakeholders. At GP Strategies, we align with the business and build relationships using our proprietary Measurement Map®. But first, a framework.

The Value of Measurement Frameworks

A measurement framework allows us to think about how we approach measurement. It gives us a common language that makes communication easier and helps us bring consistency and rigor to each initiative we want to measure.

Many of us in the training world are familiar with Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Training Evaluation. Introduced over sixty years ago, it’s been by far the most widely adopted framework across the learning industry. The labels and language in the Kirkpatrick model resonate with L&D but not so much with their business colleagues.

Jack Phillips added a valuable element by including return on investment (ROI) calculations as a fifth level in the framework. This framework has been the basis for evaluating a wide variety of human resource initiatives. Some, however, have found the ROI calculations to be cumbersome, and, from a business perspective, both the Kirkpatrick and Phillips frameworks presented results more in a “learning language” than a “business language.”

More recently, the Center for Talent Reporting—working with thought leaders in the measurement space like Jack and Patti Phillips at the ROI Institute—has developed a more business-friendly model called Efficiency, Effectiveness, Outcomes, or EEO. Metrics naturally fall into one of the three groups. For example, “Efficiency” metrics might include common training metrics like the number of students served or the total hours of training provided. “Effectiveness” metrics could focus on things such as the percentage of students applying the information on the job. “Outcomes” metrics are where what’s important to the business can shine and where you can show true impact on the business (like improvements in sales and reductions in safety issues).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted the EEO framework and added a robust reporting section. In June of 2023, ISO published the first edition of standards for human resource management L&D metrics, ISO/TS 30437. Internal business partners are often well acquainted with ISO standards as they follow them in such wide-ranging aspects of the business as environmental management, food safety, and accounting. Therefore, adopting the ISO framework can allow the L&D function to instantly gain a measure of credibility.

The Power of Measurement Mapping®

With a credible framework in place, we can now turn our attention to the other two elements of a measurement strategy: aligning with the business and building strong partnerships with business stakeholders. GP Strategies accomplishes both using our proprietary Measurement Mapping® process. 

To ensure that initiatives are aligned with business goals—and that measurement efforts are appropriately focused—L&D has to fully understand the business challenge it’s being asked to help solve. We invite business owners to join our L&D people in a half-day stakeholder meeting to gain alignment and consensus on the goals of the proposed program. In this meeting, we clarify the business results we hope to impact through the program and connect those business results to the organization’s strategic goals. Our business stakeholders help us identify leading indicators that’ll be early evidence of success—or early signs that we need to adjust course.

When properly positioned, after business stakeholders have helped shape the proposed program, we begin to build a causal chain of evidence from the investment to the business results and strategic goals of the organization.

We cannot overemphasize the value of the relationships we build in this process. Not only do we see the business partners’ respect for the L&D department grow, but they invariably become more supportive of the program that’s developed. When involved in this process, business partners often become:

  • Truly invested in the success of the L&D initiative in question.
  • Motivated to ensure it gets the support it needs.
  • Eager to see reports of its progress.
  • More interested in analysis and recommendations for improvement.

Additionally, when it comes time to measure, they can become invaluable resources in helping you get data. What was an expense has now become an investment, and the dividends are eagerly anticipated.

Embedding the L&D Function into the Business

When learning leaders adopt a framework and alignment process as we’ve described here, the L&D function becomes more deeply embedded in the life of the wider business enterprise. They’re more often invited to weigh in on possible solutions to business challenges. And when an L&D program is proposed as part of a solution, it’ll be the child of an integrated team from its very inception.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1962, JFK ruefully paraphrased Tacitus by saying, “Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.” With this strategy, we hope your L&D initiatives will be blessed with many fathers.

About the Authors

Paul Flynn
Paul Flynn works in GP Strategies’ Innovation Group as a Principal Innovation and Performance Consultant. With over 20 years’ experience in the learning and performance improvement space, his work has focused on improving business results by identifying the innovative practices of high performers in critical roles and promoting the role of measurement and evaluation. Paul is a faculty member of our Measurement Academy, a role that’s close to his heart.   

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