Traits of the Trailblazers: Lessons from the L&D Measurement Masters

Measuring the true impact of learning is a challenge and one that has long been constrained to feedback from happy sheets and the like. Rushed, tick-box learner feedback, hours spent training, and completion rates have dominated L&D’s metrics for years.

If your ambition is to have a busy learning function that churns out satisfied learners, then great. That’s not the real purpose of training though, is it?

Thankfully, not everyone does it this way. L&D teams that are considered strategic partners align closely with the business to truly understand—and report on—the metrics that matter. They understand business goals and proactively design learning to measure business KPIs that indicate behavior change.

So, what can we can we learn from the traits of the trailblazers?

How did we reach these conclusions?

Our working group of highly experienced industry professionals includes measurement practitioners, data experts, a former CLO, LTG’s chief strategy officer, and more. Our annual Measuring the Business Impact of Learning survey has accumulated 7 years of data, and last year we added one particularly powerful new question.

We asked how the L&D function was perceived, scaling from Strategic Partner to Shared Services. The fun bit came when we used this question as a control—to see how the rest of the questions (a.k.a. core measurement traits and practices) were answered when we compared the two ends of the scales.

Almost all of the questions showed a difference in approach between those at the cutting edge (Strategic Partners) and those yet to adopt an effective measurement approach (Shared Services).

Many of our theories about best practices were confirmed—much to the delight of our group. Backing up experience and intuition with quantitative data has obvious parallels with the very measurement best practices we are writing about.

So, here are the results that stand out, the traits of the trailblazers. We hope this inspires you to drive forward on your own measurement journey.

Have your say and contribute your thoughts to our survey, which closes Friday, Dec. 15!

Strategic Partners focus more on measuring organizational impact and rely less on learner satisfaction.

Let’s start by clarifying that established measurement factors, such as content utilization and learner satisfaction, are still useful measures for L&D to know. They help assess L&D productivity and help gauge learner experience and engagement.

However, these metrics alone should not be used as L&D’s KPIs to report back to the business. A blend that includes business impact metrics offers a well-rounded view of impact that is more likely to engage senior figures.

The table below shows that 34% of “Strategic Partners” measure by organizational impact, compared to only 7% for Shared Services. Shared Services also rely more on Learner Satisfaction and Content Utilization as key methods of evaluating success.

Note the final column draws the eye to the % point difference in answers given by those who identified as Strategic Partners versus those who identified as Shared Services.

Aligning with the business means designing learning outcomes to meet pre-defined goals.

A number of core measurement traits all indicated that upfront planning and a thorough understanding of how the business would like learning to impact outcomes is a win-win methodology.

We asked, “How do you define the success metrics of a particular program?”. It was pleasing to see that 51% of all respondents used a blend of L&D-driven metrics alongside business impact metrics.

When we looked at those that answered “Business metrics” or “L&D metrics” alone (i.e., not a blend of both), there was again a swing toward “Business metrics” being used more by Strategic Partners (31%) than Shared Services (13%). Shared Services were more likely to rely on “L&D metrics” alone than Strategic Partners (37% compared to 24%).

We’ve long said that best practice is setting goals upfront. It focuses learning outcomes to drive business goals. It also provides clear guidelines for instructional designers to work their tactile magic (i.e., creating engaging experiences) while being technically sharp (see our L&D data requirements guide).

We were excited to see clear correlations indicating Strategic Partners are more likely to set metrics before a program starts, with Shared Services more likely to set them retrospectively or not set them at all.

It’s no surprise, but having a dedicated L&D budget helps.

All of these factors we’ve highlighted show that those who viewed themselves as Strategic Partners are indeed L&D teams that have strong relationships with the business. There is also a strong correlation with Strategic Partners placing themselves on the more advanced end of the Watershed Learning Analytics Scale. (More on this in our next blog post.)

They are also more likely to have an active say in how the budget is set—compared to those in Shared Services, who work with a given budget and respond to business requests as and when needed.

The significance of L&D being seen as a strategic partner

When L&D is perceived as a strategic partner, it can positively impact employee performance, organizational growth, and overall success. For example:

  • It ensures L&D initiatives are aligned with the overall business strategy, leading to increased employee engagement and performance.
  • It helps identify skill gaps and implement targeted training programs to address them—and, as a result, improve workforce capabilities. A strategic partnership also helps foster a culture of continuous learning and growth, which can lead to enhanced innovation and adaptability within the organization.
  • It can improve employee retention as people feel supported in their career development. It also can result in a more skilled and adaptable workforce that meets evolving business needs—which, in turn, can positively impact organizational growth and overall success.

These elements all help build a cohesive people strategy, and when it comes to skills and retention, it blurs the lines between the traditional divide of HR and L&D. This alignment focuses on one simple end goal - developing the people in your business to be the best they can be, in a meaningful manner that benefits the business.

To close, we’ll defer to our esteemed colleague Karie Willyerd, former CLO at Visa, to share her view on why being seen as a strategic partner is all-important for L&D:

Karie Willyerd

Chief Customer Strategy Officer, LTG

"Why is it important for L&D to be strategic? The people agenda has become all the more important as a defining competitive advantage. We have a shrinking workforce, an increasing need for upskilling, and skill sets have shorter shelf lives than ever–only 2.5 years in tech-focused roles."

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And the learning measurement survey says...

See how global changes have affected the world of learning and development by reading the results from our seventh annual survey. It shares an evolving picture of L&D’s relationship with measurement and business impact—including real-world examples and extended commentary.

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