Employee Learning Should Be Varied, Tracked

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Aug. 9 — Employee learning is increasingly critical in this era of talent shortages, but employers must train in varied formats and carefully track and analyze the results for maximum business impact, consultants agree.

To keep up with rapidly changing business conditions, “we really have to learn how to learn at speed,” Rusty Lindquist, vice president of human capital management strategy at Lindon, Utah-based HR software company BambooHR, said.

It's especially important to “build strategies and interventions” for newly hired employees “during the at-risk period” so they don’t quit, Mike Bollinger, global assistant vice president of thought leadership and advisory services at Santa Monica, Calif.-based talent management company Cornerstone OnDemand, said. Employees want to experience career growth, and employers that give them that opportunity have a “propensity” for better retention, he said.

When they are learning, employees want diverse content offered via video, audio and text; learning that's multilingual and multicultural; learning that's available on any device at any time; and access to visual and tactile learning styles, Bollinger said.

High Performers Know How to Measure Training

There is a distinct difference in the quality of tracking and analyzing how and what employees have learned between high-performing and low-performing organizations, David Wentworth, principal learning analyst with the Delray Beach, Fla.-based consulting firm Brandon Hall, said.

Based on a survey the company recently did, almost half (48 percent) of companies say the need to gather metrics on learning in their organization comes from “the learning function itself.” The problem is that this becomes a “siloed exercise,” with the results staying within the learning function and not being relevant to the business as a whole, Wentworth said.

The need to improve the effectiveness of the organization's learning programs is the top driver of learning measurement, listed by 77.7 percent of respondents, he said. “To more strongly link learning and organizational performance,” or to link it with individual performance, were also popular answers (65.6 and 52.8 percent, respectively).

But Wentworth added that only 37.9 percent said they are measuring learning to determine the return-on-investment of learning programs. “Maybe ROI, the actual dollar value, is less of a driver than we think it is,” he said.

Dissatisfaction with learning reporting stems less, in Wentworth’s view, from the technology being used and more from a lack of strategy in the reporting, which is a problem for everybody but the highest performing organizations.

A significant proportion of high-performing organizations (27.9 percent) say “we measure the majority of our learning across a variety of metrics and use this data to improve our learning strategy and delivery,” versus only 9.6 percent of low performers, Wentworth said. Measuring the majority of learning with a variety of metrics and using these data to improve their learning strategy and delivery is something that nearly 12 percent of high performers, but just 0.6 percent of low performers, reported doing, he said.

Less than half of low performers say they are effective or very effective even at measuring the formal type of learning, versus 70.9 percent of high performers, a difference that is even starker (though at lower overall levels) for measurement of informal and experiential learning.

A Difference in Kind

According to Wentworth, high performers are also much more likely than low performers to measure:

  •  ability to reach the third and fourth levels of Kirkpatrick's well-known four-level training effectiveness model (“the degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job” and “the degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement”);
  •  whether the training meets corporate objectives;
  •  managerial observations; and
  •  ability to perform new tasks and assignments.

Moreover, high performers use different outcome measurements than low performers, with 42 percent of the former but only 8.8 percent of the latter looking at team effectiveness, for example. Low performers “basically don’t even think [team effectiveness from learning] exists,” Wentworth said.

One example of a company that measures learning outcomes successfully, according to Wentworth, is consumer product manufacturer Unilever, which developed a program that “measured skills and competencies before and after learning, using multiple outcome-based metrics.” As a result, the company was “able to draw correlations between skill development and individual experiences,” get more accurate manager feedback and develop target curriculums to improve performance.

An organization's measurement strategy should be an extension of a learning strategy that’s “focused on performance as an outcome,” Wentworth said, adding that the entire organization, especially business leaders, have to have input into this.

Many people think it’s too hard to measure the outcomes of informal learning, but participation, satisfaction, assessments and business outcomes can be measured, just as with formal learning programs, though some of the metrics for informal learning are different, Wentworth said.

Lindquist and Bollinger were speaking during an Aug. 4 webinar sponsored by BambooHR. Wentworth was speaking during an Aug. 9 webinar presented by Brandon Hall and sponsored by Meridian Knowledge Solutions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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