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Relevance Trumps ROI

Excerpts from an article by CLO’s Deanna Hartley:

Determining Relevance: Tangible vs. Intangible 
Starting with a business goal or problem to be solved around corporate culture, knowledge management or even systematic training can eliminate a narrow measurement focus, or as Jay Cross, CEO of the Internet Time Alliance, a knowledge exchange organization, explained it, getting hung up “on doing that part right rather than asking again and again: ‘Is this improving the business?’ ‘Is this helping us attain our current objectives?’ ‘Is this delighting our customers?’ And if it’s not, they shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

Some learning leaders — perhaps fearful for their budgets and status as business partners — may be wary of seemingly unquantifiable learning initiatives such as social learning, but hard numbers aren’t always the best indicator of success. A focus on formal school or executive education-type learning involving tests, for example, may not provide valuable metrics anyway, Cross said, because grades or test results in school are unrelated to anything outside of school. They are essentially the wrong measures.

Cross said there is actually a significant amount of learning taking place in formal situations that fails to translate to behavior change on the job. To increase the likelihood of behavioral change, gathering immediate metrics — smile sheets for example — might not be as beneficial as waiting to ascertain whether learning stuck and is being applied on the job.

“When I measure the effectiveness of a learning initiative, I want to go in and talk to people six months later after they’ve had a chance to forget it or not,” he said. “I’m going to go after a period of time and I’m going to talk to people about: ‘What are you able to do now that you couldn’t do before?’ ‘How did you learn it?’ Then generalize from talking to the sample of people to the whole organization.”

Ultimately, the learning function exists to solve business needs, so CLOs should ask themselves exactly that: how are they helping to solve a business problem?

“Where CLOs make a mistake is by not talking in advance about what capabilities the organization needs and delivering on that and reporting back on that,” Cross said. “Instead, the CLO [should get] together a governance body where they [have] people in charge of the organization who say: ‘What do we want the people to be able to do that they can’t do, and what part of that can learning address?”

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