Aug 16, 2022

3 mistakes companies make when assessing learning programs

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Whether it was Benjamin Franklin or Xunzi, the Confucius Chinese philosopher, who said it, it almost doesn’t matter. We all now understand the value of learning programs. The question today is whether you know how to maximize the change you’re trying to create within your workforce when launching new programs.

What is Learning and Development (L&D) and why is it a priority?

With 94% of employees saying they would stay longer in a company that offers good learning programs, the immediate cost saving is obvious. Many companies that understand this are developing people internally as a long-term investment rather than getting lost in unsatisfactory hiring experiences. 

L&D includes both upskilling, which is key if you want to stay competitive, as well as long-term change in behavior dependent on business needs. For instance, if you want to generate hypergrowth, you need to be strategic, innovative and creative, among other key leadership traits. The crucial foundation is soft skills as part of your learning strategy.

The traditional L&D approach was to offer training workshops with little to no follow-up. Today, L&D teams are designing learning journeys that are aligned with business goals. They take place over a period of time with various interventions and regular check-ins. Those L&D teams start with why they’re creating learning programs. They then bring in a mix of, for example, pre and post-workshop learning, on-the-job shadowing, social learning, and even virtual reality simulations.

Calculating the ROI on learning programs means having a long-term focus. It isn’t the learning program itself that will drive revenue per se. It’s each individual who will have gained awareness and effectiveness and will be measured on performance for several months afterward.

For example, employees might increase their sales revenues because they can better relate to their customers. Alternatively, they could have improved their listening skills so their collaboration increases and their product delivery output goes up. Either way, learning programs tied to business metrics will positively impact revenue.

L&D learning programs directly transform people’s career paths and job performance. Most importantly, they also create a more effective work environment. How? Via:

  • Motivation – offering people development opportunities allows them to see how they fit into the company’s vision and goals. As this study shows, training, in general, allows people to feel valued so that they want to contribute more. 
  • Impacting culture – a constant challenge for growing businesses is to keep adapting the company culture. Learning opportunities are a powerful way to promote a growth culture that supports business goals. Overall, an L&D program creates a sense of belonging and reinforces desired behaviors.

So, what are mistakes companies make when assessing learning programs?

Mistake 1 – Not considering evaluation metrics upfront and how they will close the skills gaps

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not start with your business needs and metrics. It’s easy to get excited about a new trend in the learning industry and to have a “stick-on” L&D program. Although, this won’t help your business close the skills gaps. 

Instead, designing learning programs starts with defining the core business need. This can be anything ranging from increasing productivity to customer satisfaction, conversion rate, and the size of the innovation pipeline. So, when assessing learning programs, make sure this step is included. 

From there, the top L&D teams will review the skills matrix and pick out the top skills that can deliver their business metric. This could be a combination of hard and soft skills for which they create a mix of developmental experiences. Without the direct link between business metrics and required skills, you can’t make a true assessment of your learning programs. That’s when they’re only “nice-to-haves” and you lose the C-suite’s engagement and support.

What type of metrics and training programs work best for employees?

  • On-the-job experience. Any form of adult learning is most effective when it has an experiential element to it. Essentially, experiential learning programs allow for self-reflection and trial-and-error application as learners fine-tune their unique styles. 
  • Tailored 1-to-1 coaching. The best learning programs offer some form of leadership coaching because that’s how leaders shift mindset and behaviors. With their coach, they challenge their way of thinking and practice new ways of behaving that they can then bring to the workplace. 

Mistake 2 – Over-focusing on skills learning without on-the-job behavioral change 

The next point you need to keep in mind when evaluating learning programs is whether they will implement a shift change. Of course, it’s useful for career development in general when people learn new technologies but L&D isn’t just about skills training. 

If you want high-performance teams, you have to make sure the learning programs incorporate mindset and behavior. These are the foundation of long-term learning otherwise, any learning is soon forgotten. Once implemented, the best place for learning programs to be assessed is back in the workplace where they can be incorporated into personal development plans. 

Examples of integrated professional development programs that leverage mindset and behaviors:

  • Coaching. As this study shows, leadership coaching impacts both motivation and performance. Coaches enable this by guiding individuals to align their personal development plans with the business goals. This is important for coachees to see the big picture and how they fit into it whilst supporting both sets of goals.

A highly effective way to map business goals with personal goals is through a competency matrix. Each skill, for example in Lingolive’s skills catalog, is then carefully defined for the coachee and their business context. This gives the basis for ongoing measurement and success.

  • Peer-to-peer learning. Through this approach, team members implement feedback loops, improve communication and build a collaborative support group. 
  • Self and peer assessments. Behaviors become reality by how they are perceived by others. Rather than rely solely on self-assessments, it’s highly valuable when assessments for learning programs incorporate a peer review. Only then can leaders truly understand the gap between how they see themselves and how others see them. A coach can then guide them through the step-change that follows.
  • Blended learning programs. For long-term change, the top learning programs offer a mix of solutions to cater to the different styles of learning. 

Mistake 3 – Restricting standardized surveys without incorporating employee engagement

When training and developing people, the secret ingredient is engagement. We all know by instinct that we only focus on things in depth when we care about them. Moreover, implementing an engaging learning and development program is a great way to avoid performance management. 

When done properly with a tailored approach, development programs can highlight potential issues before they become detrimental. Essentially, they create a safe environment where employees can practice new behaviors. Most importantly, people can share their worries and fears which are often the root cause of performance issues.  

Avoid ‘tick-in-the-box’ surveys and instead, grow employee engagement with these measurement tools:

  • Kirkpatrick model. This evaluation tool is the most commonly used to assess learning programs. The model looks at four steps in a development program: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. Most critically, the model analyzes behavior during and after learning programs are completed. It also looks at the impact on business results several months afterward. 
  • Personal feedback experiences. As humans, we reinforce our beliefs and behaviors through the stories we tell ourselves. It’s the same for learning programs. So, gathering ‘aha’ moments or tales of struggles during learning programs is another way to allow people to reflect. They can further note how their experience is changing them.
  • 360 feedback tools. This well-known tool offers useful data for all learning programs. You can further enhance the data if it’s in person. For those coachees who might need extra support, a neutral person, usually an HR professional, conducts interviews with each peer, boss, and direct report to gather the information manually. This gives greater insight into behaviors and team dynamics. 

Get the right learning programs to shift that needle

When you implement a program that incorporates business-aligned metrics along with behavioral change and employee engagement, your ROI will jump out at you clearly. Moreover, you’ll have energized teams with increased awareness of their skills and behaviors. With a blended approach, L&D programs also further reinforce the culture and allow people to build their network across the business. 

Nevertheless, there’s a reason people return to their leadership coaches regularly throughout their careers. We need support at every phase of our growth journey. Otherwise, we will struggle to keep adapting to this increasingly complex world. Ultimately, we all need support to keep driving ourselves and our teams to optimal performance.   
To better understand how to assess the right coaching vendor for your organization, read this whitepaper.


Coaching, Company Culture, Leadership, People, Skills-Based Coaching

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