I have never kept it a secret that in a former life I was an engineer. It is something I am immensely proud of and it has formed my thinking as an L&D professional. Learning is a process and it does not begin with a training session nor does it end with a learning outcome.
Fruitful learning can only begin with the clear identification of the problem you are trying to solve. Impactful learning will not only have learning outcomes but also observable measures, that improve the performance of individuals as well as the organisation.
As an engineer, after graduation and working for a boiler manufacturer in Glasgow, I first came across two departments: QC (Quality Control) and QA (Quality Assurance). Quality control came at the end of a process and rubber stamped the finished boiler, pronouncing it fit for purpose and meeting the production criteria. QA on the other hand, punctuated the whole process and steered it to ensure that the boiler would be able to meet those stringent production criteria.
So how does this apply to L&D and how do we know if we are QA or QC led or both? In L&D a QC approach would be to have definitive outcomes (learning and performance) that can be measured at the end of the learning process, once the learning has embedded. Nothing wrong with this, but let us imagine taking 3000 people through this to find out that only 30% of them have achieved what you set out to achieve. Even if you have correctly identified the problem and have clear outcomes, this would not be a satisfactory result.
Adding the QA approach, once you have a definitive problem and clear outcomes, builds in checks and balances to ‘right the ship’ if at any time it goes off course. These measures might be about how engaged the participants are, what the completion rate is, benchmarks on their achievement, maybe even ‘bums on seats’ and many other so called ‘vanity’ metrics: something which we may feel we have been told to steer clear of. The key thing is not to use these metrics as a confirmation of success, but as a confirmation that:
- The participants are engaged on the journey
- They are completing the whole journey
- There is no point at which there is an exodus of participants or a drop in engagement
If at some point the participants become disengaged, using these metrics, you may be able to find out why and put things into place. If you notice that the number of attendees is dropping off even though there are many more who need to attend, it may alert you to checking in with their feedback. As a result, you may have to make changes or begin a new marketing campaign to encourage attendance.
So how do you do L&D. With a QA or QC approach or both and why?
I read this a while ago but have only just created this visual. It is hard to condense such a dense report and so I have been giving it some thought. I think the key things to take away from this are:
- To become more ‘mature’ as an organisation you can follow this curve
- The starting point is a discussion between you and stakeholders about the barriers and benefits to improving your maturity index
- The curve is actually a series of 4 steps
- Between each step is a transition to the next step called a ‘pivot of change’
- Each pivot point gives you some indicators as to when is a good move onto the next step, these are shown above but more detail van be gleaned from the report
- Many of the points in stage 4 can be reached by following the steps in my book ‘How Not To Waste Your Money On Training’
June the 11th 2019 was the date of the Learning Technologies Summer Forum in ExCel London. I was honoured to run a session on “Finding the Story in the Data” and here are some of my notes and thoughts about the session.
This session was a practical nitty gritty sort of event. I think people did forgive me if I was teaching my grandmother to suck eggs but I do hear from a lot of L&D people who just don’t know where to start. Data is all over the place and you can easily get swamped. So the purpose of this session was to get people started and get some confidence in looking at data in a practical way.
I started by asking a question: “Why bother collecting or analysing data?”.
Here are some of the reasons collected from the Learning and Skills group webinar by the same name the week before.
The chart was put together by Laura Overton and reproduced with her permission.
The two main reasons as you can see are to improve the user experience and also understand the effects or benefits. Not surprising really and in a report by Towards Maturity from 2018 they speak about 91% of the top deck saying that their learning interventions were aligned to the business goals. In order to do that, you need to be measuring what you are doing.
Other reasons may be:
- To check if things are going to plan
- Demonstrate the value brought by L&D
- Transition from learning provide to performance enhancer
- Avoid the sheep dip approach
- It is expected
- Stakeholder buy-in
My engineering brain….. in a former life I was a chemical engineer and fuel technologist and if you think that it is all about data and analysis with no room for intuition, then let me share a little story:
As an engineer, gathering data to site wind turbines, I became very skilled at finding appropriate sites just by looking at a map. This helped me to narrow down where to look from a myriad of places, that might be suitable. I would look at the maps, gather data from a mast and correlate it to the nearest met station. It is no different in L&D. You can use your intuition to see where things might be going wrong, from the data that you are already collecting and from your stakeholders. This means you can collect limited and focussed data to confirm your suspicions, to begin to find the story in the data.
Understanding the link between data and performance is crucial, as per the diagram below.
Knowing when to collect quantitative or qualitative data is also important.
Working through a case study helped participants decide when it was appropriate to gather quantitative data and then qualitative. A crucial part of this thinking was to think broader than the case study which is a great piece of advice to anyone doing their own analysis. Look and see what is happening in your industry just in case the sudden drop in sales is industry wide and not just a blip in your own organisation. It could save you a lot of time!
I then challenged the participants to say what they saw in a number of different graphs , encouraging them to be playful to find the story in the data. Sometimes the graphs raised more questions than they answered but it certainly gave everyone an insight into how easy it is to use Excel and simple charts to uncover that story.
I just had to share this picture from LTSF19 – Rachael Orchard, my fabulous host for the session, kindly brought her stormtrooper so we could endlessly make Star Wars puns and then playful Don Taylor agreed to pose with us both!
So I am going to come clean. I have never really understood the difference between Learning and Development(L&D) and Organisational Development (OD). I have looked at the definitions of OD and thought to myself “So how does that differ from what I do?”. So I have hidden my ignorance and not really engaged in any discussions about the differences between the two.
Then last week I saw a post from Steve Benfield about what OD is really about and the difference between it and People Development. His definition:
“People development is about when there is an improvement to a person(s). A person can be exposed to an intervention (e.g. a training course, programme or event) designed to help that person make improvements – development! (It’s only the doing things differently that real learning can then take place).
Organisational Development (OD) is about developing the system of an organisation with the aim of improving the system. Just developing people, doesn’t necessarily mean that the organisation will improve.”
He then goes on to talk about how OD is linked to strategy, process and making a difference to the ‘system’, not just people.
My thoughts in response to this, have been about how I work with clients. I seek to find out what the organization needs as well as the individuals. First and most important (in my opinion) of the 5 secrets of Accelerated Learning are “Business-focused and learner-centered objectives”. Business focused, because if the learning makes no impact on the business then what are we doing it for? Learner-centred so that we get buy in and learning then accelerates through the organization.
So I get why Steve may say there is a distinction between People Development and OD, but L&D are changing. I spoke about L&D’s Identity Crisis in a recent blog and have been in many conversations about that urge to change with fellow revolutionaries in our LinkedIn group. It is no longer acceptable to design learning or training in isolation from the business. It is not acceptable to change individual behavior without a thought to the impact on the business.
So if that is the case, should we get rid of the distinction between OD and L&D? Is it helpful? Could we join forces and be one?
If you would like to read more about my thought on my approach to L&D then read my book “How Not To Waste Your Money On Training”.
I would love to hear your thoughts, really!
Before you send an angry email to me, please be assured, what I want to say is that we are in revolution. We are a lovely bunch, not at all revolting!
I have to say I have been a little sick and tired recently. I am not getting any younger and it seems like forever we have been talking about really making a difference in L&D. Yes there have been changes, but as someone who works a lot with trainers, facilitator, L&D professionals and subject matter experts we still seem to be missing out on the basics:
- Getting close to the organisation and understanding it
- Getting curious
- Using data to drive performance improvements
- Using tech appropriately – driven by needs not the tech itself
- Focussing first on a needs analysis to drive a good evaluation
- Being agile enough to keep up with the demands of the market
If you are working for an organisation who is doing ALL of these things or even some of them or would like to do ALL of them, we would love to hear from you. If you would like to discuss how to do this, with a group of like-minded professionals then come and join us in the L&D Revolution group on LinkedIn.
It is not for the following individuals:
- Those happy with the rate of change in L&D (evolution not revolution)
- Those happy just to keep delivering the same courses without much impact
- Those happy with level 1 evaluations and moving no further
- Those more interested in applying the latest tech rather than improving performance
In January I had the absolute pleasure of recording another podcast with John Tomlinson of Trainer Tools. This time it was a little different as I was sharing the mic with Kevin M. Yates, my newly discovered partner in crime. Kevin and I met via social media and immediately clicked over our shared interest in wanting to revolutionise L&D. A podcast would be a great way to share our common interests and the thoughts we exchanged in our initial conversation. The recording is now available by clicking this link.
Let’s start at the beginning of the conversation. I began my training career back in the late 80’s as an IT trainer for IBM. My title was a ‘VM Instructor’ and my job was to teach customers how to use the front end of the VM software. If I delivered the training effectively then the participants should be able to use the system for at work, to do their jobs. Our measures though, were purely about how the training was received:
- Was the instructor knowledgeable? Approachable? Friendly?
- Were the notes useful?
- How was the lunch?
- Was the classroom comfortable?
To this day, I don’t know if anyone actually found out from the customers whether the training achieved what it had set out to do. The world of L&D is quite different now. For a start more and more training functions have changed their names to ‘Learning and Development’. This was in response to the fact that learning was recognised to happen in places other than the training room. Learning had a broader remit and with this came a change in the traditional trainer role.
Since then, L&D have been changing and morphing. Towards Maturity have outlined their thoughts on the ‘New Learning Organisation’ and I commented on this in my blog about the ‘We don’t do train-the-trainer’. In this blog I spoke about the new “Learning Leader’ required to support this new Learning Organisation. Below I have amended the original diagram to include explicit references to performance and using data to help drive intelligent decisions.
This blog is mostly concerned with the first and sixth of these qualities:
- Clarity of purpose – performance focussed
- Helps people make intelligent decisions – using data
The ‘Clarity of purpose’ is closely tied in with the identity crisis Kevin and I spoke about in the podcast:
Clarity of purpose – performance focussed ….. means that……
- L&D are business focused but also learner centred. Ensuring that they focus on the aspects of individual performance that will improve how the organisation works.
- L&D is strategically focussed to deliver what the organisation needs. Gathering data to understand where the organisation is, but speaking to the right stakeholders to find out the direction of travel required.
- L&D are curious and analytical. If we gather data to investigate what is true and what is happening, we will need to be less brave about asserting our identity. WE will not have to be as brave in suggesting different solutions, because we will have the evidence to back it up. Some people will still expect L&D just to dispense training……(groan)
- L&D are able to engage stakeholders in order to leverage essential resources and achieve the results required. This requires building up those relationships that make the biggest difference and saying no to those stakeholders who neither have impact nor support L&D.
Helps people make intelligent decisions – using data …… means that….
- L&D makes decisions informed by the organisations’ purpose and it can only do that if it has done a lot of the things outlined in the paragraph above.
- L&D develops others capability in decision making by providing the appropriate tools and skill in data collection and analysis. This also means that L&D as part of its new identity needs to learn how to do this too!
- L&D helps people use data to track performance and also the impact of learning on peoples performance. This then drives the organisation towards efforts that have impact and stops the organisation from putting energy into things which give no return.
During the podcast Kevin threw in 3 questions which are crucial for L&D to ask in order to become more data driven:
- What is happening in the organisation?
- What is the organisations goal?
- What performance requirements are needed to achieve your goal?
Once we have asked these questions we need to look at how else we can develop our skills in line with the new identity. Who is interested in discussing this further? We have a LinkedIn group called the L&D Revolution – take part in the conversation and join the group!
My book ‘How Not To Waste Your Money On Training’ digs further into how L&D can align themselves and find the story in the data they collect.