How is it that some learning initiatives work delivering messages which participants absorb and apply while others fail without generating business results wasting time and money in the process?
Read learning publications and you'll find that measuring return on investment in terms of behavioral and cultural change is a regular theme. But tracking results is a backward-looking, costly exercise that occurs after funds have already been spent.
It may help figure out what has and hasn't worked, but does not generally answer the question of why one approach proved effective and another failed. Devoting more attention to a thoughtful front-end analysis would generally prove more effective and save precious funds than relying on an ROI post mortem.
Here's a list of steps to consider to assure learning success occurs before scarce resources are allocated.
Training: The first issue is whether training is needed at all. By training, I mean an instructional process designed to explain a problem and then communicate information and build skills to fix it.
Too many decisions are made by analyzing what information needs to be received by participants without considering whether behavioral change and skills development are necessary. Content is then presented in a one-way passive process.
This is not training. This is publishing content. Getting individuals to watch videos and click through information screens is basically a communication initiative as opposed to a learning exercise. If that is all that is required, the process can be handled via a one-way release of memos, PowerPoint slides, short videos or other similar means.
Framing: To change behavior the learning purpose must be properly framed for the learner. Individuals are most likely to pay attention to content when it is positioned in a way that matters to them. Part of the learning process must convince them that the lessons are important. With all the data we constantly receive most of us just don't have time to focus on information that has no significance to us in terms of our jobs, or our own personal opportunities and risks. And, it's easier to discard information than it is to absorb and apply it. Just because content is important to the organization or the instructor doesn't mean that the learner will see it the same way.
Retaining: No matter how important a message or subject is, we can only remember so much. Here, organizations commit two major learning sins. First, too much is communicated. Content and skills should be examined with the idea of figuring out what is the least which can be presented rather than what is the most. Second, organizations often assume that by delivering messages only once a year or less that that is enough to get points across. It may be, but only for a limited-time period. Even critical themes risk being lost without being repeated. Cost effective and credible reminders are critical.
Sustaining: Too often we assume that learning is the responsibility of Learning and Development departments. That's only partly true.
On the job, leaders need to repeatedly model, communicate and apply what they have learned. If they themselves don't demonstrate that learning messages are important, those working with them will ignore them, too. Great leaders are most often great teachers; when they talk about, demonstrate and reinforce key learning messages they help remind their teams, and themselves, about what's important, why it's important and how to act in line with key learning themes. That's how key lessons change behavior and transmit from one workplace generation to the next.
When planning learning initiatives, consider training, framing, retaining and sustaining. That's the key to obtaining lasting business, behavioral and cultural results.