How relevant is learning and development (L&D) within today’s workplace and does it have a positive influence? Russell Higgins of the Wales Audit Office recently completed a study to assess the impact of L&D within the workplace with particular focus on evaluation. For the study Russell used the Wales Audit Office as a case study organisation.
My research covered a variety of objectives which included how effectively and efficiently L&D needs were identified and delivered in the workplace, how to measure and quantify the relevance of L&D and how organisations can benefit from its effective measurement.
Identification of learning
The thing that struck me in the very beginning was that with financial budgets becoming tighter and tighter, it is essential that both public and private sector organisations deliver cost effective L&D solutions. In order to do this L&D professionals need to make sure that the learning is accurately identified and focuses on organisation’s priorities which in turn will bring a positive return on investment and expectation. The L&D solution should also aim to raise individual skills and motivate them to do things differently.
L&D needs can be identified in various ways – from an organisational point of view (a top-down process where the organisation is thinking about goals and vision) and via the appraisal process, where the line manager is key in identifying the right learning and development solution. The line manager therefore has a key role in the identification of L&D.
The role of line managers
Line managers have the opportunity to identify the L&D needs of the people they manage and can use this information to provide guidance and coaching. Research findings suggest that this opportunity is frequently missed as managers do not always have the skills, confidence and / or motivation to identify and address the L&D needs. Indeed some research conducted by Penny Hackett stated that some line managers see all performance problems as training problems and expect trainers to provide solutions. If line managers are not knowledgeable about clear identification of L&D then it is likely that the learning identified will not be aligned to the organisational business strategy. Following my research I believe it is important that line managers have regular contact with members of staff throughout the year to discuss and review individual L&D requirements. Line managers should be skilled and knowledgeable enough to ensure that when L&D is identified it is delivered in the most appropriate manner and not only via the traditional classroom based manner.
The 70:20:10 model
My research found that learning and development was splitting onto 2 i.e. traditionalists and modern workplace learning. Traditionalists tend to focus on traditional classroom training or e-learning, whereas the modern workplace learning practitioner is more likely to work with line managers to develop the most appropriate way of learning, using the 70:20:10 model – 70% of the learning takes place in the workplace (on the job learning), 20% from other forms (like mentoring and coaching) and 10% through the traditional classroom method. This is a massive change for the way that staff learn and develop, and a big change for the L&D function so that they think about things in a different way. Modern workplace learning also puts the emphasis on getting people to take accountability for their own learning, rather than it being done to them.
This therefore presents a challenge in terms of evaluating the impact of learning within your organisation. When thinking about the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation (there are loads of different models available, but this is the most common one used by L&D functions) which focuses on four key areas – reaction, learning, behaviour and results. My research found that very few organisations are actually looking at all four aspects, especially level four which is results – did the learning have any return on investment?
I also found that organisations tend to use a generic evaluation form, however quite often these should be tailored so that they fit the specific learning and development objective. In order to be useful to the organisation, the evaluation needs to go beyond the first two levels of the Kirkpatrick model (reaction and learning) and in order to do this, the line manager role is essential – have they seen a change in behaviour, has there been a return on investment on the activity?
I believe that L&D functions of the future need to be fully in touch with all departments to ensure that they are providing L&D interventions that are fully aligned to business requirements and organisational strategic objectives. There is also a joint dependency between the line manager and L&D function. They need to work together to ensure that all aspects of the Kirkpatrick evaluation model is followed.