Each year I am asked to judge learning and development (L&D) awards. For several years, I have judged the Brandon Hall Awards and CLO magazine’s LearningElite benchmarking awards. I often consult with organizations to help them draft their L&D application for submission. Yes, I even encourage my clients to submit our joint projects for awards and benchmarking too. Not only for recognition sake, but I see it as a responsibility to give back to field of L&D. We all need to learn from each other in a reciprocal manner.
When I was the VP of Research & Advisory Services for CLO magazine, I was responsible for designing, reviewing, judging and reporting on the LearningElite benchmarking awards. Needless to say, I understand the awards process from the applicant and the judge perspective. Having recently judged the Brandon Hall 2015 Excellence Awards (Learning and Development), I have to say I saw some exceptional programs that were tightly aligned to the corporate strategic goals and delivered within complex cross-cultural settings. So, with this huge investment in program design and delivery, what didn’t I see a clear alignment from a measurement perspective? If the investment in the program is so great, why isn’t there the investment in measurement? Don’t people want to know where their programs are most and least effective? Don’t they want to know how to strengthen their programs? Don’t their stakeholders want to know? It’s not that measurement activities are not taking place - it’s an issue of programs that are not designed around a measurement plan or strategy that are tied to business results that align to strategic goals.
This year there was only one instance where the applicant showed impact results tied to program objectives, but still not business result metrics. All others were basic descriptive or vanity metrics such as number of courses taken, learner satisfaction, number of certifications earned, time away from the job, engagement scores, etc. My concern is that people are not focusing on business results. The metrics/data are there, but the linkage isn’t being made. Everyone seems to stop short – even some of the more mature L&D organizations with greater budgets and resources.
The L&D field often only report vanity metrics. Those are metrics that look good on dashboards and in reports, but are not indicators or results that align to strategic goals. If a metric is not directly or indirectly tied to a strategic goal, it is a vanity metric and should not be supported in isolation unless it’s tied to a business result metric. Examples of vanity metrics are: number of website page views, number attending a course, number of books downloaded, and many LMS metrics. These types of metrics may be indicators of business results, but they are not business outcomes that allow for strategic decision making.
The best metrics are those that are actionable, accessible, and auditable. Actionable metrics are those that are directly tied to the strategic goals or are strong indicators that lead directly to business results (e.g., revenue, profit margin, turnover, percentage of sales from new products, etc.). Accessible are those that are clear enough for anyone on the organization to read and understand. Auditable metrics are those that are as close to the original source as possible and aren’t convoluted with series of calculations and other inputs.
Each year I carve out a couple of days to judge L&D applications and each year I always am immensely impressed with the evolution and innovation of program design and delivery. However, each year I am saddened because, yet again, no one has stepped up to the plate to show a clear link between strategic goals and program business results. That means people are making strategic program and business decisions without the full picture.
So, when designing your next program or evaluating an existing program be sure to tie your vanity metrics (leading indicators) to business results that drive strategic goals. Then show me this is your application and you are guaranteed a gold star rating from this judge!