April 12, 2024

Talk management, not measurement

Author: Ashley St. John
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The profession continues to struggle to get budget and attention for more robust measurement strategies. Learning professionals, particularly those with measurement or analytics responsibilities, appreciate the value of measurement and know that further budget would be well spent but often cannot convince senior leaders in learning to make the investment, let alone senior leaders outside learning. So, how do we make the case for more resources?

My advice is that we don’t. Instead, we take a stealth approach. While some senior leaders will readily see the reason for more robust measurement, in my experience, most will not. Senior leaders always have many more requests for budget and staff than they can grant, and typically measurement, by itself, does not rise to the top of the priority list. And since you are already providing learning, measurement seems like an “add-on” or a “nice-to-have,” not something that is essential.

I suggest we change the conversation. Instead of talking about measurement, talk about what will be required to deliver the planned results from the learning initiative. In a nutshell, talk about management rather than measurement. Of course, you cannot manage without measures, so management will be the Trojan horse that gets measurement in. This approach makes measurement the means to the end rather than the end. It also focuses on the most important purpose or use of measurement, which is to manage.

Start with programs aligned to your organization’s key goals or needs. For these important initiatives you need to partner closely with the goal owner, such as the head of sales or manufacturing. Both parties need to agree on program specifics like learning objectives, target audience and completion date. Most important, they need to agree on their mutual expectations for the impact of the learning and the measures and targets that must be achieved to deliver that impact. These would include efficiency measures like number of participants, completion rate, completion date and cost, as well as effectiveness measures like participant reaction, learning and the all-important application rate. These measures will have to be managed to plan throughout the development, delivery and reinforcement stages to deliver the ultimate measure: impact.

Notice that you now have a robust measurement strategy that is an integral part of the management for this initiative. It is not an “add-on.” In fact, you will not be able to meet expectations without it, and consequently you should refuse to do the learning if a senior leader suggests stripping out the measurement. However, since measurement was not presented separately (no budget or staff identified for it, simply part of the plan), the whole issue of stripping it out is not likely to come up. You can follow the same approach for other learning initiatives, including those not directly aligned to the goals of the organization. In every case, you should identify some measure of success, and in every case, you should identify the relevant measures and their targets required to deliver the success.

This, then, is the stealth approach: Treat measurement as a means to an end. Embed measurement in all your key initiatives by getting agreement with goal owners and senior leaders up front on the planned outcome and on targets for all the relevant efficiency and effectiveness measures. You may also need to employ measurement and analytics up front to better understand the issue, learner, or optimum learning solution or modality.

In conclusion, stop asking senior leaders to help you with your measurement strategy. They really don’t care. Instead, engage them to manage their program to deliver planned results that they do care about and which, by necessity, will include measures.

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