How to Set Better Corporate Learning Objectives?

When designing learning activities, one of the first things to consider is what you want to accomplish with the training. Without proper goals, you can’t really know what to measure, let alone demonstrating the effects of the learning. While all L&D departments probably do set goals, not all of the goals are very meaningful. Specifically, learning professionals tend to set knowledge-based goals (e.g. “after this training, the participant will know good practices of leadership in the workplace”). However, the accumulation of knowledge, while a noble goal, doesn’t really provide any value to the business. It’s the enactment of new, desired behaviours and change, i.e. implementing the learning on the job, that determines the value-add. Thus, to effectively demonstrate the value of learning in our organisations, we need to set our corporate learning objectives in another way. And here’s a 4-step process to do that.

1. Define the workplace behaviours that you want to affect with training

First, you need to determine the specific behaviours you’d like to affect through training. And really, it means getting specific (you’ll run into trouble in #2 if you don’t). To continue with the leadership example: “we want our managers to become better leaders”. Bad. “We want our managers to have more frequent conversations with their direct reports”. Better.

The behaviours will naturally vary by topic, and some are easier to drill down to than others. However, “loose” learning objectives like masked as “performance objectives”, like in example #1 will turn out to be near impossible to measure.

2. Figure out what to measure and how. Don’t rely on self-reported data

If the first step is already a critical, the what and how of measurement is often the detrimental one in the context of corporate learning objectives. When trying to assess behavioural change (i.e. the impact of said learning) in organisations, there are two major mistakes that happen across the board.

First, not understanding what to measure. In similar fashion to setting the learning objectives, the ‘what’ is often too vague. If you’re doing sales training, measuring sales growth directly is too broad: you’re cutting a lot of corners and making dangerous assumptions. Sales may increase, but it may have no correlation with the training. Rather, the effect could be due to external environment, team relationships, incentives, seasonality, etc. Therefore, you need to drill down deeper. A proper level for example in sales training would be individual metrics, such as conversion ratios, time on calls, etc. These may or may not result in performance improvement, but that’s for you to find out without making ill-founded assumptions.

Second, the ‘how’ part of measurement is often lacking as well. If you really want to make an impact through better corporate learning objectives, it’s important to get this right. First, never rely on self-reported results. People lie, exaggerate, underestimate and aim to please, and even anonymity doesn’t remove the barrier to give honest answers. Rather, you should always use hard data. If the data is not readily available through non-learning channels (e.g. HR systems, performance management systems, ERPs, CRMs etc.), find a way to capture the needed information.

3. Quantify your corporate learning objectives

The relieving thing is that once you really drill down on the specific behaviours and get objective data sources, quantifying your learning objectives becomes much easier. In e.g. sales, finance, marketing or operations that is already a lot easier naturally. But even in the previous leadership example, there’s quite a large difference between “we want our managers to be 50% better leaders” vs. “we want our managers to have 50% more conversations with their direct reports”. The first is impossible to measure accurately, hence the quantification is moot and void. The second can be measured e.g through internal network analysis, communication meta-data and even calendar appointments.

Furthermore, once you quantify the learning objectives, you’re setting a transparent set of expectations. Consequently, you’ll have a much more easier job to sell the idea to your management and subsequently report the results. Once we analyse things a bit more deeply, we can assign “dollar values” to the changes in workplace behaviour. The value of sales staff converting 10% more of their calls is real and tangible, and it’s easy to track whether the learning investment is paying off. When the behaviours become less tangible (e.g. that leadership practice), you should agree with the business heads on what the value of those behaviours is to the business. For e.g. learning company values etc. it might seem silly, but you should consider doing it nonetheless to enable transparency in assessment and reporting. Of course, as you probably haven’t measured learning this way before, it’s important to acknowledge that in the beginning. So don’t punish yourself if you don’t “hit the target” right away.

Final words

By using this simple 3-step approach to setting corporate learning objectives, understanding the link between learning, impact and performance becomes a lot less burdensome. On an important note, once you’ve put this in place, you really need to actually measure things and commit to using the data. Collecting the data and insights, even if done properly, is itself a bad investment if you or your management still resort to making assumptions rather than trusting hard facts.

If you need help in understanding your organisation’s learning on a deeper level or to develop a data-driven learning strategy, contact us. We’ll walk you through what it takes.