Becoming an L&D data detective: how to collect facts before you start training
In a three-part series, L&D data detective Kevin M. Yates explores how to collect facts, evidence and data for learning’s impact on employee performance and organisational goals. Part one looks at how you can discover facts about what your organisation needs to win.
Learning and development professionals are increasingly being held accountable for impact. Senior leaders want facts, evidence and data as proof for how learning addresses business needs and impacts goals and employee performance. They want an answer to the question, “Did the training work?”.
It’s important not to wait until after you’ve started your training programme to plan how you will obtain facts about impact. Let this be the first thing you do.
Before you think about training, you need to be clear about what’s happening in the organisation. Before you design the learning solution, you need facts about goals and the performance it takes to achieve those goals. Before you have any discussions about training, focus first on collecting facts about what your organisation needs to win.
Here are the three questions you can ask to uncover facts about what your organisation needs to win.
What’s happening in the organisation?
When you ask, ‘What’s happening in the organisation?’, you gain insight into the underlying reason(s) for the request for training.
You get facts about points of pain or potential triumphs. You get the facts about circumstances, situations, challenges and opportunities that the organisation believes can be supported through training.
The goal for asking, ‘What’s happening in the organisation?’ is to elevate the discussion from L&D being order-takers to L&D being a partner in the organisation’s success.
Curiosity changes the discussion. Discovery helps L&D be more effective with the solutions it offers.
Examples of responses to the question ‘What’s happening in the organisation?’
Production costs are increasing and threatening our profit margin
There’s an increase in voluntary resignations and exit surveys show employees don’t feel supported by their manager
We’re starting a new partnership with a business in Latin America to expand our product presence in that part of the world
Don’t just take the order for training. Collect facts that help you gain insight into what prompted the request for training. And then get ready to collect facts about goals.
What is the organisation’s goal?
When you ask ‘What is the organisation’s goal?’, you’re following up on what you discovered about the request for training. Your goal here is to collect facts about the organisation’s response to ‘What’s happening?’. The response is the organisation’s strategy for winning.
This strategy describes the organisation’s plan for success, and your goal is to collect facts about what it takes for the organisation to win.
Examples of responses to the question ‘What is the organisation’s goal?’
Improve customer satisfaction scores by 2 points
Increase product sales by 20%
Reduce customer call center hold-time from 3 to 2 minutes
Lower production costs by 15%
Achieve “Met or Exceeded Expectations” on customer dining experience surveys 90% of the time
In the examples above, the goal is quantified. Be specific when you collect facts about what it takes to win – a quantified goal is a measurable goal.
When you’re clear about the organisation’s goal, you’re ready to collect facts about performance requirements to achieve that goal.
What performance requirements are needed to achieve your organisation’s goal?
When you ask this question, you’re collecting facts about the skills and behaviours people need to help the organisation win.
At this stage, you will have collected facts about what’s happening in the organisation and about the organisation’s goal. Now you need to collect facts about performance.
When you ask about performance requirements, you may hear the following in response: ‘People need to know…’ or ‘People need to understand…’.
A description of what people need to know or understand is not a description of performance requirements. Use the following questions and statements to help get the facts you need about specific skills and capabilities that will help the business to win.
How does knowing and understanding show up in day-to-day performance?
How will you know they ‘know’ and understand?
Describe what knowing and understanding looks like on the job
Describe the skills, capabilities and behaviours people are using when they are performing in a way that helps the organisation achieve its goal
If you were to see someone doing what it takes to help the organisation win, what would that look like?
You want a clearly defined description of what goal-winning performance looks like. The performance requirements will inform decisions you make about learning outcomes.
You want the facts about performance requirements to support what it takes to win!
What does it look like when you tie it all together?
What’s happening? – 50% of incoming calls are transferred to second level support
Organisation’s goal – Improve customer satisfaction by reducing transferred calls to second level support by 25%
Performance requirements – First level support resolves 25% of calls without escalating to second level support
What’s happening? – 3% of medication dosages result in lawsuits for unintended illness
Organisation’s goal – Reduce legal costs for malpractice by 20%
Performance requirements – Administer correct dosage 100% of the time
Examples one and two illustrate the connection between facts for what’s happening in the organisation, the organisation’s goals in response to what’s happening and the performance requirements to achieve the goal.
Did you notice there was no discussion about training? Did you see how the focus was on collecting facts about what the organisation needs to win?
The decisions you’ll need to make about training will come later. Let those decisions be driven by the facts you collect about what the organisation needs to win.
Don’t wait until after you’ve started your training programme to collect facts about impact. It should be the first thing you do.
In the next article, I’ll describe how to evaluate the effort for collecting facts about learning and development's impact on performance.
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Kevin is a Learning & Development detective and just like Sherlock Holmes, he solves mysteries. The mystery he solves is, "What is the impact of learning?". He investigates efficiency, effectiveness, and outcomes. He looks for facts, clues, evidence, and data for learning's impact on behavior, performance, and actions.