How to Demonstrate Value: Tips from 100 L&D Professionals at #LTSF16

by | Jun 16, 2016 | 0 comments

We ran a workshop at the 2016 LT Summer Forum on how L&D leaders can demonstrate value. Here’s what 100 practitioners came up with.

L&D’s attempts to ‘ talk business’ often backfire. We want to demonstrate we can add significant value but stumble at the first hurdle when business leaders just see us as adding significant cost.

Times are changing: L&D need to build confidence, and credibility as we approach business leaders with bold solutions to challenging business problems. This was the basis of our discussion with 100 L&D professionals at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum this week.

Whilst we shared ideas from our latest report, Making an Impact: How L&D can demonstrate value, the main focus of our discussion was around big questions:

  • What value does L&D add?
  • Why is it important to demonstrate value?
  • How do we currently demonstrate our value to stakeholders?
  • What do we need to do differently?

The full slide deck for the session is at the bottom of this story, but here are the crowdsourced ideas from delegates on the day.

What value do we think we (L&D) bring?

L&D is a great profession to be in! We see our role adding value to businesses and individually in a wide range of ways. Participants were asked to write one word that they feel illustrates the real value they bring to business. We analysed these words to look for common themes. People linked L&D’s value is proven through:

  • increasing potential of individuals and organisations (22%)
  • improving performance (15%)
  • a direct impact on engaging and empowering staff (15%)
  • advancing business priorities (e.g. profit, customer loyalty) (12%)
  • providing the ‘bigger picture’: the ability to work across silos to achieve the above (12%)
  • making change happen (9%)
  • bringing expertise that solves problems (7%)
  • efficiency (7%)

Interestingly, these areas are a high priority for both workers and business leaders. Efficiency is clearly part of the mix, but not number one on the list. However, this is an area we spend most of our time on in order to justify our value – often ignoring other high priority areas for our stakeholders.

Why is it important to demonstrate the value that we bring?

Whilst we believe we add significant value to business, we also believe that it is important to articulate our value to key stakeholders, for a number of reasons:

Building commitment – understanding value helps managers and leaders:

  • Prioritise time for training
  • Allocate budget and resourcing
  • Agree that their own investment has been worthwhile

Building trust and credibility:

  • The ability to articulate our value in terms the business understands helps us to build credibility with staff and managers
  • As trust builds so does our ability to challenge the status quo and provide guidance

Building job security:

  • The more our stakeholders understand our value, the more secure our jobs are

How do we currently demonstrate our value to stakeholders?

A range of ideas were discussed on how we can help people and their managers understand the value of learning. These included detailed communication plans (critical, yet only 44% of L&D have one!), working with local champions, proactive engagement throughout the learning lifecycle and highlighting clear links of initiatives to personal career development.

We discussed the important role of using evidence in demonstrating value. Measuring full ROI – isolating the impact of learning – is not as important to business leaders as we think, yet failure to have this information to hand often reduces our confidence -n having conversations about value.

We need to think creatively about the way that we gather, analyse and use evidence:

  • Being smarter with the qualitative data that we have – the words gathered through testimony, reflective learning logs or video success stories can be analysed for patterns that help demonstrate value.
  • Ask questions that uncover value rather than questions that confirm reactions when gathering quantitative data.
  • Our latest research report, In-Focus: Making an Impact, shows that working in collaboration with business leaders to identify the Key Performance indicators relevant to them at the beginning of the process) means that business stakeholders are more likely to collaborate in articulating and identifying value when they see it.
  • Do not rely on cost savings to justify value – only talking about cost – however successful we have been, just re-emphasises preconceived ideas about cost centres rather than a resource that adds real business value.

External evidence from other organisations can also help to raise the profile of our potential value. See pages 60 and 63 of Embracing Change for more information.

What do we need to do differently?

Participants identified each identified one priority action that they would take away order to really demonstrate value back to business:

27% want to improve existing communications plans. For example:

  • Communicate more regularly
  • Use more qualitative data- supplement graphs and data with ‘touchy feely stories’
  • Work collaboratively with stakeholders to demonstrate value:
    • Interview executives about the advantages of learning
    • Publish stakeholder stories over multiple channels (e.g. youtube, newsletters)
  • Advertise successes rather than hide them under a bush

25% want to increase the use of narrative evidence. For example:

  • Collect more stories that show evidence of learning value
  • Share stories more widely – HR, business and beyond to customers

16% want to identify what value looks like up front with stakeholders:

  • Always asks , what value can I help you add to the business
  • Clarify existing KPIs that business leaders want to improve
  • Mutually agree a strategy for understanding if the intervention has been successful

9% want to review their current evaluation strategy. For example:

  • Ask different questions (e.g. how did this help you do your job better?)
  • Avoid justifying e-learning by ROI, based on cost alone

9% say they need to use evidence to challenge assumptions:

  • Own assumptions about what stakeholders consider valuable
  • Business stakeholder assumptions about L&D

9% wanted to take advantage of more of the data to hand. For example:

  • Use external evidence where appropriate to build your business case or open new conversations
  • Collect and share more qualitative data from stories , reflective learning logs etc.
  • Balance storytelling and hard data to make a point with more authority
  • Use external benchmarking data to help improve performance

5% want to use evidence to better negotiate change.

Conclusions

Demonstrating value is just one characteristic of high performing learning organisations, it goes hand in hand with the ability to understand performance requirements and designing appropriate solutions with appropriate tools for staff that can be delivered in the right time and the right place to make a difference. However this exercise on how to demonstrate value really brought home the real value L&D can add to business and opened up creative ways to express that value to win the hearts and minds of stakeholders.

Further reading:

For more ideas on how to deliver impact and tailored recommendations for your L&D team, why not benchmark with peers?

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