In a recent conversation, a colleague reminded us of something we often encounter: the issue of common sense versus common practice. In our work over the past decades with clients looking to bring more accountability and results with learning and development, we thought we’d reflect on five key actions that are common sense but not necessarily standard practice.
1. Start with the why: link the program to an impact measure.
When we make that statement, the response is usually, “Well, that’s common sense.” But we remind our customers that this is not common practice.
We all know we should start with the end in mind. Too often it feels like the program ends when the learning has taken place. It’s not enough. Sometimes clients assume that the change in behavior or specific actions taken by a participant are the end. But an inconsequential action or behavior is just being busy.
People who fund and support learning and development programs want to make an impact. If you want to have impact, you have to start with impact, and this approach gives everyone the focus to succeed.
2. Make sure you have the right solution.
When we offer this advice, again, customers often say, “Well, that’s common sense,” and we agree. But too often a program is set up because someone suggested it; maybe it’s a good idea, others could do it, maybe it’s featured in a new book. Whatever the reason, the program is often implemented without a strong understanding of how it relates to a particular impact need in the organization.
It is not common to turn a learning request into a solution that fits the business or to conduct an analysis to ensure that it is indeed the right solution.
3. Go beyond the learning objectives.
When we suggest that clients set goals for what they expect from participants (application) and the corresponding consequences this should have (impact), we often hear the comment, “It’s common sense.” But, again, this is not common practice.
Fourteen years ago, in 2008, ATD published our book, “Beyond Learning Objectives: Developing Measurable Goals Linked to the Bottom Line”. ATD requested the book and chose the title because its members did not exceed the learning objectives of their programs.
The app’s goals show participants what to do next. Impact goals explain why they are there. This is still not common practice 14 years later.
4. Evaluate more programs for application and impact.
When we suggest taking evaluation beyond measuring learning for more programs, clients often say, “Well, that makes sense.” But unfortunately, this is still not a common practice.
The only way to know if you are making a difference in an organization is for participants to use what they have learned and have a corresponding impact. If we don’t have data to show we’re making a difference, then the value of what we’re doing comes into question. We need more evaluation at these levels.
5. Sort out the effects of learning from other influences.
When learning seems to be linked to impact, we suggest that clients take an action to sort out the effects of learning on that impact, and we always get the response, “Well, that makes sense.” But again, this is still not common practice.
You can do it, it’s expected and it’s not that difficult. Backers and supporters want to see that link to the data. If you don’t, you really have no credibility at that level, which means you have no credibility for linking learning to key business metrics. It’s not good.
What to do?
If you are unconvinced that senior executives want impact data, we suggest discussing with those executives how they would like to see learning assessed, using typical levels of results: reaction, learning, application, impact, return on investment and intangibles. They usually focus on impact and ROI because that’s the world they live in. It would be preferable to push the evaluation to these levels, at least for expensive and important programs. In addition, a great deal of research has suggested that if you want to increase support, funding and engagement for learning, link learning to impact and return on investment.
So what’s stopping you from moving from common sense to common practice? Think about your obstacles. Are they real or mythical? Maybe doing this isn’t as hard as you think.