Saturday, 21 April 2012

Five ostriches

Why is learning evaluation so widely ignored? Too many people are sticking their heads in the sand, and I think there are five types.

It’s too hard!
Many people think it’s too difficult to measure the outcomes of learning and their contribution to business performance, but as Peter Drucker said “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. I think this fear derives mainly from the unfamiliarity of HR and L&D professionals with research methods and statistical analysis – but this specialised help is readily available. A more sophisticated version of this argument is that people development is hard to measure because it’s behavioural and doesn’t lend itself to quantification. Yet qualitative data is also measurable, with just a little more thought. This really shouldn’t be an excuse – if it’s too hard, get help!

It’s too expensive!
This is both an extreme generalisation and a myth, akin to claims that all training is expensive. It can be, but equally it can be managed economically. Online surveys can be distributed cheaply; telephone interviews are usually much cheaper than face-to-face, and just as useful; judicious sampling can significantly reduce costs; and regular practice makes evaluation quicker and easier. The alternative is much more expensive – continuously repeating training that doesn’t pay. The reality is that lack of evaluation is wasteful, and not evaluating is too expensive.

Nobody cares!
They should. At some point, they will. And when they do, there had better be a case for L&D ready in response. Otherwise it’ll be cut. Just because senior management may have a temporary blind spot doesn’t justify this lazy approach. All managers need foresight and planning, and if HR managers aren’t measuring the cost, value, and business contribution of L&D, they’re not doing their job properly.

All learning is valuable!
Of course it is. But so are many things organisations do, and ultimately learning is competing for scarce resources. It’s not enough to be A Good Thing, it has to be demonstrably more valuable than alternative investments. Certainly, there can be debate about how to measure value, and economic/financial considerations may not be the only ones, perhaps not even the most important, but measures still need to be made.

With apologies to Hispanic readers (a joke in the Highlands of Scotland is that there’s no word in the Gaelic language that conveys the same desperate sense of urgency). The problem is that evaluation is rarely seen as a pressing priority, and no matter how important it is judged to be, may continue to be put off till “tomorrow” indefinitely. This is a dangerous way to operate, and more enlightened organisations will weigh urgency and importance to determine when to allocate time and resources to evaluation. The antidote to mañana is to allocate a proportion of L&D budgets (both time and money) to evaluation – 10% to 15% is the usual amount – and ensure that it is used.

Do you recognise behaviour from your organisation as any of these five types? Are you an ostrich with your head in the sand?

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