Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Proof of Direct Link between Learning and Performance

(To protect the interest of our clients, we are using fictitious names. However, the data presented here are close to real and living cases.)

Last week, I had a conversation with a VP for Sales Training. He asked what is new in learning systems that can demonstrate learning impacts on the job. Furthermore, he inquired if this solution is an off–the-shelf software.

The first question is like searching for the Holy Grail in training and learning. This has been always a tough question with exceptionally hard –to- find solutions. The reply to the second question can only be "none."That type of off–the-shelf software does not exist."

However, under certain conditions, we can use software to link learning with tangible numbers in performance.

I'd like to share here an approach we have developed to help some of our clients. However, I must preface this presentation with this thought -that we have replicated this model only in very specialized and niched initiatives and only where conditions converge to make the model possible.

Metrics Learning System

The model "Metrics Learning System" (MLS) is an approach that uses learning systems to dynamically (a) link and correlate learning activities and progress with measurable aspects of the job. Furthermore, the (a) approach identifies gaps in performance that trigger coaching and remedial action.

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“Our key leaders in branches abhor learning since
it takes away income from performance bonuses. “

The case overview below is a good illustration of a specific organization that we worked with to implement the Metrics Learning System.

A financial services company of 2,500 branch offices wants to accelerate expansion to 1,000 more branch offices in 3 years. To accomplish the business plans, a good training strategy must be in place. During the research phase, it was clear that a creative approach had to be developed. This summarizes the business realities according to the branch leaders:

“Our account managers are high-revenue generating contributors. Their time is very expensive. Each hour spent in training, unless directly related to the tasks on hand or challenges they are currently facing currently, are considered time wasters. Our key leaders in the branches abhor learning since it takes away income from performance bonuses. “

The Three-Pronged Solution

“Quick lessons, flexible LMS, real-time feedback and
follow-up are starting points.”

These were solutions taken, using the integrated technology, instructional design, implementation and management approaches. At the heart of the solution is a metrics driven learning program.

  1. Short and Quick Lessons – The old curriculum training design which demanded more time from account managers was “thrown” into the waste can. The criticism was “why train people on topics they may not need to impact performance.” The lessons were reduced to 5-10 minutes covering basic and sufficient content to train managers on “must learn” content. The mentoring system between branch leaders and account managers continued.
  2. Flexible Learning Solutions – The LMS was reprogrammed to allow for flexible training 24/7. Managers took their training sessions online anytime and anywhere they were. There were mandated trainings for license compliance, but the main thrust was to make learning easy and timely. The learning plan was connected to the performance being tracked by the branch leaders.
  3. Metrics Learning System – The branch management system tracked revenues and activities per account manager. To continue with this practice, the learning system and data were integrated with the branch financial system to show how each account manager’s training has impacted the performance. The interesting thing happened according to a few branch leaders: “Once we saw how the amount of the account manager’s learning positively or negatively impacted their revenue contributions per hour, we realized the significance of learning as a true value.” An account manager‘s learning and performance dashboard was developed to show each manager and the branch leader the learning schedule, actual time and revenue performance.
The Metrics Learning System Dashboard

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1. Work Metrics
Jobs that have clear, quantifiable task outputs and data collected are presented. The data represent targets and commitments of an account manager. It also only represents the actual performance updates. The red items show negative variables which trigger notices to the account manager and the branch leader for one on one coaching. Triggers are emails or onscreen alerts.

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2. Learning Plans and Progress

The dashboard shows the learning plan. This data comes with the LMS (Learning Management System). The learning plan is matched with the work metrics.

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3. Actionable Items

Red alerts from gaps in performance trigger coaching discussions between the account manager and the branch leader. The system provides documentation on the details and progress of the coaching session. The section also shows messages and the exchange of communications between the account manager and the branch leader.

Click here to view large image.

Practical Usage

“Glimpses of actual performance, red alerts
and corrective actions”

Participants use the system in the following ways.

  1. Review the dashboard almost daily to see a glimpse of actual performance, learning, and actions. The dashboard is a source of immediate feedback. It is an alert mechanism.
  2. Update the data in the dashboard to reflect revised or new targets, coaching sessions with leaders and priorities for learning.
Leaders use the system in the following manner:
  1. Get instant red alerts indicating team member’s performance issues.
  2. Redirect learning priorities based on red alert items.
  3. Record coaching communications between the team member and leader.
Link Learning to Performance

“Leaders and team members to instantly get
a feel of what is happening.”

The Metrics Learning System’s biggest value is allowing leaders and team members to instantly get a feel of how to correct work jobs issues, align the right learning and follow-up with coaching. In essence, the system focuses learning on what matters in performance and makes sure that the follow up coaching are instant feedback and transparency. The ability to redirect learning and coaching to help the team member is where learning is linked to improved actual performance.

The focus of the system is to help real time corrective actions and less on documenting ROI learning. The champions, who are the operations and sales executives, clearly understood that the correlation between learning and performance do happen. Their desire is to help team members improve real performance.

Conditions for a Successful Metrics Learning System

“Enlightened leaders, pro-active IT teams, historically tracking
numbers converge to create the right conditions.”

These conditions seem to be common characteristics of a successful implementation.

  1. The champions are top line level executives, e.g. VP for Call Center Operations, VP for Corporate Accounts, and Managing Partner for consulting practice. Training leaders and specialists are support providers.
  2. The technology platforms and IT leaders are proactive to find business solutions. Systems innovations and integration are encouraged. Most often, the Metrics Learning System is an integration of the LMS, CRM, Call tracking system, and HR systems.
  3. The system is only feasible when team members’ task and performance metrics have been historically tracked as part of the business practice. For example, number of accounts contacted, number of successful phone calls, consulting hours producing billable hours, etc.
  4. Strong leadership dedication to run a business unit with the mission to help team members improve performance by learning and proactive actions, and not reactive.

The Metrics Learning System is not driven by software but by enlightened management leadership. Software solutions only work with the right leaders. The solutions are often very specific and narrow; hence, creative innovations and customization are needed.

The key benefits of the system are to provide real timely feedback, transparency and follow up. When learning is approached in this manner, it is most likely that learning links to performance.

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