A CHRO’s effectiveness in workforce development is critical to a brand’s success and talent management is infinitely more effective when it is informed by data.
by Jennifer Miller
December 22, 2022
Over the past few years, the pressures on human resource departments have both multiplied and shifted dynamically. Despite their efforts triaging workforces through the COVID-19 pandemic and striving to retain talent during the Great Resignation and quiet quitting trend, Gartner predicts 37.4 million employees will quit their jobs by the end of 2022.
Many chief human resources officers have added new benefits or programs to increase employee engagement and support retention and recruitment within their organizations. Leading organizations have upped their investment in learning and development to add urgently needed but scarce skillsets to their workforces. And now the economy is throwing another curveball to today’s CHROs as we prepare for a potential recession.
The savvy CHROs know this is no time to ease up on learning and development. Knowing they will be soon asking their employees to do more with less, adding skills for current employees will remain a necessity. But CHROs also know that to maintain worthwhile employee-centered programs, they must illustrate their effectiveness using data. They are turning to their L&D managers for insights that show business impact.
L&D leaders are accustomed to scrutiny when budgets are tightening. While other departments like sales have long been able to quantify their impact on their organizations because of the transactional nature of their work, L&D departments sometimes struggle to convey the value of their programs. But thanks to the increased adoption of formal evaluation methods and new technology to enable program measurement at scale, this is changing quickly.
With the benefit of quantitative insights into the effectiveness of each program their department steers, CHROs are more effectively driving the vision of their enterprises, diagnosing skill gaps and their effect on the businesses and taking a data-driven approach to upskilling their workforces.
What kind of L&D data do CHROs want?
L&D leaders are tasked with identifying skill gaps within their organizations and mapping those gaps to the goals of their learning programs. A key dimension to collecting this information is engaging with senior business leaders to determine the most critical business goals. This expectation-setting is critical to gauging the future success of the program. It not only helps the L&D leader create specific objectives for the program and participants, but it also sets benchmarks for a more top-down measure that some have termed “return on expectations.” Programs and leaders that deliver high ROI tend to grow in importance to organizations and their remits expand. Delivering high ROI requires setting goals that both demonstrate impact and are realistic.
As important as top-down agreement is, the concept of ROI must be supported by more quantifiable objectives. L&D managers are increasingly turning toward more formal evaluation methods to ensure CHROs can share data that tells a convincing story to even the most skeptical finance leader.
The Kirkpatrick model
The Kirkpatrick Model, created by Donald Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. during the 1950s, assesses learning and development programs across four levels of measurement. It helps companies determine whether training and coaching are engaging and relevant, whether participants acquire skills and apply them and whether a learning program impacts business results. The model calls for collection of data from each role that interacts with the learning program participant.
The Kirkpatrick Model first seeks to gauge engagement and satisfaction – to understand whether employees are taking advantage of the learning opportunity and whether they think it’s worth their time. On a basic level, this can demonstrate a program is being deployed effectively, important not just to show that budget is being fully leveraged, but also for ensuring compliance, i.e., for mandatory training legally required by industry regulation.
At the second level, the Kirkpatrick model calls for confirming whether learning is occurring – that participants are gaining the new skills the business wants them to acquire. The third level of the Kirkpatrick model measures whether employees are applying those new skills and new learned behaviors within the business.
Perhaps most critical – and most interesting to any CFO – is the fourth level of assessment – whether those new behaviors are positively impacting business performance. This data can be examined on an individual level but when aggregated, can furnish important insights to the CHRO about not only where any skill gaps may remain, but also about the program’s overall value to the business.
While the Kirkpatrick model has been around for nearly 70 years, only recently has it become feasible to apply it to learning programs across companies of all sizes. Once reserved for programs driven by outside consultants with large budgets, some L&D leaders began applying the Kirkpatrick model when affordable survey tools first became available in the marketplace. But for years after, it remained a labor intensive, disjointed process. Now, a new generation of learning and coaching companies have begun including intuitive metrics and tools within their technology platforms that specifically were built to support the Kirkpatrick Model.
These platforms include survey capabilities that enable L&D managers to collect 360-degree feedback from not only the participants, but also their managers, colleagues and direct reports. They provide data that measures impressions about the program and each participant before the program, as it is underway and after it’s completed.
Whether intended to help participants gain “hard skills” – those associated with the technical execution of a job or “soft skills” – the interpersonal and communications skills associated with working in a group, the newest L&D platforms furnish a range of data for determining whether individual improvement is observed and conveying the collective impact the learning program has on the business.
The best ones enable the organization to demonstrate how they have met and even surpassed the expectations agreed with senior leaders in advance of embarking upon the L&D program. High ROI learning programs not only avoid the chop during recession-driven budget cuts, they also position CHROs and their organizations for their next phase of growth.
As people leaders increasingly strive to go beyond traditional measures such as turnover and time-to-hire and toward other leading indicators that demonstrate impact on the business, L&D managers with the right platforms and tools can be key partners in expanding and enriching the data sets CHROs access.