ATD Blog

Connecting Learning and Development With Performance

Monday, January 9, 2017

One-size-fits-all training, executive-only coaching, and legacy corporate learning systems were once considered the norm, but most organizations and employees found them insufficient. Now, we have technology platforms that can push learning programs and multimedia content to the masses. 

Learning is becoming increasingly prioritized, as shown in Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report 2016 which showed that more than eight in 10 executives (84 percent) rated learning as important or very important. Additionally, the amount spent on learning jumped 10 percent from the previous year. 

However, according to Deloitte’s report, only 37 percent of companies believe their learning programs are effective. And therein lies a key challenge: proving that learning programs are effective by having a measurable impact on individual and organizational performance. 

To address this challenge, let’s start by recognizing some of the basic distinctions and connections between learning and performance. 

Where Learning Stands

Learning is a lifelong process. It’s more than just memorizing concepts. It’s about mastering and applying new skills. More than 70 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center report. 

Where Performance Stands


Performance is our output from learning. It is our goals and objectives, which must be tracked and evaluated. Developing your people is a fruitless endeavor if they cannot apply the learning to their work. According to the Pew report, 63 percent of working adults are extending their knowledge to achieve work-related objectives. 

Where Learning Meets Performance

Like many things in business and life, connecting learning and performance is easier said than done. 

We’re in the midst of one of the most transformative times in the workforce. Baby Boomers are retiring, and Millennials are taking their place—bringing with them a different point of view toward learning and development needs. Additionally, with an increasing number of virtual employees based all over the world, organizational leaders have varying perspectives on how to measure performance and effectiveness. To overcome such challenges, here are some ways to increase learning and performance. 

Democratize Your Learning


Your employees are at their best when they feel valued, empowered, and respected, which is why the best performing companies are people-centric and inclusive, from executives to the front lines. Today’s technology can help democratize your learning. You can not only scale learning programs and content to all levels of the organization, but also syndicate learning across multiple mediums and devices to bring learning to every employee. 

Make Learning Personal and Relevant

Identify employees’ learning styles, strengths, and development opportunities. Then, weave in learning content and processes that target these areas to meet the needs of learners of all types. Employees must also be able to apply what they learn to their work, so programs should balance the employee’s developmental needs with the organization's objectives. 

Set the Bar for Everyone

Your organization—and your people—need to know the learning investment is paying off. While giving employees the keys to their individual learning and development, instill accountability, build in performance metrics, and establish benchmarks that all lead to a shared responsibility for success. When you set the bar, keep in mind that learning may not produce the same results for everyone. Variations in performance could be a result of other issues, such as motivation, engagement, and levels of effort. 

Bring on the Feedback

Create a continuous feedback loop, because those one-off annual engagement surveys and performance reviews aren’t working. A periodic process is too late to affect performance in a meaningful way; it only serves as a summary of past performance and is too closely tied to salary adjustments. With ongoing two-way feedback, you will know where all employees are in their learning and development, and then you can move performance forward. Employee engagement and company culture surveys should also be conducted more regularly, so that your organization can pivot and address issues that affect performance more quickly. 

About the Author

Sun Kim is the vice president of performance solutions for SurePeople (, a cloud-based provider of intelligent learning, performance, and hiring solutions. She is responsible for delivering ROI-driven solutions to her clients and partners.  Prior to joining SurePeople, Sun served as a human resources and compensation associate at Devonshire Investors for eight years, and as a leadership and collaboration consultant with Interaction Associates for three years. She is certified in IDEO’s Design Thinking methodology for innovation and GE’s Six Sigma Green Belt training for operational excellence and efficiency. You can connect with Sun on LinkedIn at 

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