I recently read an article extolling Nelson Mandela’s accomplishments during his life. A quote by Ineke van Kessel really caught my attention: “I think he managed to jump over his own shadow and think of the bigger goal for his nation and for his people.” Wow. Mandela jumped over his own shadow...
What an interesting visual picture. What is a shadow but an image cast by a body intercepting light? It really got me thinking about the shadow that learning has cast in our organizations. Have we intercepted the positive light of education and cast a shadow? Or, have we become contented casting a shadow instead of being the light?
Indulge me while I explore that thought: If training and education is inherently a positive light, could it in fact have a shadow?
Results, Impact, Outcomes
The adult learning industry was grounded in higher education—a place where learning is great just because it is learning. Learning expands our minds and helps us view the world differently. However, in business it is no longer palatable to provide education just because it is a great thing to do for employees.
The economy has changed, and so has the perceived “need” for providing education to employees just because it is a nice thing to do. So, the learning industry has responded by using terms like outcomes and results. It is attempting to include “alignment” and “corporate goals” in the verbiage. But is that enough? Results are great, but what impact do results have on the bottom line? Perhaps that is the question the industry really needs to answer for executives who must consider the bottom line.
It sounds like a small difference to compare results and impact, but in reality they have very different outcomes. (Yet another word that seems to have very similar meaning: outcomes.)
Obtaining results is an outcome, but did the outcome have an impact on our organization? Do you see the difference? It isn’t enough to have an outcome; that outcome must impact the business—in a positive manner.
For example, we could provide training to an audience and obtain wonderful feedback and even prove that the participants learned something. That in itself is an outcome. However, did what they learn change or improve their performance? Did it contribute to reaching strategic goals? Did it ultimately impact the organization? We can’t just change our verbiage to include “results" and eliminate the shadow we have cast of being a cost center, a necessary evil, a nicety. We have to have a positive impact.
How Do We Move From Results to Impact?
As an industry, we do fairly well proving Kirkpatrick Level I (Reaction) and Level II (Learning). We have learned how to ensure that people learn. We provide creative learning experiences, and we create learning assessments to prove our participants have learned something.
Reaction and Learning alone represent a result. However, these are rather meaningless to organizational leaders unless they lead to impact. Indeed, they may be the building blocks in evaluation and measurement, but they not the entire picture. You see, executives expect learning to take place (results), but they really want an impact to the business.
The most necessary step in obtaining impact is beginning with the end in mind. Often, we are asked as to provide education on Topic X. But have we asked why they want training on this topic? Do we know the goals of the organization or how this topic relates to achieving it? Do we know what impact executives are seeking? Without truly understanding these questions, we may well achieve a result—but it is not always a result that impacts the business.
I find that executives are so used to the shadow learning casts that they are do not expect learning to affect the organization’s bottom line. They have become complacent in expecting results, but don’t really think impact is something learning can deliver.
If we start asking questions about desired results or impact, executives may not know how to answer us. We may catch them off guard. Beginning with the end in mind is the first step to jumping over our shadows and making an impact.
We have to be sure we are designing and delivering programs for more than results. But how do we do this? Once we begin with the end in mind, we must design for targeted results and measure to show not only results, but also impact.
During the design process, do not allow yourself to veer into including unnecessary information that may be “nice” but in reality may only confuse the learner. During delivery, whether using web-based learning or classrooms, be sure to direct the participant to the true goal. Help employees understand “why” they need to learn the information or skill and the potential impact it can have on the organization.
Seeing the bigger picture truly helps adults grasp information and improve performance. After formal learning, make it your business to “drive” target results in order to achieve the desired impact.
Many scientists have conducted studies to prove or disprove a theory. They obtain results. In business, we need targeted results that have an impact on the organization. Beginning with the end in mind, it is crucial that we monitor reaction, learning, and performance and then adjust learning solutions to ensure that performance occurs. We must then examine leading indicators to determine whether we are on target.
Learning and performance are not an exact science because we have varied learners and motivation. That is why, unlike pure science, we must drive the results we want. We must jump our shadow by shedding light and directing outcomes until we are able to make an impact the goal.
Never stop short of documenting your outcomes. Measurement ensures that we are on track, but failing to document measurement and impact leaves us in the shadows.
Learning leaders must document measurements. For example, create a one-page executive summary focusing on the impact learning efforts have had on the corporate goals. Be sure to communicate the results and impact to your organizational executives. This is the step that truly lets you move out from behind the shadows.
Be the Light
Jumping your shadow to be light is proactive. It drives performance throughout the learning process, instead of trying to prove a return after the fact. Finally, present your measurement and findings. Don’t be afraid to manage up. Otherwise, executives may still cast a shadow on us rather than looking to us to partner with them—and be a light.
Are you jumping your shadow and showing your leaders something different? Here’s how you can be the light instead of standing still and casting a shadow.
- Understand the goal and the positive impact learning can have on it.
- Design learning to create performance that will lead to impact, not just learning results.
- Measure to ensure you are on target. If you start to cast a shadow, readjust and drive performance and desired outcomes that will provide the intended impact.
- Document your outcomes and show the impact of your programs.