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Want to Improve Your Batting Average? Understand the Business Objectives

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
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This is the second installment in our series on improving your training “batting average.” We’ll look at how to connect business results and learning objectives.

Learning Objectives Are Necessary, But Not Sufficient

You need a good set of learning objectives to design effective training. Unfortunately, a program can achieve all its learning objectives and still “strike out” as far as business results are concerned. How is that possible?

In the first edition of our book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, we told a story that resonated with Kevin Wilde, the chief learning officer for General Mills. He wrote in the introduction: “The example was about a new management development program. A talented and hard-working training team designed an air-tight course: activities planned to the minute, world-class external faculty and cutting-edge simulations . . . all grounded in specific learning objectives. But the team fell short by failing to first clearly identify how the company would benefit from having leaders attend the program. I’ve been there—so caught up in crafting the excellence of the learning event that we failed to ground everything in the real business case. When that happens, the results leave you heartbroken, far short of the learning breakthrough you intended.”

What’s the solution?

Enter the Outcomes Planning Wheel

Always start with the “end in mind.” That is, begin by gaining a much deeper understanding of what the business expects to happen as a result of the training. You may need to help business leaders move from focusing on a solution (“training”) to the performance gap or opportunity they are hoping to address. In the ATD Learning Transfer Certificate Program, we teach participants to use the Outcomes Planning Wheel to structure a discussion with managers that elucidates their issues and expectations. The wheel includes four questions:

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  • What business needs will be met? 
  • What will participants do differently and better? 
  • What or who could confirm these changes? 
  • What are all the specific criteria for success?

While these are seemingly simple queries, used artfully, they lead to a rich exploration of the issues. Most importantly, they position learning and development professionals as true business partners, rather than just order takers.

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The Outcomes Planning Wheel: Four Key Questions to Ask Business Leaders. Copyright 2014, The 6Ds Company. Used with permission.

You’ll need to follow up with a more detailed needs analysis to identify the specific skills and knowledge gaps, but starting with the business needs ensures that the learning objectives have a clear connection to business realities and priorities.

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The power of this approach was illustrated in a case study we included in The Field Guide to the 6Ds. Sujaya Bannerjee and her colleagues at Essar, one of the largest and most respected companies in India, had received a request for communications training. When they applied the Outcomes Planning Wheel questions and the concepts taught in the Learning Transfer Certificate Program, however, they discovered that the business need was much more far-reaching. As a result, they were able to transform a “feel-good” training program into a successful business outcome—so much so that their contribution was acknowledged by the CEO.

Bottom Line

Training is an investment an organization makes to help it achieve its objectives. The better we understand the business objectives, the better solutions we can provide, the higher our batting average, and the greater our value. Of course, training alone is not sufficient to drive business results. We need to consider what else needs to be in place—a topic we will cover in a future article in this series.

To learn more, join us for an upcoming Learning Transfer Certificate Program.

About the Author

Roy V. H. Pollock, DVM, PhD, is Chief Learning Officer of The 6Ds Company and co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning and Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development. Roy has a passion for helping individuals and teams succeed. He is a popular speaker and frequent consultant on improving the value created by training and development.

Roy has a unique blend of experience in both business and education. He has served as Chief Learning Officer for the Fort Hill Company; Vice President, Global Strategic Product Development for SmithKline Beecham Animal Health; Vice President, Companion Animal Division for Pfizer; and Assistant Dean for Curriculum at Cornell’s Veterinary College.

Roy received his BA from Williams College cum laude and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and PhD degrees from Cornell University. He studied medical education at the University of Illinois Center for Educational Development. Roy served as a member of the faculty at Cornell for eight years, where he received numerous awards including the Ralston-Purina Research Award and Veterinarian of the Year.  He is a Fellow of the Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program.

About the Author

Andy Jefferson, JD, is President and Chief Executive Officer for The 6Ds Company.  He is co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning and Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development. Andy is a frequent and popular global presenter who excels in helping companies maximize the value they realize from their investments in learning and development. He is an accomplished executive with deep line-management expertise as well as experience in strategic planning, sales and marketing, productivity, and technology development. Andy views learning as a critical source of competitive advantage in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. He knows the challenges of running a company and making every investment count. Prior to joining The 6Ds Company, Andy served as the Chief Executive Officer of The Fort Hill Company, CEO of Vital Home Services, and Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of AmeriStar Technologies, Inc. Andy is a graduate of the University of Delaware and graduated Phi Kappa Phi with honors from the Widener University School of Law, where he served on the school’s Board of Overseers.

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