Jay Cross | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Jay Cross | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, web 2.0, and systems thinking. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. Full Bio


There’s no cookie-cutter formula for applying metrics, but there is an underlying process.

Generally, you’ll follow these five steps to identify, agree upon, assess, and use metrics. This is not rocket science. It’s the same process you already use to accomplish a lot of things in life. Let’s briefly consider each step.

1. State Desired Outcome. Results do not exist inside the training department. In fact, results do not exist within the business. Results corne from outside the business. Imagine a no-nonsense businessperson, say, GE’s former boss, Jack Welch. If you can explain yourself to Jack, you’ve mastered this step.

2. Agree How To Measure. The only valid metrics for corporate learning are business metrics. Examples are increased sales, shorter time to market, fewer rejects, and lower costs. How do you decide what measures to apply? You don’t: that’s the responsibility of your business sponsor, the person who signs the checks. Together you agree on what’s to be done and how you’ll measure success or failure. Once you’ve settled on the project and its metrics, get it in writing.

3. Execute Project(s). The projects could be training and/or an incentive bonus plan and/or more advertising. Training programs are often part of a larger scheme, and it’s fruitless to try to isolate them. In fact, savvy training directors look for major corporate initiatives they can hitch a ride on.
4. Assess Results. You must evaluate the impact of your efforts with the measures you set up back in step 2. In other words, you are not allowed to mimic Charlie Brown, who would shoot an arrow and then paint the target around it. Why stick with the measures you came up with before? Because that’s how to maintain credibility with your sponsor. You can bring up unforeseen outcomes or anecdotal evidence, so long as you follow up on those original methods first.

5. Begin anew. The only thing worse than learning from experience is not learning from experience. Your post-mortem on the completed project should include a section titled “What to do better next time.” This is where you start the cycle anew.

In an article in T +D Magazine titled ‘A Seat at the Table’, Kevin Oakes, then president of SumTotal Systems, masterfully described how speaking the language of business is one of the biggest skill gaps in the learning profession. Kevin quotes two respected industry figures, John Cone, the former CLO of Dell Computers, and Pat Crull, CLO of ToysRUs, that hammer home the point. Here are their original words.

“Learning professionals who have the ear of senior management come to the table to talk about business results, not learning pedagogy. They understand the drivers of the business, how the executives think, and the metrics that mean the most to them.

They talk about business outcomes, not learning enablers. And they talk about their business using real business language and real data. They talk about revenue, expense, productivity, customer satisfaction, and other quantifiable stuff that business people care about. They’ve learned that every conversation had better include information about money or time saved, revenue or new business generated, or customer problems solved.” John Cone

“During my presentation (at an industry conference), I stated that as a CLO, I see myself as an officer of the corporation. I worry about improving shareowner value. If it doesn’t make a difference to the bottom line, then my work has little of no value. At that point. a woman in the audience got up from her seat and left the room.”

“Later, during the Q&A section of our presentation, someone who was sitting next to the woman who had left, stood up and said, “Do you know what she said right before she exited? That she didn’t get into the training and development field to worry about the bottom line.” I was stunned. To me, that summed up the biggest problem in our profession today.” Pat Crull

In summary, to ‘earn a seat at the table’ where the business managers sit, you must:

  • Speak the language of business
  • Behave like an officer of the corporation
  • Think like a businessperson
  • Act like a businessperson.
  • Be a businessperson.

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