With the evolution of technology driving digital transformation, the way that business gets done today has fundamentally changed. But whilst the scope and sphere of technology is expanding, budgets and available resources are shrinking, and the result is that every business unit is finding itself under the microscope when the pie is being divided out.
For leaders in L&D, this is made all the more difficult by the fact that the legacy models and systems simply weren’t designed to return measurable results. But if they could, the results would not be something that learning leaders would be in a hurry to share.
Cheques and measures
Most conventional learning is based around the four-layer Kirpatrick Model, which has been in use since its inception in 1954. Its creator Donald Kirkpatrick asserted that the goal of his model was not to provide hard evidence of positive change – a reasonable chain of evidence showing that the training seemed to be working would suffice.
But it isn’t working. Research on the Ebbinghaus Curve has shown that people forget up to 50% of the information that they’re taught on a course within one hour. This quickly rises – after a day, it’s nearer to two thirds and can reach 80% by the end of the month.
This is a huge amount, and those figures don’t even take into account any resistance on the part of the potential learners. And when you take into consideration the costs involved – not just in course vendor fees but in lost time to the learners and travel costs for offsite courses – it becomes clear that the actual business value of conventional learning programmes is either zero or even negative.
Carpetright’s L&D challenges
This was an issue faced by high-street retailer Carpetright. Since opening its first store in 1988, Carpetright has grown to become Europe’s leader of specialist floor coverings and beds, with over 500 branches and annual revenues of over £450 million.
Carpetright recognised that a robust Learning & Development strategy was essential to maintain their organic growth, yet in difficult trading periods, the learning budgets were the first to be cut.
The cost of the programmes was one issue – developmental learning was cumbersome to roll out and ineffective at scale, with the travel involved being both extensive and expensive both in terms of direct cost and of impact to resources.
Poor engagement, poor data
But equally problematic was the low levels of learner engagement. Carpetright were using two different Learning Management Systems (LMSs), both of which were primarily used to deliver compliance-focussed eLearning modules. This, combined with a poor user experience, led to low engagement with the LMS. This not only resulted in staff feeling disconnected to the organisation, but it actually contributed to employee attrition as staff started looking to other employers for development opportunities.
A significant obstacle was the fact that the L&D team at Carpetright couldn’t prove the value of their learning either way. The outdated systems and processes that they had in place meant that they were struggling to capture data that let them measure the impact of the programmes to the organisation.
Results from a new approach
Carpetright partnered with Fuse to put in place a learning ecosystem that was scalable and sustainable, and that importantly allowed them to measure their results. By adopting the Fuse Integrated Learning Platform, Carpetright were able to shift away from course-based learning to an expanding suite of short microlearning assets, which drew on a mixture of in-store expertise and videos from Carpetright’s CEO.
By making this material available as part of a structured learning plan or on-demand, Carpetright eliminated the need for conventional classroom-based training. By delivering compelling learning via familiar channels like app-based searchable videos, many of the barriers were broken down.
A side effect of this approach was an upskilling of the L&D team themselves: the entire team underwent a number of positive changes, with new skills being developed ranging from videography to community management.
No small measures
Because the L&D team were able to granularly track how staff engaged with the platform, they were now able to measure the scale and reach of content engagement. The initial results showed that there was a 4% increase in employee engagement measured against the previous year – a strong indicator that the strategies were successful in beginning to re-engage the Carpetright employees.
And this raised questions about the overall L&D strategy. If people are engaged with learning and the organisation, what value does learning add to the business? Should we continue to engage people in the way we are, or do we need to do things differently?
An academic insight
To further explore this, a study was done in collaboration with the University College London. This looked at the sales performance of Carpetright’s underlay, a flooring product that acts as a cushion and insulator. The study compared the sales performance from October 2016 to June 2017, when the Fuse Learning Plan was implemented, with the sales performance from the previous two years. During this period, the employees were empowered to schedule their own learning plans.
The results were very positive. Detailed analysis of study by UCL experts found that 71.4% of employees had an increase in sales after the learning plan was introduced, and there was a statistically significant increase of 13.2% in sales, compared with a 5% increase in the same period before the Learning Plan was introduced.
Lessons from the Upside Down
The biggest change that Carpetright made was perhaps the simplest: an inversion of the Kirkpatrick model. Rather than start with the training and hope that it would deliver results, they utilised the Fuse Performance Pyramid approach – first defining the business problems that they wanted to address and shaping the learning to achieve them.
Carpetright always knew the output that they were trying to improve: the number and value of underlay sales. The results of the study allowed Carpetright to establish exactly how content was aligned with the performance improvement, and which knowledge best practice behaviours could be scaled across the organisation.
The clearest takeaway was that aligning content to employee’s personal habits increased engagement with learning and development in in turn, grew revenue.
The transformed plan
For learning leaders, this is reassuring news. The prospect of being able to deliver (and prove) business value from learning is a true game changer. Like any major business evolution, there’s been a degree of fearmongering around digital transformation. ‘Overnite Migration’ success stories of companies migrating their business at the click of a mouse are thin on the ground. But equally, few companies would ever consider such a drastic rip-and-replace approach.
But staying still isn’t really an option either, and in few places as obviously as in Learning & Development. The days when an evolved (and evolving) L&D strategy was a nice-to-have are already gone, and companies like Carpetright are a clear example of what bringing L&D into the future can achieve for a company; not just keeping up with the competition, but pulling clear ahead. You can't deliver today's learning with yesterday's technology; but it's today's learning that will be driving tomorrow's profits.
And if you need some clarity on what that technology might look like, we've got a webinar that'll point you in the right direction.
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