Is it impossible to measure the ROI of L&D?

Some leaders have labelled tracking success of an L&D program as the ‘holy grail’ of learning

Is it impossible to measure the ROI of L&D?

Like many leaders, Peter Attfield, chief talent & learning officer at Jardine Matheson counts the answer to, ‘how do we measure the success of L&D?’, as the holy grail of learning. Everyone talks about it but no one’s got it properly figured out.

“Learning cultures actually make a difference to business results,” said Attfield, who was a panellist at HRD’s L&D Asia Summit. “The big question for L&D professionals is how do we measure that then? Yes, there are a few instruments around [but] in my opinion, they’re not very robust and there isn’t a really globally recognised standard.”

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Managing learning at an over 400,000-strong global workforce, however, requires some form of tracking. Understandably, leaders need to know which tech or initiatives work for which group of employees, be it by geography or any other variable, and help them decide how to improve the ongoing L&D strategy at an MNC like Jardine Matheson.

The organisation has thus set some guidelines to track through the implementation of each new L&D program: monitor activation, adoption and engagement. Adoption refers to the frequency of use by employees, while engagement refers to whether staff completed a program, commented, liked or shared something they learned on a platform.

If anything, he’s found that an L&D leader’s job is mostly to ‘nudge’ others in the right direction, so much so that “we think we’re the expert of nudging”. “We do a lot of nudging to try and drive people to the platform and to get people to use them,” he said. “We’re trying to get our senior leaders more engaged in it [for example]. We’re doing all the things that you’d expect. But it’s still a bit of a holy grail, you know, to really drive it up adoption of these platforms.”

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The concept of nudging was something mentioned earlier in the discussion by fellow panellist, A-Young Kim, Head, learning and development at Grab. Kim shared that her team always includes informal ‘nudges’ as part of the wider strategy to build a strong and sustainable culture or drive the right behaviours and make learning a ‘habitual’ practice at work. And one key L&D goal at Grab that frequently gets tracked is this: whether a strategy helps enable self-learning.

“One of the key things that we always start with is how is this going to help put the ownership of L&D into the hands of non-L&D people?“ Kim said. “In an ideal world, we would want everyone to own L&D.”

Her team is always finding ways to enable non-L&D professionals, be it business or generalist HR leaders to volunteer as learning champions. “That’s something we’re really trying to scale – enabling more volunteers to teach other folks and enable more employee-to-employee learning,” she said.

When picking a platform or L&D tech, the team considers how it’ll encourage the democratisation of learning and enable everyday learners as well as everyday teachers. While she didn’t want to go “too much” into metrics because those big goals result into equally massive tracking systems, it does help her team narrow down what needs to get measured to monitor progress of a program.

“That’s where we start with and then we can think about what are some concrete measures that we can look at to show us indicators whether we’re getting closer or further away from [our goals],” she said.

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