What Learning & Development can learn from Mad Men

April 25, 2014
"Our data shows [...] the best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as 'asides' during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance."

Alex "Sandy" Pentland
Director of MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory

What we've suspected all along is true: Water cooler talk is influential, and it can provide terrific opportunities for knowledge transfer. So it came as little surprise to me when Michael Rochelle, Chief Strategy Officer at Brandon Hall Group, informed me that one of the top ways to measure whether learning is effective or not is through the managerial testimonials that take place in these informal back channels.

When individuals and/or teams are performing well, water cooler talk is easy. But when things are going poorly, or the ball isn't moving and someone up in corporate thinks that L&D isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing, the conversation often goes something like this:

Allison: How are things moving along on [name of project]?
Jennifer: Well, my two employees working on it spent three days in training last week. They both had over a 90% completion rate and assessment scores of 85 and 90. But honestly, I'm seeing no difference in how they work or their results.
Allison: What to do those numbers indicate then?
Jennifer: Who knows?! All I know is that I'm expected to send them back for a two-day follow-up next week, which will put us even further behind.
Allison: Bag it then. We can't afford to get sidetracked with non-value-added activities.

So what's a learning professional to do when the water cooler buzz is that L&D isn't doing anything to increase team performance? Let's look to Mad Men for some guidance:

Fans of Mad Men often quote Don Draper's most famous piece of advice to his protégé Peggy Olsen: "If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation." Peggy brilliantly used those same words later at a rival firm to win the Heinz Ketchup account against her former mentor.

Changing these water cooler conversations is what L&D professionals need to do if they are to prove their impact on performance and wield influence. And changing the conversation will only come when L&D stops talking in metrics that are meaningless to anyone outside their function and begins to talk in metrics the rest of the business uses.

Corporate does not want to hear any more about how many hours or days employees spend in training because it doesn't tell them if the training was efficient or effective. Completion rates don't help either because there are a lot of smart people in companies that never complete courses.

- Let's digress at this last point and look at MOOCs. MOOCs are all about very, very low completion rates, but lots of people learn from them. Why? Because they go in, find what they need, say goodbye and go apply it. It has nothing to do with whether the course was good or not.

- Finally, L&D's most prized metric, test scores, do nothing to indicate depth of retention, which is a direct link to performance.

It's as much about playing defense as is offense. Defensively, you change the conversation you don't like. Then you go on the offensive by controlling the conversation from the top down. Jennifer from the above conversation needs to understand how the training her employees received is positively impacting their performance, and should want to send more of her people even though it eats into project time. Well, there is a whole lot of analytics that go into getting the testimonial to happen that way, and on May 22, Michael Rochelle from the Brandon Hall group is going to show you how to get there.

I'm extremely excited about this event because the title says it all: The Google analytics approach to measuring learning: allowing you to move at the speed of business. You can click here to view the registration page for more details but in summary, Michael's going to:

  • Introduce you to a set of analytics that help you link training content to performance.
  • Show you how to use content analytics to prove the ROI of your training initiatives.
  • Explore use cases that leverage analytics to make corrections at the speed of business to improve retention.
  • Demonstrate how the single-source approach uniquely provides you with the ability to create measurable content.

Right now, the Learning & Development industry is in the early stages of analytics. We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us and this free webinar is your roadmap for doing it right.

(Image Credits: AMC and oh-whiskers)

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