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Linking Training to Business Results

Submitted by  on April 18th, 2011

Here is a question I am often asked by trainers and training consultants. It’s a question that leaves many awake in bed at night. How do you link the impact of a training program to actual business results? The results that they are talking about are typically the key performance measures that the executive or the management team consider critical to reporting the health of the business. These measures could include sales volume, shareholder return, voluntary staff turnover, customer retention, and so on.

These linkages between training and business results need to be drawn and clarified right at the outset, during the initial training needs analysis (TNA) stage. If you ensure that you clarify expected business outcomes at the front end analysis stage, most of your work will have been done. Just how do you draw the connections between the delivered training and the end business results? To do this, I strongly recommend creating an impact map.

An impact map draws the relationships between the organizational objectives, intermediate objectives and the skills and behaviors to be taught in the program. Who needs to be involved in the drawing of the impact map? Get all of the key stakeholders (or representatives thereof) together in one room. This typically includes the project sponsor, training participant managers, subject matter experts, the instructional designer, the trainer and some training participants.

Picture the end result. A series of boxes on the right hand side of the map displays the business objectives. Conversely, boxes on the left hand side of the sheet show employee behaviors that will lead to the achievement of the business objectives. A third set of boxes in the center of the sheet represent intermediate objectives between the business objectives and the wanted employee behaviors. Lastly, picture arrows drawn between the boxes. These indicate the causal connections between employees behaving in certain ways and the impact on the business results.

Let me illustrate with an example. The executive team in a financial services organization wanted to conduct a team building training program for project team members. The meeting facilitator began the meeting by putting up a couple of proposed business objectives. These were 90% of projects completed on time and a 50% fall in team member grievances. A robust discussion amongst the participants then modified the objectives and added others. Once the objectives were reasonably settled, meeting participants were asked what behaviors would need to be displayed by project team members and how these would lead to the desired outcomes.

During the discussion, some participants offered other objectives for consideration. Meeting participants continued to modify the objectives and behaviors until agreement was reached. Finally, the meeting settled on which actions would contribute to which business results and arrows were drawn between the boxes. Following the meeting, the instructional designers were then able to formulate the program’s learning objectives from the wanted behaviors identified during the meeting.

This example demonstrates how getting all of the key stakeholders involved up front ensures that they all have a stake in the outcome. You can be confident that you are targeting the right business objectives and employee behaviors. I say more about linking training to business results and using impact maps in your training design in my book From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

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Posted in Performance, Training | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Linking Training to Business Results”

  1. Richard Eason Says:

    I think this is a great practical and clear technique to contribute towards linking training to business objectives. I’ve actually discussed your post on my own blog, outlining what for me are the key takeaways – I hope this is ok?! Thanks for your posts!

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hello Richard,

    I like your web site on training evaluation. Thanks for discussing my approach to using impact maps on your blog. I appreciate your kind words. I think if we can get trainers and program sponsors to appreciate that training should have a purpose over and above just making employees happy or looking as if managers are doing something to fix a problem, then we will be half way there. Thanks again, Richard.

    Leslie Allan

  3. Kenneth Fee Says:

    Intriguing! The Impact Map sounds to me like a mixed-up (i.e., less clear) logic diagram, and the ‘impact meeting’ another version of a stakeholder consultation – but I really like the focus on impact. I came here from Twitter, and I’m going back to retweet.


  4. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hello Kenneth. I’m pleased that you find the impact map method interesting. There are important differences between a logic diagram and an impact map. In a logic diagram, entities can perform one of many operations (and, or, etc). In an impact map, each entity can only “cause” another entity in a linear relationship. There are no feedback loops.

    However, as with logic diagrams, impact maps are designed to bring clarity. My idea is not to create greater mix-up, but to clarify the intent and workings of the proposed training program.

    Kenneth, you are right. The impact meeting is a form of stakeholder meeting. I’ve found it’s a very efficient way of getting stakeholder input into the design of the program as I get all the key stakeholders together at one time in one place.

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