Why L&D evaluation needs to be improved

Learning and development (L&D) is one of the key pillars of HR, as it gives companies the chance to influence the wider business world or society in a positive way.

Developing and inspiring people, and shaping the future of a business is not an easy task, so organisations need to recruit high-calibre HR professionals who are capable of making a real difference.

But are organisations effectively monitoring the impact of L&D initiatives? New research by the CIPD suggests the answer is no, as it found that only seven per cent of L&D workers take a holistic view to evaluating the impact of their schemes.

Instead, the vast majority limit their focus to just learner and manager feedback. While this will give a good indication of how a programme is being received in-house, it will never lead to the kind of transformative change around identifying skills gaps that all organisations are aiming for.

What's holding L&D back?

Nearly half (45 per cent) of respondents said 'other business priorities' are holding back the proper evaluation of L&D, while the quality of analytical data (32 per cent), and the capability of L&D and HR to conduct evaluation (25 per cent) were also identified as common problems.

Just under a quarter of those questioned feel extremely or very confident in their ability to harness technology to improve L&D processes, which underlines the disconnect between identifying areas of progress and the lack of effective assessment.

"[Evaluation] allows organisations to understand which L&D initiatives are working and which aren't, so they can tailor activities accordingly and engineer people development to add the most value to individuals and the overall business," said Ruth Stuart, L&D research adviser at the CIPD.
"We need to invest in our own analytical capability and use evaluation to identify skills gaps earlier on, so we can ultimately deploy effective L&D practice and encourage long-term, sustainable organisational growth."

Improving L&D

If L&D is going to be successful, it needs to be aligned with a business' strategy, but this is not always the case. While six per cent reported no alignment at all, only 25 per cent described their programmes as extremely aligned. This demonstrates how there is still progress to be made.

In terms of what the future holds, closer alignment with the business strategy (40 per cent) and greater emphasis on monitoring and evaluation (35 per cent) are expected to be the two main drivers of change in the next two years.

"Technological initiatives can play a critical role in enabling flexibility and helping to advance a learning culture through facilitating knowledge sharing and social learning," Ms Stuart stated.

Whether it is nurturing the future talent pipeline of women, making sure older workers are not locked out of development opportunities, or embracing creative opportunities, the role of L&D has never been more important in today's digital age.

Companies need to dedicate adequate resources to this HR function, as not doing so could mean missing out on the chance to improve organisational productivity.