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In 2006, my organization's Leadership Academy—a 10-month long in-person and virtual cohort program—returned (quantitatively) four times the investment in the program. Part of this was in part due to the great relationship we had with our CFO, who helped us identify some traditional and some unique metrics to measure.

But for me, the single most important measure was when the organization began to experience financial difficulties, resulting in the proverbial belt-tightening. Wanting to do my part as Chief Learning Officer, I offered to scale back or even suspend the Leadership Academy. But our CEO and Executive Team wouldn't allow it; they had seen so much growth and organizational change due in large part to the effectiveness of the development program, they wouldn't let it go.

Looking back, I see a nuanced difference in traditional learning measurement and measurement that grabs the emotion of those in decision-making roles. Here's what you can do to find learning measurements that speak to the humanity of your workforce, too.

Measure What's Important to Your Audience

Those in the role of training, learning and development have long followed theorists like Donald Kirkpatrick and Jack Phillips who offer excellent methods for demonstrating the value of programmatic learning. Different methodologies measure what's important to different audiences. Is what the person learns most critical? Then use a pre- and post-test to measure learning transfer. Is justifying the existence of the L&D department most important? You need to demonstrate return on investment.

You have to measure what is important to your company, which means you have to know what is important to your executives. If you're trying to tout great strides in engagement due to a development program, you have better make sure engagement is seen as vitally important.

But what I've learned is that it isn't so much what you are measuring, but how and why you are measuring. You can have the best metric in the world, but if success or failure doesn't impact the emotions of those who are determining the effectiveness, you won't get their attention.

How Do You Turn Measurement Into Emotion?

Let's take a page from marketing's playbook. To develop a marketing plan for a product, marketers have to know what's important to the customer. They use various ways to find out, but they don't start production until they have a pretty good sense that the product is a) needed and b) will actually fulfill the need.

Then they continuously validate their findings through ongoing dialogue with the customer…."Is this what you were looking at?" "Are we meeting your needs?" They build a relationship that says, "We want to be your partner in solving your problems or attaining your opportunities." They create an emotional need.

Keep Emotions Alive With Continuous Dialogue

Continuous dialogue keeps emotion alive. "We said we were going to do X, and we are making progress," or "We aren't quite where we want to be, so we are making an adjustment." By waiting until the final result is available, you give the customer (or in the case of organizational learning, the executive team) license to move on to a new problem or even a new solution.

By entering into continuous dialogue, you reduce the possibility that the solution won't work because you are continually evaluating and making adjustments to ensure success.

What Was Important to Us

We launched our Leadership Academy shortly after a "merger of equals." The CEO saw huge opportunities to reduce redundancy, but there was a rigid identification with the two different brands and culture as well as a history of competition.

We worked with the CFO to identify areas of opportunity to reduce costs through consolidation and improve revenue through collaboration and then brought leaders from both sides together to build relationships, learn together and solve some simulated business problems.

A year later, the CFO allowed us to "claim" 20 percent of the increased revenue and cost saving as attributed to the Leadership Academy. That was four times the cost of the program. But the emotion came when the Executive Team sat through presentations of solutions to the simulated business problems. They said the solutions were better than they could have achieved themselves because they were collaborative and broke down organizational silos. They learned their own lesson.

Oh, and we marketed the heck out of the measurement achievements.

Photo: Creative Commons