People Insights Podcast

Welcome to our series of “People Insights” podcasts. In this series we explore a wide range of people focused issues and areas, and invite contributors from a cross section of industry, academia, technology, psychology and consulting.

People Insights, Episode 1

Welcome to Episode 1 of our People Insights series: Laurent Balagué

About our guest

In this episode, we meet Laurent Balagué, founder and CEO of ForMetris, a provider of SaaS Solutions to quantify the impact of learning projects. He’s helped hundreds of companies around the world improve learning performance through pragmatic, ambitious, and customised valuation strategies.

A graduate of L’École Polytechnique in France, Laurent started his career as a consultant with McKinsey in France and North America. He then joined the manufacturing conglomerate Faurecia as a Lean manufacturing expert, delivering the full range of productivity skills from Lean through to 5S and Kanban.

It was during these first professional experiences that he developed his perspectives on corporate L&D, and the need for smarter analytics. ForMetris was the result – a business he has run for 13 years. As a learning analytics leader, Laurent regularly facilitates workshops, presentations, and panel discussions across Europe and North America.

What’s in it for you?

At the heart of this podcast is a discussion of Return On Investment – something every L&D professional has to deal with on a regular basis. How do we measure value in learning initiatives? How do we realistically justify the expense of training (particularly at a time when turnover in many roles is 18 months or less, and there is a perception that training beyond compliance is just helping people upskill to take those talents elsewhere)?

But listening to Laurent, it becomes apparent that resolving the ROI discussion is not just about demonstrating value – it’s also about knowing how to engage effectively with other functions in the business. The best L&D strategists are business experts and smart communicators – and in this podcast, you will understand how Laurent both engages with his clients, and encourages them to work effectively with their internal customers.

The big take-aways

• The bad news: Emerging technologies like Virtual Reality and MOOCs aren’t just increasing the range of options for L&D professionals, they are removing their role as an intermediary between people with knowledge and people who need to learn. So the requirement for L&D to demonstrate their value is becoming ever more stark.

• The good news: a learning culture in organisations is becoming a valid ambition in itself. A learning culture attracts talent and can be a customer-facing differentiator, too.

• Internal clients – rightly – will judge L&D through its effect on business outcomes. L&D professionals – rightly – will judge L&D through its effect on behaviours. Ultimately, behaviours are a route to business outcomes. It is therefore possible for an effective learning programme to create behavioural changes which, through non-L&D circumstances, don’t ultimately achieve business outcomes. Managing the relationship with internal clients to clarify this connection (and to help L&D hit the commercial mark more effectively) is a key role for L&D professionals.

• Measuring performance on an annual snapshot basis is not only pointless, it’s ineffective for the learner. Continuous learning engages learners in their development, because it is relevant, applied to their roles and daily work, and reinforced by regular practise and exercise.

• The Kirkpatrick scale is still valid and wonderful in its simplicity. But L&D professionals are failing to leverage the communication value of its simplicity – they should be using Kirkpatrick to explain L&D outcomes more effectively to internal clients.

• Top Tip: If you ask learners to commit to a self-defined action programme – even just a single action – immediately after a learning intervention, with knowledge that they will be assessed on the success of that action programme in a few months, it will dramatically improve the impact and value of the intervention. Of course, we all work harder when we know we’re going to be tested later, but the action plan here is defined by the learner and can be as lightweight as they wish. It doesn’t matter: the commitment raises the value of the whole intervention.

Five Top Quotes from Laurent

“I think it’s just beginning, but learning culture is starting to become an ambition in itself. Just by developing and enhancing a positive and rich learning culture, you know you’ll be able to attract talent, and to keep them, and to have them grow in your company.”

“You know what happens when a KPI goes up? Everybody raises their head and says, ‘It’s because of me’. And when the KPI goes down, they turn their head and look at their neighbour. So, you don’t want to be trapped in this kind of relationship with your business partners, focusing on business outcomes.”

“Continuous learning programmes – programmes that are spread across weeks and months – average a much higher impact than short one-shot programmes.”

“It’s very disturbing for employers because what their employees expect [from training] is to maximise their value on the job market, to make it easier for them to change jobs tomorrow if they’re not happy. But it’s a reality: the only way to keep and grow talents is to accept that game.”

“I’m actually a big defendant of the Kirkpatrick scale and the Kirkpatrick vision, and what’s beautiful is its simplicity. I always recommend to my clients, for their first discussion when [internal clients] come with a need, and the learning programme is not even at the design phase, just take one minute to explain the scale.”

References and further reading

Enabling learning transfer for soft skills: Why is it Crucial?

Post-training: it all starts then

Learning transfer: seeing the bigger picture

Transcription

Hi, I’m Owen Ashby and you’re listening to the People Insights podcast from Cognisco.

Cognisco is a people business, for assessments, data, insight, and evidence; we are changing the way organisations think about workforce transformation, learning and compliance.

Across the next few months I’ll be speaking with some great guest contributors looking at all aspects of the People Insights world; some of the leading psychologists and game-changing entrepreneurs who are challenging the status quo head-on, to leading practitioners from the fields of healthcare and professional services, through to industry analysts, and L&D thought leaders. We’ll exchange ideas and debate current issues, and will be introducing thought-provoking examples, as well as exploring some of the more innovative and arcane areas of People Insights, occupation psychology, OD, L&D, and HR, which we hope you’ll all enjoy.

In this episode I’m speaking with Laurent Balagué, Laurent is the founder and CEO of Formetris, a provider of SaaS Solutions to measure and improve learning impact for strategic and large-scale projects. He’s helped hundreds of companies around the world improve learning performance through pragmatic, ambitious, and customised valuation strategies. A graduate of L’École Polytechnique in France, Laurent started his career as a consultant with McKinsey & Company in France, and North America. He then joined Faurecia, I think that’s right Laurent? … as a Lean manufacturing expert; it was during these first professional experiences that he developed his perspectives on corporate L&D, and the necessity of implementing smarter analytics.

As a learning analytics leader, Laurent regularly facilitates workshops, presentations, and panel discussions across Europe and North America. Laurent joins us today from his office in the US. Hi Laurent, thank you for joining us.

Cognisco and forMetris one way or another have been talking on and off for a couple of years now about how we see the world from a very similar perspective. Tell us a bit more if you would about forMetris, what you do as an organisation, and what you’ve been up to more recently.

I created forMetris more than 10-years ago, and our mission has always remained the same: we work with corporate L&D teams to help them measure and improve the impact of their learning initiatives, so that has always remained our mission with SaaS Solutions, we are a technology provider.

Of course what our clients have rolled out in terms of learning programmes has changed a lot in the past decade. This is why we’ve had to adapt our solutions mostly in terms of learning measurements, impact measurements, and also in terms of support after the learning initiative, but we still do that with a large scope of platforms from the initial assessment and initial diagnostic, to the impact measurement, the business outcome measurement on a large scale for our biggest clients, and more recently supporting the learners after learning initiatives, to make sure that they will transform new learning into a real change in their daily life.

Fantastic, what a great synopsis and summary. Over the last 10-years you’ve seen the way that people implement learning has changed in organisations, even in large organisations who tend to move more slowly I suspect. How is that manifested? What sort of changes have you seen most particularly?

I will start with the obvious: technology. To be honest, ten years ago, learning was more a joke than a reality. I think where we’re creating Formetris was the third crash of the third e-learning bubble. The technology wasn’t ready, the band-width was not ready, and the mindsets were not ready. Things have changed in all these matters, and in digital learning we don’t talk about e-learning anymore, but the possibilities in terms of technologies to support learning initiatives now are infinite.

So that is clearly the first change, and the thing is, there’s not one technology that is meeting all the needs, but each of them is a response to some topics: we can talk about virtual reality, Sirius Games, MOOCs, and 20 others, our clients now have a fantastic toolbox at their disposal to build better and more adapted, and sometimes more engaging learning programmes, and learning initiatives. That’s the first thing.

The second thing I would say is, and it’s not only because of technology, ten years ago we were not talking about learning programmes, we were talking about training. We were looking at the world from the trainers’ perspective, or from the L&D perspective. Now we know training is a word that nobody dares to use anymore, and I understand why because I think it’s more and more learner-centric, and that’s a big change.

Typically, there were many, many consequences. Typically I’d allege that most of the learning happens outside the classrooms in the daily job of the employees, that the most efficient learning programme really has to continue, you’re not starting on Monday and ending the following day. So, there are many consequences of this change of mindset, and I’m sure there are other things that I could say, but for me that’s the two main changes that I’ve seen in the past decade.

Yes, it’s really interesting, it’s almost like there’s such a plethora of technology being thrown at learning as an agenda; there are so many more decisions for people to make, both as a learner and as an L&D professional, and as a buyer at any of those things. How do you think that overwhelming level of options for people impacts on their ability to deliver something that delivers a sort of cogent and tangible return on investment?

There are many things to say. First of all, from an L&D perspective I’ve some clients that told me recently that for them, technology was overwhelming: it felt for them that everything they did had to change the method, and if they were not up-to-date they could be blamed for not being up-to-date and being old-fashioned. Actually, it’s becoming more stressful for L&D professionals, because of that and because of the technology. We could feel and hear and intermediate between the people who need to know, or to do a better job, and those who have this knowledge, have this skill. Technology is also a way to remove this need of an intermediator, to say it otherwise because of the change of culture, because of the new technologies, in some cases L&D might not be a necessary intermediator.

Yes, absolutely.

I think this is also adding even more pressure on their job. So, yes, the fact to prove their contribution, to prove the impact of what they do for the business, for the business KPIs has always been here, always. But it’s more critical today than it was in the past.

Yes, I guess it depends who’s asking nowadays doesn’t it? Because when you look at generation Y, generation Z, if you like expecting more and different things from their learning experience, more and different things from their employer, potentially there’s a greater demand for learning to be evermore exciting and evermore engaging; if what you want is adoption and takeup; and yet potentially the business is looking at it from a completely different perspective, it says, ‘I care less about whether its sexy or engaging, or cutting edge, it needs to work’. So, the L&D professional I guess has got to look at it from both of those perspectives, and address if you like a return on investment from the learner putting their time into the learning in the first place, and the business looking for some kind of tangible, measurable, operational return. So, there’s two different perspectives they’re trying to balance, I guess?

Yes, absolutely. Both are partly right in a way, clearly there is this generation issue, and we know that the younger generations expect much more than the others, to learn, to grow, to develop, and effective learning, useful learning, enriching learning is at the top of the agenda for these new generations. This is probably something that I think L&D professionals are more aware of than the executives of their companies.

Yes, that’s very interesting information.

Of course, because that’s their core activity, and that’s also something that will make them more essential tomorrow than today, but clearly, we are starting to talk about the learning culture, and it’s becoming, but I think it’s just beginning, but it starting to become an ambition in itself. Just by developing and enhancing a positive and rich learning culture, you know you’ll be able to attract talent, and to keep them, and to have them grow in your company. I think this is something that L&D and HR people are starting to recognise, but not yet executives and the operationals. So, that’s one way of responding to your point.

The other thing is; my clients have their own internal clients, it could be the Quality Director, it could be the Sales Director, it could sometimes be the CEO, they have a business need for today or tomorrow, and they’re looking for help, they’re coming for help, knocking on the door of the L&D Manager.

There are some traps in that relationship. Firstly, the magic wand; the internal client could see the L&D as a sort of magic wand, ‘My staff do not know that, my staff are not capable of selling this new product. Well I just need a learning programme and it will be like a magic wand.

Two days later, you will be here practicing, it will be operational, as an L&D professional we cannot accept the places this can attract, because we know that failure is likely to be high in such a relationship. So of course, our internal clients, they have business objectives, that’s how they see the world. And learning professionals, they’re experts of pedagogy, experts of learning, and I think there is a middle ground where you both can agree in a way some sort of contract is on behaviours. What are the concrete behaviours that your internal clients want to change, want to improve, or actually want to have disappear in the daily life of their teams? This, I think, is a way to basically find a common ground, a common agreement between L&D professionals, and operationals.

Yes, I think that’s absolutely right, we often see that people will jump straight to learning as being the cure-all of anything, no matter what the root cause of the mistake or the behaviour is, and we at Cognisco have done work with very large organisations, banks in some instances, where rather than uncovering what the root cause of a behaviour or an act is, they’ll simply put people through the same sheep-dip process of learning over and over again.

We’ve got one really interesting example where once they called us in, and we were able to do the root cause analysis, we found there was an error built into the learning itself; every time they retrained the call centre staff they were simply compounding it, and what was worse was they trained the managers, and got their managers to drive those behaviours that were erroneous, in the workforce too. Millions and millions of pounds later, really beautiful e-learning and knowledge management systems, they’ve now got an entire workforce that’s continuously doing the wrong thing.

So, yes, I see that, and it’s almost for me that there’s a different vernacular as well between the L&D professional that’s looking at ROI through one lens, and the business imperative, the business issue owner that’s looking for a different outcome. How do we create a consistent dialogue, a way that both parties can understand what return they can see from any investment in learning?

I love your example, thank you, I think it’s a great example. I will reuse it with my clients if you’ll allow me?

By all means.

Clearly, typically this idea of return on investment, I think this is an obsession of some L&D professionals, and it is not an obsession for their internal clients.

I agree. That’s interesting.

The internal clients have business outcomes, of course this is in the end what they expect; but the issue with the ROI is that its very defensive, and its only use is to defend your budget, to defend your job, and does not bring a lot of information about what happened well, what did not happen well, what could be improved. And by the way, it’s most of the time impossible or too complicated to calculate. So, we clearly don’t think this is the right way of engaging your internal clients, whether at the design phase of the project, or when its done.

Coming back to the business outcomes, expected to make them as concrete, and as precise as possible, and then deducing from that what are the behaviours – I really come back to that all the time with my clients: what are the behaviours expected? Being very concrete: you want to improve safety and to reduce the accident rate in your plant? Okay, so the objective is maybe to divide its rate by two in the next year, what are concretely the behaviours we need to change to achieve that? And the contract between the L&D and the business partner will be on this behaviour, and not on the business outcomes because there are so many factors beyond the learning itself that could affect one KPI up or down.

You know what happens when a KPI goes up? Everybody raises their head and says, ‘It’s because of me’. And when the KPI goes down, they turn their head and look at their neighbour. So, you don’t want to be trapped in this kind of relationship with your business partners, focusing on business outcomes. We’ve actually had situations with our clients where the return on investment was obviously very high, but still the behaviours that were expected after the programme were not achieved. So the project was a success, but it was not mostly because of the learning programme, because it didn’t actually contribute as much as it could have.

On the other hand, we had typically a very large programme in the farming industry, where the French Government wanted to develop biogas for the farmers; so there was nationwide training initiative for the farmers – but no biogas units were built at the end of the year. For the Government it was a total failure, but, when you study the behaviours, the learning programme in itself was actually a total success, because it presented farmers to launch into something that was far too complicated for them. So, the learning programme was actually a success; not exactly what the government intended though.

This is what we would describe as a chain of evidence, people learn, then they change their behaviours, and in the end,  there will be a positive business outcome of it. This is what the learning professionals should focus on with their business partners.

That’s really interesting, and that takes a kind of mature peer-to-peer level discussion about what the outcome, what good looks like, and not being constantly pushed down almost financial how many days operational time did it cost? Or, what was the training overhead? I think it’s really interesting, we’re seeing more and more discussion now around behaviours, and in our world,  we talk about judgement. Just like you we work with organisations that typically are working in quite complex environments, and we’re asking people not just to have the knowledge, but to apply that knowledge confidently, and make the right judgement in the scenario or the situation.

GDPR for us – I’m sorry everybody! – but GDPR for us creates the perfect example of that, in that it’s not that people know the rules, because a potential GDPR issue won’t arise in your organisation with a big red flag saying, ‘Before you respond to me, I may be a GDPR issue, please look at page five on the manual’. We need people who can make the right judgements, who will leverage the right behaviours, and I guess what we’re talking about at the moment is, working within a set of principles, how can we enable people to make decisions, work within parameters and principles – not to follow hard and fast rules, but to work like an intelligent person, an intelligent grown-up. How can we support decision-making and judgement in that way.

What’s been interesting for us in that, I know that some of the articles you’ve provided people to be able to access in the show notes at the end of the show, talk about soft skills, and the adoption of soft skills beyond technical skills: how people can take them into the business, how they can keep hold of them and how they can engage with them going forward. Like you say, the behaviour changes are one way of measuring it, and I think what we’re seeing is how are people applying these things. You talk about the fact that it needs to be consistent and ongoing, and again from our perspective where we’re looking at assessment of individuals, we often see that assessments are kind of annual, and this is most amusing in regulated environments where we ask people to take an assessment once a year, to remind themselves of what the rules and regulations are, and as long as they can remember 7 out of 10 of the facts then they’ll pass. So, fingers crossed for the other 364 days of the year!

Actually, what we want people to do is to take that knowledge, embed it, work with it, and use it on a day-to-day basis. That for us is about return on investment where we start to see there is a different culture, a different way of behaving, we’re looking for indicators of issues if you like, or lack of compliance reducing over time. It’s a much more sophisticated model than bums on seats and cost per training day for example. I guess you’re looking at those similar kind of complex models, and looking for an analytic or a return on investment in that, is that fair?

Yes absolutely. The first thing I would say is that this is the notion of continuous learning, for instance this is a similar thing as you said with the fact that measuring engagement, measuring performance only once a year and coming back to a regular business the rest of the year is not the way to engage people in their development, and to make development objectives relevant and central, they have to be here every day. We’ve proven that continuous learning programmes, programmes that are spread across weeks and months average a much higher impact than short one-shot programmes, because you do something and then you forget it, especially for soft skills. Getting new habits takes a lot of time. It’s not because you know the seven magical tricks of a good manager, or the seven ways of how to be a fantastic manager – you might know them by heart and it may not change anything.

On the other hand, you might forget them, and it could totally change you, because you create a new mindset, suddenly you see things differently, and you try – you fail – you try again, and progressively your habits change. The key challenge of soft skills is to change the way you behave, the way you interact, and you, your manager, and all the professionals around you have to accept that this is the process that takes time, iteration, and once again learning is not a magic wand, this will be something that will take time. So, the third version of continuous learning, I think is the right response for all these expectations, especially in terms of soft skills.

The other one I would say is around engagement, and that’s something that is becoming a key performance indicator for the HR population, and it’s coming now to learning. You want to have engaged learners, especially for soft skills, because they’re in a passive mode of just listening to somebody who by the way does not have the same authority; for highly technical topics of course you bring a top professor, a high PhD, or the most senior of your colleagues, the creativity will be high, so you’d be happy to hear and learn from this person. For soft skills, well there is not one single truth, so the trainer, if there is a trainer left, will not have the same credibility. To achieve high impact, the facilitators will have to bring high engagement if it’s a classroom, and the technology if there is one used will also have to first make sure that the learners, their managers, are engaged in this process, because it’s a long process, and without the active participation and their strong engagement nothing would be reached.

It’s interesting, I’ve been reading ‘The talent code’ by Daniel Coyle, have you come across that?

No.

Fascinating, he’s looking at the discovery of myelin, which is the insulator that the brain creates around neural connectors. As we learn, as we practice and self-correct, so learning by experience if you like, we build and solidify neural connectors that are insulated by myelin, and they can actually watch people learn by watching the growth of myelin. So, as you see sports professionals, musicians, those kinds of people who go into deep and purposeful practice continuously stretching themselves, but in a very considered and constructed way, then you can actually watch their progress. It’s a really fascinating study, it plays absolutely to what you’re saying, it’s not about being able to take that information in, per say, it’s about being able to apply it, to course-correct as you go through it, unless you use it you will lose it if you see what I mean.

I think there’s a real shift as we’re seeing in the learning world towards that idea that it’s the application of knowledge where you see people learn and grow, and as there’s more and more investment in leadership and management skills, its really interesting that we need to make people aware of exactly what you’re saying: you can’t send somebody on a two-day course and turn them into great leaders, and great managers. We need to be more sophisticated in that approach.

Absolutely, and this is why we see coaching developing so fast. It is a question of securing a high impact for soft skill programmes, once again, because we collect hundreds of thousands of impact analytics every year, we have the data that’s really proving that there is a magical recipe, it’s burdening, learning, and coaching. First you learn, then you have the chance of having a coach or a mentor who will help you and support you in this application; failing that it’s something that will last at least weeks or maybe months. This coach will help you to put into perspective, to place this new skill, this new practice, this new learning to the context of your own job. It’s like a digestive process, it takes time and effort, and coaches can be very, very helpful to achieve that. Of course, there is the question of resources, its expensive, this is why we see it being more developed today for executive development than for large scale programmes, but clearly burdening, learning, and coaching is a good option to achieve high impact in terms of change and new behaviours.

Yes, it’s about constantly course-correcting yourself, or having yourself corrected by having the mirror held up to you. There’s some great work by Anders Ericsson that looks at how people who’ve stopped doing that actually decrease in competence over time, so there’s a really interesting correlation between the amount of time you’ve been doing something for, and how confident you are in your own ability, and how your competence drops unless you keep practicing, and keep being purposely if you like practiced, and keep reflecting. There’s really an argument that says when you take your foot off the gas, when you stop stressing yourself, or stress-testing yourself, you stop developing yourself, you will become more confident in your ability because you become more senior, and have been doing it for along time, but you might not be quite as competent as you were.

Anders Ericsson’s work, he looks specifically at surgeons and uses the example of surgeons in the US, so as a surgeon you are constantly stress-tested as you go through the academic part of your career. Then there becomes a point where that stops, and you move into a phase of automaticity, you effectively go from being an eternal student into production line. But the contra to that of course is that the rest of the world sees you as a god and a genius because you’ve now been doing it for 30-years. So, he’s shown that people coming out of medical school are technically more competent than those who have been doing the job for a long time, simply because the people have been doing the job for a long time stop taking the mentoring, the coaching, the feedback, the self-development; they become almost complacent about their knowledge.

Those two things I think are really interesting, correlating the level of competence with a level of confidence, and then how do you remediate and mitigate for that?

Absolutely, I agree, this is really cool. I would say that for us, assessment can help. You mentioned feedback. Typically even from our senior people, and especially for the most senior people, the most experienced people, getting the feedback from their peers, from their boss, from their colleagues, from their teams is critical. There is perspective on what you do, what you achieve, what are your strengths and development areas, because we all have development areas no matter how great we are. So, there is a lot of value, and most of the 360o evaluation processes that we implement, or the skill assessments that are activated at the beginning of a learning initiative to help learners become aware of their needs, and to enable customisation of the learning programme that would be offered to them based on their actual needs. That’s the first thing.

The other thing is, if I come back on impact analytics which is one of our core activities, it’s also been proven that measuring the impact by typically asking the learners to define an action plan, absolute programme, and evaluate its achievements three or four months later, just by doing that you significantly improve the impact of the programme.

Yes, so it’s like a psychological contract.

Exactly, you don’t do it with anyone else who will have access to this. Just because the learner has committed to implementing some actions just after the programme, the single commitment plus the fact there will be an evaluation a few months later, it’s actually improved the programme. This is why based on that fact and that reality we are now extending our solutions to develop more thorough help, but with still the idea to be a smart mirror; I like your idea of a mirror, this is exactly what coaches are or should be. Of course, technology cannot replace what coaches do, and I’m very happy…

There’s still a job for us!

Yes, exactly! But there are many situations where coaching is not an option for economic reasons, so we are developing solutions to implement some coaching techniques in this idea of being a smart mirror, how to help the learners reflect, and how to help the learners to become their own coach for their own development. That’s one of our missions today.

I think it’s really interesting, definitely the direction of travel I’m seeing in younger people coming into the market who have access to so much fantastic resource in terms of these awesome podcasts that people like you and I put together, the books, the learning, Audible, those kinds of things. Also, in the working culture now, and employment culture, the gig economy if you like, I’m starting to see that people are investing in themselves, and seeing that as their priority, it’s something they bring to the employer ultimately. So, there’s this two sides to the market, there’s the employer that has to stay current and relevant in terms of the learning they’re offering their employees, and yet the employee is starting to become self-invested in their own development and they are coming ultimately with a portfolio of skills that they themselves are keeping up-to-date.

It’s really quite an interesting dynamic about where the competition is. Is it the employer trying to be the best possible place to land your best job, or is it the employee who’s trying to evidence that they’ve got the best skills and capability, and are the most self-invested in learning? It’s quite dynamic; I think probably 10 years ago it was more a case of you sat and waited for someone to train you on something. Nowadays with things like Udemy and LinkedIn Learning, and YouTube etc., people are out there doing it for themselves I think.

Absolutely, I fully agree with that vision, the notion of impact from the learner’s perspective has changed, now it’s clearly how this learning will affect my value in the job market, that’s how new generations see learning. Whether it’s formal or informal, this is a very different perspective, and it’s very disturbing for employers because they realise that what their employees expect is basically to maximise their value on the job market, so basically to make it easier for them to change jobs tomorrow if they’re not happy. But it’s a reality and this is the only way actually to keep and grow talents is to accept that game. Your own business objectives are mine, but this has to be win-win.

Yes, there has to be a way to meet in the middle. One of the things that I think is most fascinating about LinkedIn Learning is the gamification element, or the badging element if you like, so having taken a couple of micro-learning courses you get those badges effectively, attached to your LinkedIn profile, which most people probably won’t pay much attention to. But this is a database and that becomes a search parameter, so actually in this gig economy, if you’re trying to get the gig, if you’re trying to get to market, and you’ve got the most relevant badges and certifications, then you’re going to be more easily found. Maybe that’s a topic for discussion down the line, but I’m sure LinkedIn have been much smarter than people give them credit for in being a database, and then providing assets within that database to become highly searchable.

I think there is a lot of potential. I would say for me it is still more a potential – a dream – than a reality, even for LinkedIn. But clearly, they have a unique position with hundreds of millions of users that basically say much more to LinkedIn than to their own boss, or to their HR team. So clearly, the data is here, I feel there is a lot of work to make it a reality, but I see clearly that could be one of the potential futures of L&D in our talent department, clearly.

It’s interesting because that’s where people start, it isn’t necessarily where they end up but it’s the starting point part of engagement in their own learning. But to come back to your expertise – because I know you do many things – ROI is where we started. And we talk in L&D about the dominant measure being Kirkpatrick; it’s the one that everybody talks about; but which very few people, for me at least, ever seem to be able to quantify or ever really come to market with. Is it really still relevant do you think in the market today?

Yes, absolutely. One big issue with the Kirkpatrick scale is its age. It was invented in the fifties – last century – so for many people it cannot be relevant being so old.

I must be really old when you say, ‘last century, in the 1950’s’ that makes me feel really old!

So, do I! I’m actually a big defendant of the Kirkpatrick scale and the Kirkpatrick vision, and what’s beautiful with it is its simplicity. Many, many times I’ve been amazed because most learning professionals are aware of the scale, but we’re not talking about internal clients – they never know it. So, I always recommend to my clients, for their first discussion when they come with a need, and the learning programme is not even at the design phase, just take one minute to explain the scale. You engage people at Level one, ‘Reaction’. Then they will learn something – that’s level two. They will apply it, so it will affect their ‘Behaviour’, that’s level three. And finally, it will result in a positive business outcome for your internal client [level  four]. This is a very simple story to tell, and to explain.

I remember, I was with a client in a large bank working on trying to define what would be the appropriate analytics for a diversity programme: not easy! The internal client was the Head of HR; she didn’t know the Kirkpatrick scale; but I will never forget her eyes – I saw her understand immediately. It’s actually completely changed the way she saw a programme.

That’s great.

So clearly Kirkpatrick is good. Of course, if you come back to an internal client and brag about a very high level three result, this is not something that will make any sense. But to come back to this idea of chain of evidence, you learn, you apply, and there are business outcomes. Of course, it’s not in that simple chronology but having this in mind – these different layers of expectations and objectives – I think it’s very important for the L&G teams and for the business clients.

I think that’s really interesting. It seems to me that traditionally, and I know that you’re an ROI expert so I’m treading on dodgy ground here, but it seems to me that almost the purpose of an ROI model is to court a challenge. Every time you put forward a commercial ROI of any description it’s the Finance Director’s job to try and shoot it down – it’s almost like that’s its job. Whereas Kirkpatrick for me, as you say is so simple in that it is business focused, it is outcome focused, it’s not a challengeable commercial calculation: its objective. I think I’ve always liked it for that, I don’t think it’s been very well used by the L&D community if I may say. I’ve never seen it been convincingly argued. Actually, more importantly, convincingly adopted by the business. If the business community said, ‘We know we’re doing really well at our Kirkpatrick level 3 or 4, then they’d be using the vernacular of L&D, but that never seems to have happened.

And we should not aim for that because theat would be too much to ask. Learning > behaviour > business outcomes, that’s the one that we should work on. It’s not easy because, of course, the middle ground once again is the behaviours. I’m sure that many operationals are not very comfortable talking about behaviours, it’s in a way easier to talk about how KPIs can be attracted by ERP or whatever you use. Well, most of the time, especially for soft skills but not only, the key challenge is to affect behaviours. But that’s the beauty of the scale, and yes, I agree with you, it’s not easy to implement, not easy to use, but it’s simple to understand. So that’s at least something that is easy to achieve, and then its another story to put it in place, which is why experts like you and me are an accessory.

What can I say? Absolutely. Did we ever get to the answer of what is a common language, which is a common objective between the two? Is it, as you say, behaviours? Is that what your point was?

I would say, if I had only two words, they would be ‘behaviours’ and ‘engagement’.

I can definitely recognise that ultimately the business is driving for behaviour. I wonder if the business truly understands engagement until it becomes an impact. The lack of engagement is what they see, rather than engagement. Do people ever see engagement, and how does it manifest?

It depends on the company’s culture, I see now more and more clients where engagement is a core KPI that is tracked by the Head of HR and the CEO. Others are still in a more top-down culture where engagement is not as essential as doing your manager’s orders. But I think the second in the category of companies is becoming a minority, people understand. It goes far far beyond learning: if these people are not engaged their productivity, their commitment, their likelihood of staying next year will decrease. So, once again it doesn’t make operationals very comfortable because they don’t know exactly what it means, how to define it. But I think now most of them see how important it is.

Well it must manifest in something like attrition, or operational inefficiency, certainly in the healthcare world, in the NHS – we do a lot of work in the healthcare – maybe its about reporting culture, a willingness to report incidents, those kinds of things. So, it’s almost like they can measure the negatives, but the positives are not something they necessarily can measure quite so well.

Yes, absolutely, and the engagement surveys are also the right response to that, it’s a topic that is too complicated to just fit into one index.

You’re so right, and it’s one we should talk about another time, because I think its one that’s becoming more prevalent in our discussions day to day. We’ve got a couple of ideas around it so maybe you and I should schedule another call and we’ll swap ideas.

Yes, I would love to yes.

Brilliant. Well that’s been great, Laurent, I’m conscious that we’re getting close to the hour, and I don’t want to take more of your time than you are able to give us, or I don’t want to get too boring for our wonderful audience in terms of you and I just rambling on. So, I have this one question that I’m going to be asking everybody across the series, because I want to try and get multiple perspectives for potentially our more business executive audience, not necessarily at the deep experts in L&D but those people who buy it ultimately, and those people who rely on it. I wonder if you could give me your view on it. That question is: based on your experience and expertise, what one piece of advice or recommendation would you give an organisation about to embark on any kind of people change, or learning programme?

Well it’s clearly an essential question, I think this has been at the helm of our discussion today, so to complete what’s been said so far, I would say I’m ready to see learning as the seed, and that will grow into a plant with time, effort, rain, and nutrients to extend the metaphor, but it’s a long process that will require time and energy. I think it shows the importance of learning: without the seed there is no plant. I think it’s also a way to remain modest and reasonable in terms of what could be expected from a learning programme, and how to see the relationship between the learning, and the rest of the work, and the daily job of learners.

That’s a very elegant answer if I may say so, very poetic. I went onto some of your YouTube videos this morning in preparation for this, and you use that metaphor in some of your presentations, it’s really good, very understandable. Thank you very much.

You are very welcome, thank you for the conversation.

There are lots of areas I think we can probe into more deeply, so we’ll try to set another time if that works for you. And you’ve also sent me some links to some recent articles, talking about engagement.

You’ll be able to access the show notes from each podcast at www.cognisco.com/podcasts, where you’ll also find a schedule of the up-coming topics, guest appearances, and you’ll be able to get in touch with us too.

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