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Learning & Development Impact By Watering The Pear Trees

At Spotify we call our Learning & Development (L&D) team the GreenHouse. How we grow and learn as human beings can be compared with gardening within a greenhouse. Just like plants, we humans need a good foundation to grow in, a foundation of values and a culture that is psychologically safe, challenging enough and encouraging.

The GreenHouse team members see themselves  as gardeners, nurturing, fertilising, creating the right environment for growth – we enable and empower our band members to learn – always with a growth mindset. Learning and learning agility is what will keep us as individuals, and the business as a whole, adaptable and innovative over time.

Measuring Success

Among us HR, L&D professionals, or people-leaders in general, one of the most common questions that pops up is how we should measure success. How can we measure the outcomes of an organisation’s L&D efforts? Or in other words, how can we ensure the ROI (return on investment) from what we do, and ultimately how do we contribute to the performance of the company? It’s a very important question to ask as by measuring impact, we can choose the most relevant activities and strategies that will help the business forward.

First of all we have to ask ourselves what success looks like. Is success when we can prove that someone learned a skill, or has the ability to also use it – showing competence? Or is it when that competence is used to create impact for the business? We can probably agree on the latter, but sometimes we need to break it down into pieces, and start with showing that the competence was built. And when using the competence for measurement – it’s still hard to directly attribute productivity or success to a specific set of actions and behaviours.

So, the conundrum with measuring learning and its impact on the business, is its indirect nature. It’s complex to measure an individual’s growth, let alone an entire organisation’s. Growth does not happen instantly, and it’s not linear. Also just by learning something, it doesn’t mean that the person will know how to put the new knowledge to use, or that using the competence in a business setting is the specific reason for a particular business success.

Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted

There’s a need to be a bit inventive when measuring learning and impact, by using a combination of direct and indirect methods. To mention a few examples from Spotify, we use 360°assessments to measure leadership development. We measure change in behaviour over time, as that’s what we believe shows that our leaders are evolving and becoming the best leaders they can be. To measure team development, we use team maturity assessments to measure the development of teams over time, highlighting how they are becoming higher performing teams. And yes, we do the most simple and obvious as well like skills assessments, and we ask our attendees how useful a learning session was and how the learning is applied in their work.

We also work with our People Analytics team to see how we can draw correlations or see patterns that indicate growth and development looking at all the data we have access to – from engagement surveys, leadership/team/individual development activities, productivity measures and more. One clear example of this is that when looking closer at leadership development, we saw a clear correlation between band members having recurring 1:1’s with their managers, and their scores in almost all areas in our engagement survey (positive correlation). And this is an important tool for us. Even if it’s not showing causality, we get strong indicators of what is affecting our business success.

Einstein allegedly said (or perhaps it was the sociologist William Bruce Cameron), “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  

Human beings and their actions are complex. As L&D professionals, we know the research and theory around motivation, engagement and productivity. There have been numerous studies that show that businesses that score really high on employee engagement outpace their competitors. And we do know that engaged employees are more productive, and that learning and growing is a big part of what motivates people. 

So, don’t be afraid to use this expertise when calculating the ROI or discussing L&D impact with the executive lead team.

Watering The Pear Trees

The gardening analogy also works well when we think about measuring the output and impact of our L&D efforts. Learning, development and growth is like planning for a garden of, let’s say, pear trees. You plant a number of trees and let them grow. You can’t predict the exact amount of pears you will get from watering and fertilising the trees, but you know that you are increasing the likelihood of getting more pears if you do this. Then there are other aspects you can’t control, like bugs, air pollution, the number of bees around, weather conditions and climate change. You know that all of these factors play a part in how many pears you’ll be able to harvest. 

It’s the same thing when planning for and executing on the right development efforts to make a business impact, there will be other factors affecting the end result – changes on the market, new colleagues coming in, organisational changes, individuals well being etc.

At Spotify, when it comes to L&D measurement, we measure impact in many ways with a combination of tools, but the most important thing is that we focus on watering the pear trees. We create the right conditions to increase the likelihood for more learning, engagement and productivity to happen – as we know with the right conditions we will bear more fruit.

When you as HR and L&D professionals are asked to state the ROI or business impact from the development activities, don’t get stuck in only direct measurements, or think that everything needs to be counted. Look at the bigger picture. And remember that learning employees are curious employees. Curiosity comes with engagement, and engaged employees will be more easily retained, and will affect productivity.

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