What Happens When You Add Big Data to L&D?

Discovering how performance metrics, analytics, and learning can elevate business results.

Traditional learning and development often relies upon transfer of learning measures, and leaders in L&D constantly are extrapolating all available metrics to determine levels of business impact or ROI.

Life is changing as we learn to apply analytics and “big data” to the world of learning and development. Enter statistics and drawing upon large data sets that can be analyzed to make better business decisions and help prevent major problems.

Imagine being able to correlate business performance results with Human Resource information system (HRIS) data and productivity measures, along with your education and learning interventions. What could be learned beyond new knowledge and skills? Can learning and training really have an impact on metrics such as sales and employee engagement?

Those familiar with my expertise and writings know I am in the field of employee recognition. More specifically, I help leaders and their organizations get recognition right.

There are, of course, programmatically delivered recognition, rewards, and incentives for performance outcomes, sales programs, loyalty, etc. And there are also recognition practices individually given to people as mostly intangible or non-monetary expressions of appreciation and acknowledgment, independent of any informal and formal recognition programs.

From an L&D perspective, I was curious whether we could affect recognition program usage, as well as move the dial on business outcomes, by optimizing recognition practices through education and coaching of managers on effective recognition giving.

That is what we set out to investigate. One of our clients allowed us to implement an experimental study in a retail banking operation where one group of managers received education and coaching and another group acted as our control group and received no education.

Would the learning and feedback make a difference? Under traditional instructor-led training, we would have some goal-focused behavior assignments following the course instruction. This would be followed up on after so many weeks post-training for feedback. Subjective reports and perceived levels of success could be obtained by e-mail surveys.

In our experimental project, we provided a variety of instructional content using various media, including video instruction, written text-based guides, and one-on-one coaching phone calls—all focused on targeted behaviors viewed as essential for authentic recognition giving. Delivery of the learning content occurred once weekly over a three-month period to 25 managers.

In the meantime, another 25 managers in the control grouping were monitored for their performance measures without receiving any learning instruction.

In order for the experiment to prove its worth, we collected productivity and sales performance metrics prior to the intervention phase to act as a clear baseline. These same metrics were obtained and analyzed at three months and six months after the learning intervention was completed. 

These combined time periods revealed directional causality, enabling us to show that recognition program usage leads to improved performance versus thinking recognition solely happens as a result of increased performance results.

At a qualitative level, 45 percent of the coached managers receiving instructional content self-reported improved recognition-giving skills. This ranged from just 15 percent up to 90 percent, with personal comments acknowledging some were already great at giving recognition, while other managers lacked people skills.

From the recognition program data, we analyzed the impact of the coaching on the manager’s usage of these programs and on various productivity metrics provided to us. We now were able to learn the kind of impact behavioral-specific learning content had on performance results.

For example, 10 months after coaching and education ended, employees in the retail branches where managers received intervention received 12 more instances of non-monetary social recognition (à la Facebook-like social media programs) than those in control locations.

Similarly, for performance-based recognition programs where managers nominate employees to receive points for eventual redemption for gift items for achieving performance targets, there was an increase after the coaching and education. While a much smaller margin of increase, we determined that after seven months, there was a lift of 1.29 more performance-based awards per employee (average monetary value of $35) on average and it remained at a lift of .75 awards on average 10 months after interventions began.

Significant for us was pulling multiple data sets across the intervention and control groups of retail branches. We discovered the real impact learning and development was having on productivity and sales measures, an important gauge in the financial services industry.

Employees in branches where managers were coached on improved recognition-giving skills had an increase per employee, on average, of more than 150 productivity activities. These are typical metrics tellers and customer service reps are measured against on a daily basis. In addition, four months after intervention, employees from coached managers reached 14 more sales on average per employee than their control group colleagues. Ten months post-intervention, the results dipped but still elevated to nine sales over control group numbers.

Not every organization is willing to invest in harvesting its performance data and aligning it with learning and development measures to see if what we do really makes a difference. But in this case, we were permitted the opportunity to explore and dig deeper than we had ever done before. It was exciting for us to find out recognition skills could be optimized and further enhance performance.

“Big data” will take a while to be fully integrated into our HR information systems and HR practices in general. We can only hope that many in L&D will get on the bandwagon and see how data and learning could become the gateway to proving the real benefits of learning and training.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.Rideau.com.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: http://AuthenticRecognition.com. For more information, e-mail him at: RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit: www.Rideau.com