Metrics Related to Training & Development

Metrics Related to Training & Development

The Training and Development industry is built around getting the best performance from employees across many organizations. One of the individuals leading the charge with applying metrics to how people advance in their roles is Sayeed “Sy” Islam, Senior Partner (Principal Consultant, Client Relations and Program Evaluation) at Talent Metrics. Celeritas Solutions recently spoke to Sy, who co-founded his company in order to use his expertise to develop trainings for various companies.

1. How did you start your career in Training and Development?

I worked for a company called Kaplan and ended up eventually becoming a trainer and a manager. That was where my formal career in Training and Development began and where I got a lot of my presentation skills, and initial thoughts about training. In college, I was a peer counselor and I did some training for them as well, so it’s always been something I’ve been interested in and I like being able to share my expertise with others and I like the process of watching people grow over time.

2. What challenge did you see in the industry that led you to co-found your company, Talent Metrics?

One of the challenges I noticed in the industry, when I started as a trainer, and took MBA courses and eventually a Master’s in Industrial Organizational Psychology, (was) the disconnect between those two, an MBA and a degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology. There was a big emphasis in business school on financial metrics (some emphasis on Human Resources metrics but very straightforward and basic). But in Industrial Organizational Psychology, they’re asking deeper questions, thinking about more than just number of applicants, number of employees hired. The workforce-planning piece was a little bit more interesting, and the approach was more rooted in data. When I would conduct a training program, the thing managers cared about were ‘do employees like the training? That’s valuable, but the thing that I was concerned about is it actually affecting business outcome. I’ve had trainers in the past who’ve been very popular, but then the employees that went through that training, aren’t changing. They had a lot of fun in their training program, but behavior is staying the same. If you look at the sexual harassment allegations are happening now, this is exactly the failure of a lack of policy, a lack of training that’s effective. Sexual harassment training people go through a lot of time is click-through e-learning. So now, if Training and Development is held accountable for the results of sexual harassment training, they’re gonna be in a lot of trouble if they didn’t really implement policy and refresher trainings, and if they didn’t look at behavior.

3. What are some of the interesting trends you’ve seen in your 10+ years of helping organizations solve their talent development issues by using technology to measure results?

E-learning programs were literally slides you would click through and now, there’s so much more that you can do with e-learning. You could develop it to the level of a video game. If you really wanted to, you can talk about the amount of time they spend on different topics, how much time are they spending, how many times are they going through it. So if you give them the option of taking multiple quizzes,
multiple times, can you actually watch and measure change. You can even give them smaller snippets of the training, and send it to them as a reminder. So e-learning has really developed into something where you can capture an enormous amount of data and the question now becomes what data is meaningful, what data is valuable, why is it valuable. There’s also an element now of social learning, where you develop an in-house system where employees could communicate with each other. Both the HRIS system (Human Resource Information System) and the internal employee social network can be used to measure how employees are communicating with each other. That’s a really powerful tool.

4. When you first began helping companies in their Training and Development initiatives, did you find there was a reluctance to adapt to new technologies and learning tools?

There are two responses that I saw early on. One was companies heard about a new tool, and they wanted to use the tool even if it wasn’t appropriate for the learning objective. The other response I used to get was reluctance, ‘we don’t want to spend the money, or we don’t have the infrastructure now to do that.’ I think that’s less of a concern because smaller companies are taking advantage of the fact that
their employees have a smart phone and they can say ‘download the app, and you can take your training on the app, in addition to on the computer or elsewhere.’ I think that has kind of leveled them up a little bit and gives them that capability that they originally didn’t have.

5. When you conduct People Analytics trainings (like the one you did at Baruch recently) what do you feel the participants resonate with the most?

When we talk about People Analytics, we tend to focus on the wealth of opportunity there is to measure things within your organization, and the importance of that measurement. We’re not just talking about capturing data from different sources and then trying to turn it into something. We tend to look at it as more proactive. The other thing that we tend to do is we want people to think about it like exploring. There’s a lot of data out there that they are capturing, either in their HRIS system, or other systems in the company. A lot of trainers already use data in their conversation with their stakeholders. So that really forces training and development people to think about their instructional objectives and the behavior the employees a little bit differently. And then it makes them think about the information systems that they have differently.

6. Since your company helps clients measure and manage the talent within their organizations, is there an ideal size client for you (i.e, a minimum amount of employees within those organizations) to conduct trainings?

Usually we end up working with either very large clients, like Fortune-level clients, that have data and haven’t really taken advantage of it. But for us, ideally, mid-size companies, any company over one hundred employees, usually have some data questions and run enough trainings where we can help them evaluate the training programs. That’s the kind of our ideal spot.

7. What are some of the projects you are most proud of and why?

We’re developing and delivering equity training, usually referred to as diversity and inclusion training. We did some survey work for a municipality and I’m really proud that we were able to identify some real issues and problems with regards to diversity and inclusion. I’m proud that we did a leadership development program because we were able to make real changes within the organization. This was a very large company and we did the evaluation of the program, and took what they had in the program (and) made some big changes. One of the biggest is actually informing them about how to develop instructional objectives that really reflected what their leaders are going to be doing, and then looking at internal social media data to figure out if leaders were following the guidelines that they were being given about rewarding employees through this internal social network.

8. How has your work as Assistant Professor of Industrial Organizational Psychology at Farmingdale State College and Adjunct Professor at various other colleges helped to shape how you see the evolution of your students’ needs evolve in the workforce?

If you’re trainer, a big part of why you ended up becoming a trainer (is) because you like teaching. My experiences in the classroom help me, when I teach undergraduates or graduate students: I find it very helpful in learning how to communicate with clients. Students are approaching me with either training and development questions, or analytics questions, from the same perspective that many clients come from. I’m training and teaching future professionals. I’m gonna see them again at ATD meetings (Association for Talent Development), or in other settings and that gives me an extra motivation to get them to be at the best level that they could possibly be. I always try to connect what I talk about in the class, whether it’s academic research, or talk about e-learning design or something along those lines, I try to connect that to their future. Later on, I’ll hear from students and they’ll tell me when they’ve used the stuff they’ve learned in one of my classes. Part of the reason I like maintaining my professional relationships is I like hearing those stories later on from students that come back to me and say, ‘ hey I used this stuff that you taught me years ago and I’m still using it, it’s still helpful.’ And that makes me feel really good about the things that we’ve been doing, and the things that I’ve been able to teach.

9. What are your thoughts on corporations using E-Learning methods for their employees in addition to (or in lieu of) actual live training

Live training gets a bad rap. It’s often seen as boring and not a great way to train. But every technique is useful for different learning objectives. I think the new generation that’s coming into the workplace is very comfortable dealing with a device, or dealing with a learning process that is primarily electronically based. The biggest advantage isn’t about the learning process at all. A lot of the research seems to indicate that it’s about speed. I think e-learning is useful for both initial learning, and then also it’s great for short refresher courses. E-learning is really useful because it gives you a lot of flexibility, it could be used in addition to classroom training. So if you wanted to do customer service role-play in the classroom, and then you wanted to follow that up with video-based e-learning with a short quiz, that would be a continuous learning model. As long as you’ve maintained a connection to business strategy for each of your training programs, that would be a very powerful tool to maintain employee competence.

10. How much does data analysis play a role in the perspective that you bring to each new client or project?

One of the things we really focus on at Talent Metrics is conducting at least some sort of initial needs assessment that provides us with some data to develop a change that will be very effective for the organization. When we talk about data, we’re trying to make decisions based around as objective data as we possibly can find. Whether that’s customer feedback, employee feedback, actually going into the organization and observing what’s happening, those are all data points we tend to use. Usually, if we’re working with a client, the client already has a problem that they’ve identified. So we try to use data at every point in making decisions of what intervention to use, in making decisions about what topics to cover in a training program, or what topic would be most important for the employees. One of the big misconceptions about what a company like ours tends to do is that many times, when we talk to L & D professionals, sometimes they think that using data means we’re gonna tell you if your training program is good or not and that’s not really what we’re about. The purpose of evaluation (is) using data to identify what could be improved. So if you can think about it more in you’re helping the organization get better, then the ideas and the attitude around that process will be much more beneficial.

11. What do you think the Human Resources industry has done successfully through your guidance and what can they still use to adapt to an everchanging and more diverse workforce?

I think we provided a lot of organizations with an approach and information to show incremental improvement over time. We’ve helped organizations identify what they need to change, and what they’ve done correctly, and how they’ve improved. I think that’s maybe the most important thing that the Human Resources industry needs. Because since my time in graduate school, since my time working in the HR area, one of the big challenges has been getting a seat at the table. A lot of times people tend to think of Human Resources being kind of like some person that comes in and gives you rules that are not meaningful. Having data, having evidence for decision-making, I think changes that, and brings Human Resources to the same place as Finance, or Operations. Without that data, the CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer), or the CLO (Chief Learning Officer), are not speaking the same language as the other C-level employees. And now we’re starting to see organizations really take that more seriously because we have access to so many different types of data.

12. What have you learned the most about your approach though your analysis of various companies and their organizational structures?

Over the years, a lot of the companies that we’re working with, we’re noticing big emphasis on remote work and on project teams. A lot of their employees are working in different departments, and then they’re brought together on project teams to accomplish particular goals. In some cases, those employees are working remotely, sometimes they’re cubicle workers, sometimes they’re short-term workers, they’re on one-year, two-years contracts, they need to be trained for some aspect of a project. We’ve done some work in the healthcare field, so in that setting it’s much more traditional shift work, but the majority of our clients are matrixed out, and that’s the kind of thing that we’re seeing.

13. Are there areas in the industry that you are excited about to see changes happening?

Yeah! I’m always really excited about the different types of human resources technology that are out there. I’m also super excited about education field, there’s a lot of cool innovation happening in those spaces right now especially on the technology side. We find that training is gonna be augmented by some type of e-learning. A lot of companies are talking about, virtual and augmented reality. I don’t know if we’re there just yet, but in the next five years I really feel that we’re gonna be able to ramp that up and more companies are gonna find ways of doing training, building it into equipment, into objects, and then using augmented reality technology to deliver training. I think that’ll be a big game changer for people analytics and learning analytics.

14. Do you see any new developments in Diversity and Inclusion that have used your expertise to help your clients succeed in their organizations?

The problem I’ve had with diversity training is I think the same type of problem with sexual harassment training. You can give all of these rules about what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, but what matters is connecting that to the company’s mission. A lot of times, with diversity training, with sexual harassment training, it’s not related to what the organization’s about. And then there’s no process from the HR side or from the organizational side. If you don’t have that policy in place, then it’s not gonna be effective, and as training and development professionals, we want to be able to offer that as a solution. That you have the training, which is the stuff you’re supposed to learn, connecting it to the company mission, and then there has to be some sort of consequence, either reward or punishment, based around not following those things. So I really think that’s where we’re hopefully heading, especially in the sexual harassment space over the next few years.

15. Is Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence shaping how you approach organizations to adapt their talent development structure to include more interactive trainings?

A lot of our clients don’t have, or are not willing to invest in, the type of technology that you might need for virtual reality. Artificial intelligence can augment some of the training that you do. But that is also gonna take an enormous amount of investment on the part of organization, or on the part of the training vendor, to invest in that sort of artificial intelligence to help the employee develop over time. We’re talking about AI today, I think in maybe three years, we’ll have really big breakthroughs that will help training and development and it’ll probably help in a variety of ways because we’re still working out all of these kinks with regards to automation in a variety of industries.

16. What are you most looking forward to as you continue to provide Talent Development leadership to your clients?

I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about what’s gonna come up in new kind of techniques that are gonna develop and what are the new ways in which we’re going to think about training in development. Right now, you can even see this in ATD and its rebranding efforts over the last couple of years. There’s been a connection between training of your current job performance, and then overall your career performance. I think that’ll be very exciting, that employees and managers, together, will find ways to get employees more engaged about learning new things, and developing their own skills. One of the reasons that I like training and development so much is I like watching the development process. It’s great to see employees, change and develop over time, to find themselves, and find what they’re really good at, and as things change, find out what else they’re good at. I think that process of discovery for companies, or organizations, will be really interesting to see over the next few years.