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How do you measure the (business) success of continuing professional development?
Executive Education / 12 May 2020
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Project Management Product Manager
Barbara Rave (M.A.) is a product manager in Frankfurt School’s Professional & Executive Education department. She designs continuing education programmes covering Strategy & Change Management and Technology & Operations.

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Not so long ago, companies tended to treat continuing professional development (CPD, also referred to as continuing education) primarily as an incentive for “rewarding” employees, or else as an onerous obligation required for compliance with, for example, specific regulatory requirements. But over the last 10-20 years, professional development has become more important to companies. First, the ongoing shortage of skilled personnel is “forcing” companies to invest in training their existing workforce. And second, the inexorable march of digitisation is driving a growing need for systematic staff development as the half-life of knowledge continues to fall, product lifecycles continue to decline, forecasts become less and less dependable – in parallel with the accelerating pace of technological and social change. This also means that the range of skills employees are expected to have is steadily growing in response to these changes. At the same time, the widespread use of digital learning media, coupled with the growing popularity of online learning management systems (LMS) and social intranets within companies, means that creating scalable training courses is easier and more efficient than ever before. Along with the growing importance of continuing education, however, comes a growing raft of reporting requirements.

Reporting

There are various ways of measuring the benefits of e-learning courses and CPD in general. Today, it is possible to track and measure employees’ educational achievements quickly and automatically – as well as their motivation to learn. Any properly designed LMS should be capable of providing key figures on the following variables with relative ease:

  • Number of users
  • Increase in knowledge (verified by tests)
  • Time spent on e-learning courses
  • Number of courses completed (how many courses have been successfully completed by how many members of the workforce)
  • Number of times the same training course is used

Another approach, which is usually more informative even though it is also more time-consuming, is to obtain individual feedback on e-learning courses from the employees themselves. This approach makes it much easier to identify specific training needs, while also encouraging employees to make suggestions for improvement. In turn, this boosts employees’ acceptance of the training programme.

Highlighting the benefits of CPD

It is not easy to quantify the success of CPD in commercial terms. If sales go up after the sales team finishes a training course, this suggests that there may be a correlation. The same applies if the time required to complete certain routine tasks decreases following a process or software training course. Conversely, it is not as easy to measure an increase in skills as it is to measure an increase in specialist knowledge. This is why it is best to take a multidimensional approach to assessing the educational outcomes of CPD activities.

The following six-part model may help:

  1. Reaction: Obtain feedback immediately after the training course to gain an “initial unadulterated impression”
  2. Knowledge/skills appraisal: Test knowledge and skills before and after the training course
  3. Behaviour modification: Has the increase in theoretical knowledge also made the employee more willing to modify or abandon existing processes and mindsets? Corporate culture and the employee’s level of empowerment both play an important role here
  4. Output: This is where the practical results of the training course are quantified. To make this possible, however, it is important to define specific learning objectives by reference to business goals (e.g. to grow the U25 customer segment by x percent) before developing the training course
  5. Return on investment: To show the tangible net savings to the company, it is absolutely vital to systematically assess the before and after situation within the company. For example:
    Members of a particular department are using a specific software program, but their familiarity with the application is variable; “weaker” colleagues often ask their “stronger” colleagues for help in getting things done.

Gross cost of one employee = €500
Cost of application training course = €2,000
Number of participants = 10
Cost per participant = €500 + €2.000 / 10 = €750
Time (cost) saved per day = 5 min/(8 h x 60 min) x 500 € = €5.20
Annual saving = €5.20 x 200 (working days)= €1,042

  1. Value of investment: This measures the extent to which a training course benefits business development. For example, by measuring the impact of improved specialist skills on customer or employee satisfaction (using qualitative surveys)

Employee satisfaction is a factor that exerts significant influence on a company’s success. More successful companies deliberately and systematically foster a high-quality workplace and – measured in training days per employee – invest more in CPD. (Source)

The significant impact of (continuing) education on employee satisfaction is clearly illustrated by this figure: 94% of employees would stay longer with a company if it invested in their professional development. (Source: Workplace Learning Report 2019)

Bottom line: satisfied employees perform better and are keen to help their company develop. In short – it pays to invest in continuing professional development!

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