An interview with Klaas Toes, educational economist, Council Director of Human Capital Analytics for The Conference Board EMEA, and CEO of the ROI Institute Europe.
 
Workplace learning has become an increasingly fascinating topic for organisational leaders, Human Resource (HR) professionals, and company stakeholders. This is because organisations have much to benefit from when effective learning occurs in the workplace. Most of the learning that takes place however, occurs in an informal manner, with tacit knowledge being one of the most valuable learning assets for any company. And although knowledge can be in abundance, and it is possible to inundate your employees with a whole slew of information, it is more cost effective to be able to address the real learning needs of the organisation. 
 
Every company has one real concern, and that is the bottom-line. If the desired numbers are not successfully achieved, the shelf life of a company is likely to be dramatically reduced. No matter how innovative the product or offering of a company, it will cease to exist if the necessary numbers are not achieved. And of course, at the heart of any company are its employees, and those who are sufficiently equipped with the necessary competencies are more likely to contribute to the company’s bottom-line. In the context of quality learning, the efficacy of learning is one of the determining factors of the standard of quality of a learning programme. 
 
How then, can companies determine if quality learning has truly taken place, and that the millions invested in corporate training have yielded the intended results? The field of measuring, evaluating and analysing the data gathered from interviews and surveys with employees is highly specialised, and requires much attention to detail. In this interview with the FAA, Klaas Toes shares his insight into the world of navigating ROI in learning, and how companies can make the most of their learning programmes. 
 
FAA: Do you have any advice on how organisations can structure the most effective learning programmes for their needs?
 
I think it’s always necessary to start with the real business question, so it also has to be something which is valuable for the company in terms of time, quality, quantity or cost. Learning has to be connected to something which is related to the business impact. That is why we have to carefully think about the behaviour that people are expected to show within that company to really be able to reach the performance indicators. 
 
So always start with the business needs, and then consider the actions and behaviours, as well as the performance levels which is required by your people in their daily routine and the everyday work scenario. Also, we need to observe what kind of knowledge and skills are required to enable them to do their job effectively. Organisations tend to base learning transfer on reaction levels, instead of having business measurements and needs. Therefore, you have to really focus on how useful it is for you, rather than pass judgment on the people who are training them. Are you going to apply the learning? How can you use what you have learned? 
 
FAA: We hear that a lot. People always emphasise the need to connect the learning objectives to the business requirements, but why do you think HR hasn’t caught on to that yet? 
 
I am the Council Director for Human Capital Analytics for The Conference Board of EMEA. It is an organisation that has done a wide scope of research including poverty, female leadership, diversity and inclusion. Many large companies are members of the Council, and when I asked the members a similar question, the one standout reason they cited was that people in HR still don’t like numbers. They speak HR language but many of them don’t speak business language. 
 
Peter Cheese from the CIPD said the same thing – you need to have more analytical skills because then you can help them to prevent problems which can be solved by training. 
For example if we score competencies, it’s always between 6 to 8. Does that mean that 7 is the average? In the eyes of the business, a 7.2 and 6.7 is not a huge gap. In reality a difference of 0.5% in competencies is an incredible difference in performance. So HR has to be able to explain! 
 
FAA: How do you measure informal learning in the workplace? 
 
For example, if I were to do a 70-20-10 programme, that means I do most of my learning in the workplace. I can still measure the behaviour that employees show before and after learning, through a 360 assessment, and I can still measure business needs before and after. Before the learning takes place, there are three important things to keep in mind: 
 
  1. The measure – you can always ask, “Did management stimulate you to show new behaviour?”
  2. Motivation – “Are you motivated to show it?”
  3. Can they apply what they have learned? 
 
Other questions to ask can be:
 
  1. What did you learn? 
  2. Who helped you to learn? 
  3. Did you like the way you have been learning? Or would you prefer to be in class? 
 
However, what might be a problem to some, is that it’s more difficult to get the essentials out of your learning. Because if you’re in a classroom, you can more easily measure the materials, facilitator, etc. and gather information from there thaen from a performance report. Therefore it’s largely dependent on the kind of means that are offered to facilitate learning. We have to look at behaviours, knowledge and skills. We have to take a retrospective view at how you learned, how you were being taught, what kind of activities they did to help you learn, etc. Always starts with what they show in their daily routine and observe the chain of impact. 
 
 
“From time to time, learning needs to be changed according to the situation or industry.” 
 
 
FAA: Learning needs and techniques – how do they differ for Financial Institutions (FIs) compared to other corporates? And do you have a specific method for measuring learning for FIs? 
 
Learning is universal and it is generally the same for financial institutions and non-financial institutions, and it’s always about knowledge, skills and attitude. Ethics may have become increasingly important in light of the financial crisis, but the same can be said for the pharmaceutical industry as well. This just shows that from time to time, learning needs to be changed according to the situation or industry. Learning is the same everywhere, because it’s about a business problem that needs to be solved, such as market share, nNet promoteor sScore, quality, etc. 
 
People are also taught to ask more questions and to look at the bigger picture now; in finance, for example. In Europe for instance, there is much interest in measuring the performance of regulators, and there is this push to let people think differently about finance and the banking industry due to the trust that was eroded following the financial crisis. 
 
 
“Technology has enabled adaptive learning systems.”
 
 
FAA: How has technology helped learning and learning analytics? 
 
In what I do, which is measuring, evaluating and analytics, technology enables me to get data from many people in a very short time. There are different ways to teach people things, and technology has enabled adaptive learning systems which allows me to learn the things I need to learn. What I have found in measuring learning is that a good e-learning system is effective, but we also have to measure how satisfied you are with the programme offered. For example, in Europe and America, if a trainer or a training programme is scored below 7 or 7.5, then we can assume that people haven’t learned enough. So there is a definite connection between satisfaction of the learner and the learning objective. 
 
 
“If you do not have continuous learning in your business, you will be out of business.”
 
 
FAA: Do companies emphasise enough on inculcating a continuous learning culture? 
 
It’s simple - if you do not have continuous learning in your business, you will be out of business. One of the main problems – which is changing now, is that companies need to go to the stock market every three months to file their earnings. And what that has created is a culture of short-term thinking. Big companies in the Netherlands are changing now, and are only looking to file once every 6 months to a year. This will help them think long-term and create an environment that is that is sustainable for the future. 
 
 
FAA: What are the future trends for the ROI industry? 
 
The ROI methodology is a logical way of collecting data. First and foremost, the quality of data has to be good. As soon as data quality is in place, you will be able to produce better reporting, because you are sure that the data you are using is reliable. From that you can derive the metrics. 
 
Then comes the analytics, and analytics is what drives change and ultimately allows you to help people change their mindsets and help organisations make better decisions. For example, if we can show that diverse teams are more productive than non-diverse teams, we create an incredible change in the way we think. 
 
What we are constantly doing in the ROI industry is to collect data to ensure better quality and provide better reporting to connect HR to the business. This will be huge moving forward, as organisations look to solve problems and challenges in different ways and we are able to build analytics to change mindsets and help people to think in different ways. 
 

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