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The Business of LearningWhere Does Reporting Fall on the Learning and Development Maturity Spectrum?

If a CLO is trying to decide between investing in predictive analytics and disciplined department management using good reporting, get disciplined management in place first.

Maturity models show a journey from beginning to collect data all the way through the use of advanced and sophisticated practices and processes. The models can be very useful in conveying the journey from immature to mature, and in helping organizations assess where they are today and where they may wish to go in the future.

Unfortunately, since most practitioners don’t really understand what is required to run learning like a business, most of these models show reporting as the second or third step on what is often a five- or six-rung maturity ladder. Properly understood, reporting should be the next to highest rung. Why?

First, we need to define terms, which is where the problem begins. For most, reporting represents creating monthly dashboards or scorecards that only show actual results. Typically the measures are low-level efficiency and effectiveness measures like number of courses, hours and participants, and level 1. You have all seen these.

They may show monthly or quarterly data and may contain bar charts or line graphs. Dashboards may show a speedometer. If this is how we define reporting, then I agree it belongs on the second rung, since it is merely capturing the most elementary data from the first rung and using it only to discern how the measure is trending.

Authors of these maturity models often go to great lengths to contrast this low-level reporting with higher level predictive analytics, which are almost the highest rung. So, the model encourages you to move beyond elementary reporting — which is good — to higher level measures like levels 3-5 – which is also very good — to big data and predictive analytics — which may or may not be so good — all the while never mentioning reports use for program and department management.

If we instead define reporting in line with Talent Development Reporting principles (TDRp), the whole model changes. In TDRp, executive reports are never simply a compilation of actual results or history. A report must include the plan, a target or goal for that measure, year-to-date results, a comparison of YTD results to plan, and ideally a forecast of how the year is likely to end if no special, unplanned action is taken.

The sole purpose of the report is to answer the two basic questions every manager should ask for every important measure: (1) Are we on plan year to date? And (2) are we going to end the year on plan? Trends for the year and comparison to previous years are interesting but largely irrelevant after the plan has been set for the year. Trend and history would have been used to set an achievable, reasonable plan, but after the plan is set, all that matters is whether you can achieve it. So, these reports are absolutely indispensable to manage key programs and the department as a whole. A good manager simply cannot do without them.

In this light, good reporting should be near the top of the maturity model because it supports the active, disciplined management of the function which, in my opinion, is the top rung. I believe this active management supported by good reporting will deliver far greater results and impact than big data and predictive analytics. In fact, it is not even close.

Predictive analytics is typically used to discover relationships among measures, which is great but usually impacts a small number of measures or projects. In contrast, active management of all key programs, by definition, will affect everything important you do for the year.

In other words, if a CLO is trying to decide between investing in predictive analytics and disciplined department management using good reporting, my strong advice is to get your disciplined management in place first. This will provide far more bang for the buck and has the potential to advance your career in management — versus in analytics.

Please take a second look the next time you see a maturity model to understand how the authors have defined the components. I bet they will have a dumbed down definition for reporting and consequently have allocated it to a low rung. If you are constructing your own maturity model or journey chart, I challenge you to aspire to great management for the entire department as your highest rung.

David Vance is the executive director for the Center for Talent Reporting, founding and former president of Caterpillar University and author of “The Business of Learning.” To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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