Let Design Thinking Drive Business Results

At every stage of the process, learning programs should be designed with the business result in mind.

Jack J. Phillips is chairman and Patti P. Phillips is president and CEO of the ROI Institute.

When it comes to delivering results from learning and talent development programs, the key focus is on the business value for these programs. Unfortunately, not many organizations measure at this level.

When measurements are taken, the evaluation team may face disappointing results. They discover that the process breaks down at various stages. In short, it wasn’t designed to drive business results. This is a persistent problem, but it can be corrected with design thinking.

Design thinking is a relatively new concept for innovation. It empowers a team to tackle and solve complex problems using a systematic process with cost containment as a focus. A design thinking approach represents a change in how learning leaders initiate, develop and implement talent development. It places the focus on value creation, instead of value capture, because the learning is built for business value.

The concept is very simple. At every stage in the process — as each stakeholder completes his or her part — a learning program is designed with the end in mind, and the end is business results. This transforms the classic learning and development cycle into a design thinking model for business results, with eight steps.

Start with why. Align programs with the business. The why becomes the business need, and the proposed program is aligned to a specific measure.

Make it feasible. Select the right learning solution. It will drive the business measure.

Expect success. Design for results. Learning success is now defined as, “Participants are using the learning, driving important business impact measures in their work units.” Objectives are set to push accountability to the business impact level. With reaction, learning, application and impact objectives, designers, developers, facilitators, participants and managers of participants know what they must do to deliver results.

Make it matter. Design for input, reaction and learning. This ensures the right people are involved at the right time, and that the content is important, meaningful and actionable.

Make it stick. Design for application and impact. This ensures a participant actually uses the learning and that it has an impact. Results are measured at both application and impact levels. Barriers must be removed or minimized, and enablers should be enhanced to drive results.

Make it credible. Measure results and calculate ROI. The first action is to isolate program effects in the impact data. If ROI is planned, the next action is to convert data to money. Then the monetary benefits are compared to program costs in an ROI calculation. This builds two sets of data that sponsors will appreciate: business impact connected directly to the program and the financial ROI, which is calculated the same way a CFO would calculate a capital investment.

Tell the story. Communicate results to key stakeholders — reaction, learning, application, impact and perhaps even ROI data form the basis for a powerful story. Storytelling is critical, and it’s a much better story when you have business impact.

Optimize results. Use black box thinking to increase funding. This involves improving the program so that the ROI increases in the future. Increased ROI makes a great case for more funds. When funders — executives — see the program has a positive return on investment, it will be repeated, retained and supported.

So, there you have it, a simple system to use design thinking to deliver results. It’s not a radical change, but it involves tweaking what we’ve been doing. It shifts the responsibility to drive business results to all stakeholders. It also redefines learning success. It’s not just absorbing skills and knowledge, or even using them in your work. Learning is now defined as driving impact in the organization.

Jack J. Phillips is the chairman, and Patti P. Phillips is president and CEO of the ROI Institute. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.


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