Human Resources

How to set learning and development goals

October 16, 2023
3 minutes

Setting goals for a learning and development program involves defining what you want to achieve and measuring your progress toward those objectives. 

When setting goals, it's important to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Here's how to set SMART goals for your learning and development program, along with some suggested metrics to consider:

1. Identify the Goals

The first step is always to identify the goal. When it comes to a learning and development program, there might be more than one goal. Here are some of the common goals that organization orient their learning and development programs around:

Employee Skills Enhancement

Determine the specific skills or competencies you want employees to develop or improve. For example, increasing proficiency in a particular programming language or enhancing leadership skills.

An ideal way to define the skills goal is to first conduct a skills audit and identify the skills gaps and upskilling opportunities. 

Training Program Completion 

Set targets for the percentage of employees who should complete the training or development programs. 

This goal may fluctuate based on what is happening in the business. For example, during seasonal lulls in business organizations may scale up their learning activities. The goals should be ambitious but realistic.

Behavioral Changes

Define desired changes in employee behavior or attitudes as a result of the program, such as improved communication, teamwork, or problem-solving.

Certification or Qualification Achievement

If the program includes certifications or qualifications, set targets for how many employees should obtain them.

2. Metrics to Consider

When measuring movement towards the stated goal, these are some metrics to focus on: 

Completion Rates

Measure the percentage of employees who successfully complete the training or development programs.

While completion is the ultimate goal, it is not a bad idea to focus on progress as well. You may notice a common point where employees are getting stuck and dropping off from the learning experience. 

Skill Proficiency

Assess skill improvement through before-and-after assessments, tests, or evaluations.

Employee Feedback 

Qualitative measurement is valuable, too. Collect feedback from participants regarding the program's quality, relevance, and effectiveness. This could be in the form of surveys or interviews.

Manager Feedback

Leaders have the greatest insights into their people and people’s development needs. The best leaders are the ones that are keeping an eye on their people’s development, connecting them to opportunities and resources. So make sure there are clear feedback channels to Managers so they can gauge and effectiveness, and improve.

Cost per Learner

Calculate the cost of the program per learner, including expenses for materials, trainers, and technology. This can help evaluate cost-effectiveness and return on learning investment. 

Time to Competence

Measure how long it takes for employees to reach a certain level of competence or proficiency in the target skills.

Using a skills management system like tilr it is easier to track skills proficiency. If you’re not sure what kind of skills proficiency scale to use, here are a couple of guides:

Performance Metrics

Track relevant performance indicators, such as increased productivity, reduced error rates, or higher customer satisfaction scores.

Keeping a close eye on project management tools will be a source of important data here.

Retention Rates

Monitor whether the program positively affects employee retention rates. This is best measured over time. Combining it with other data, like exit interviews, to understand the drivers of employee turnover reduces the risk of making false assumptions about why employees are leaving.

Promotion Rates

Assess if employees who participated in the learning and development program are more likely to be promoted within the organization.

If the answer is no, it might be a matter of more closely aligning the learning and development activities with the skills needs of the organization and not the fault of the employees participating in the programs.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Calculate the financial return on investment by comparing the program's benefits (e.g., increased productivity, reduced turnover costs) to the costs.

Qualification Attainment

Measure the percentage of employees who obtain specific certifications, licenses, or qualifications as a result of the program.

3. Assign Accountability

Designate individuals or teams responsible for tracking, reporting, and achieving the set goals. Ensure that they have the necessary resources and authority to make decisions related to the program's success.

Regular Monitoring and Review

Continuously monitor progress toward your goals and regularly review the metrics. Consider conducting quarterly or annual reviews to assess the effectiveness of the learning and development program.

Adjust and Improve

Based on your assessments and feedback, be prepared to make adjustments to the program as necessary. Modify the curriculum, training methods, or resources to better align with the goals and evolving company needs.

Communicate Progress

Keep all stakeholders informed about the progress of the program, sharing both successes and challenges. Effective communication helps maintain support and engagement.

This includes communicating progress to employees. When they know the positive impact that participating in the organization’s learning and development programs has on their colleagues - like being promoted - they will be motivated to participate, too.

Celebrate Achievements

Recognize and celebrate the achievements of employees who meet their learning and development goals, which can help motivate others.

Remember that your choice of metrics should align with the specific goals of your learning and development program and reflect the needs of your organization. Regularly review and adjust your goals and metrics to ensure that the program remains relevant and beneficial.

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