CEOs want more evidence of impact and less evidence of employee reactions (Kirkpatrick’s Level 1) to training. At least, this is one of the findings from a study by Jack and Patti Phillips recently published in T+D. They surveyed CEOs of large companies selected from both the Fortune 500 list of largest public companies and Hoover’s list of the largest privately-held companies. Ninety-six CEOs responded, which is 21.3 percent of the 451 CEOs who were sent surveys. Only six percent were “very satisfied” with their companies’ current measures of learning and development and 96% indicated that their companies should be doing more to measure the impact of learning and development programs on business results.

I have some concerns about the generalizability of the survey data given the way the sample was constructed, but I commend the effort to try to hear from CEOs about their perceptions of learning interventions in their companies. The findings confirm a common belief among evaluators of learning interventions (training, coaching, etc.) that CEOs are not being given the kind of data they want from the learning and development professionals in their organizations. CEOs want to know the impact on business goals but, instead, they are given attendance figures and told how much employees like the programs. The authors of the report write:

Executives intuitively feel that providing learning opportunities is valuable, and they logically anticipate a payoff in important, bottom-line measures, such as productivity improvements, quality enhancements, cost reductions, time savings, and improved customer service. Yet the frustration comes from the lack of evidence to show that programs really work.

If executives want bottom-line measures, there is much they can do to get what they want. For one, they could ask their learning and development leaders to provide this information. Then, when they receive impact data, they could report these findings widely in their organizations. They could ask their managers about the implications of the findings and what they will do to increase impact in the future. And they could give recognition and rewards to learning and development professionals who provide evidence of results and implement solutions to increase results. CEOs should hold themselves and their entire organizations accountable for the impact of employee learning on business results.

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