Douglas K. Smith (author of The Wisdom of Teams) writes in the Forward to the book, Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Technology, and Practice:
Today, you cannot avoid human questions like these: What must I learn next? What do I need to be learning in order to be more productive? What does my organization need to be learning in order to compete more effectively? How can we learn best? How can we learn how to retain what we learn so we do not have to learn it again? What are we doing now that enhances our personal and organizational learning?
These are the questions that managers need to ask themselves on a regular basis. In order to answer these questions, they need to measure learning and the impact of learning on the organization. In one of the many excellent chapters in Creating a Learning Culture, titled Using measurement to foster culture and sustainable growth, the chapter’s authors (Laurie Bassi, Karen L. McGraw, and Dan McMurrer) make a strong case for measurement in a learning culture. They write:
The time has come to develop measurement systems that look beyond current earnings – systems that can assess an organization’s capacity to be productive and profitable, and measure how investments in learning create that capacity. Such metrics can allow organizations to be driven with the steering wheel rather than the rear-view mirror. They can provide sound, analytically responsible guidance for improving, rather than merely justifying, human-capital investments.
The one place I disagree with the authors is in a chapter footnote (3) where they write “…case study analysis is a notoriously poor methodology for identifying cause-and-effect relationships.” If by case study, they mean telling the story of what happened, I would argue that the only way to establish a causal relationship between learning and organizational outcomes is by telling the story. Large-scale correlational studies don’t do it. However, by describing what was learned, how it was applied, and what difference that made, we can provide evidence of a causal link. Of course, many other factors contribute to outcomes but at least with stories (i.e., substantiated narrative) we can make a compelling case for the contribution of learning to the success of the organization.