Q&A: How L&D benchmarking can create a high impact learning culture

Revisit the top talking points from our recent podcast episode ‘Unlock insights with benchmarking’ with Seasalt Cornwall's Head of Development & Engagement.

Written by Priya Dharni
Published 09 November 2021
Q&A: How L&D benchmarking can create a high impact learning culture

Our Learning Experience Manager Ross Dickie and Head of Research Gent Ahmetaj were joined by James Hampton from Seasalt Cornwall to discuss the insights that the organization has unlocked through using Mind Tools for Business’ Learning Performance Benchmark (LPB). 

Listen back to the full episode here:

Ross: Gent, to begin with, can you give us an overview of what the Learning Performance Benchmark (LPB) is?

Gent: Sure! From a community perspective the LPB supports L&D in building a multilevel understanding of their organizations' learning which leads to business and organizational impact. It has a deep legacy rooted in evidence and data led insight. From a research perspective, it is a data collection powerhouse that underpins the finding to most of our research reports, in particular our Annual Benchmark Report that comes out on a yearly basis. It has allowed us to highlight trends and provide insights for the last 18 years and hopefully for the next 18.

Ross: What value does it offer L&D?

Gent: There are several ways we can look at this. When we do an analysis, we look at repeaters, and what we find is that those that continuously benchmark are 29% more likely to be from organizations with high impact learning cultures. It also allows you to connect with the C-Suite, challenge legacy expectation and prioritize actions that make a difference. Even if none of the above applies to you, at the very least the Learning Performance Benchmark will help you reflect, spark new ideas and give you food for thought.

Ross: James, would you agree as someone who has used the Learning Performance Benchmark? Can you see the value at Seasalt?

James: Yeah totally! The benchmarking process allows us to review how we are thinking about L&D from a strategic point of view and if we are aligning it with what the business is doing and the goals we want to achieve. We can measure it against what the business is doing directly to see whether it is following it through.

Ross: What stands out for you when completing the LPB? What are the best parts and the most difficult?

James: I find the questions really challenging, they really challenge the thinking. It centres the mind back to ‘what are we trying to achieve here?’. It asks questions that pushes back on my thinking and allows me to reflect on what I have achieved. Its reflective and gives me space and time during the year to assess what I have done and check if it is where I said I was going to be, and highlights how close am I getting to the top 10% of learning organizations.

Gent: Was the dashboard helpful?

James: From where the dashboard has come from and gone to, it’s now in a really great place. Previously it was just me doing this and I was accused of being a bit bias. Having the dashboard to share with my team has been helpful. I was able to bring them into the conversation and make sure they were part of the scoring and measurement, so we all had a part to play. We also like that at the bottom of the dashboard there is the research, it really puts the evidence back into what we’re doing and a bit of indicator into what you could do and where you can find that information to help you do it which is helpful.

Ross: Beyond the output of the benchmark if feels like you have had a lot of value in the process of reflection, is that right?

James: Yeah, I normally wouldn't find time in the year to physically sit down and do all those things. Having the review gives you that nudge and pushes you into thinking about what you did say last year and check back on if it has been followed up strategically. It has helped me to picture where I was at them certain points in time to see what's changed. You can never underestimate the value of reflection and having that time and space to reflect with others is valuable.

Ross: Can you give an example of a tangible outcome that has come from completing the LPB?

James: The LPB has allowed us to know what we are good at and what we are not so good at as an organization. We’ve not been so good at working with the environment, and because the environment has changed, we have had to do different things. For example, I probably haven’t spent enough time with our IT teams when it comes to launching technology. The LPB has forced me to reflect on that part and check I am bringing in the right stakeholders. We now work much more closely together. Before COVID we launched a new platform and made sure we spent time with the IT team to make sure we could deliver what we wanted. We have seen some great success from that! We also knew that we were good at observing and measuring certain courses, but we weren’t particularly good at reviewing the bigger picture of the data and pulling it together. Now we can use engagement survey data alongside learning survey data to try and see whether learning is having a bigger impact on areas such as retention and business KPIs. We have become much more laser focused with our data!

Gent: The language you use with different function across the business has a crucial effect on how mature an L&D function is within an organization, would you agree?

James: I think the maturity is the bit that’s challenging because its easy to say that you have meetings with people, but how good are they? How mature are they? And how deep are they? If we challenge ourselves, we can go a step further and use the research from the LPB to back up what we say. For me it was about looking at what those top 10% are doing because I want some of that and want to see how I can make it work.

Ross: Why is it important for you to benchmark and know what the top 10% are doing?

James: For me it’s about a sense of curiosity. I joined this L&D world and I wanted to know how people are doing it well and how I can be the best. In 2014 I was pretty much reading all the Towards Maturity material to try and understand what was happening and then based a strategy on that research to test what could work. There is an element of being curious about other people and then experimenting to see how you can apply this to what you do. The benchmarking helps me to tie the experiments back to the strategy and I can then check if have reached what I set out to achieve.

Ross: What is the value of the annual process and it not being a one-off exercise?

Gent: I think the first time is a baseline, you are testing where you are and trying to figure out where you sit on the maturity curve. The second, third and fourth time is you understanding what actions are having an impact on the organization and is almost trying to create a framework of impact to align various perspectives and angles. You must think of it holistically. The first time is just the start, you need to continue it to get the maximum value.

James: For me it’s about the progress. The first time its interesting to see where you benchmark but you also need to know how you are progressing. It almost doesn’t matter as much what other people are doing after the first time, it helps, but what really matters is how you are progressing and if you are comfortable with it. You also need to look outside the benchmark. It’s a snapshot of one moment in time so you need to look outside and ask other questions from other people in your business, It’s a much bigger picture!

Gent: A lot of the questions in the benchmark can be broad and it almost forces you to really think ‘Do I have a good relationship with this department?’ and ‘Do I know enough to answer this question?. A major benefit of benchmarking is the ability to have a collective vision and work with departments across the business to look at where you are now and how you can move forward.

Ross: And finally, what would you say to someone considering completing the Learning Performance Benchmark?

James: I would give yourself time to do it. There are certain questions in there that you need. Its ok to do it by yourself, however it is valuable doing it with your team. If you are confident enough to bring in other stakeholders I would do so as you get that extra richness. They will be able to tell you face to face how you are working together, and you can start some great conversations off the back of it.

Gent: It will help you think outside the box and see how your peers are approaching similar challenges. It will support your conversations and allow you to work closely with your stakeholders and open new channels of communication where you can work more effectively together.

You can find out more about the Learning Performance Benchmark and how to get started here.

You can also keep up to date with our latest podcasts here.

About the author

Priya Dharni

Priya Dharni

PR & Communications Manager
Priya has worked in marketing and communications for over six years and is experienced in writing compelling communications that connect with audiences. She works closely with our Impact & Insights team to create campaigns that bring our research to life and better help people understand the impact of L&D.

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