What Good Runners Taught Me About Good Training Data

Imagine every morning you wake up, tie on a pair of runners, and hit the pavement. Race day is around the corner, and you’ve been training hard. Between finally achieving your pace and surviving to tell the tale, you’re proud – the effort has been months or even years in the making.

To get to this point, you’ve trained continuously. You tried a few programs, kept what made you better, and scrapped what didn’t. And over time, you got better.

But wait – how do you know what made you better? How did you measure the impact your training had on achieving that goal?

For runners, it’s pretty simple. Distance. Speed. Time. Heart rate. Recovery time. Muscle gain. Weight loss. There is lots of physical evidence that shows whether the program you follow is making an impact – and it’s easy to quantify it with a simple app, smartwatch, or spreadsheet.

Here’s the exciting news for HR: the same is now possible for L&D and HR teams that want to report on the impact their workplace training has on long-term business results.

If you’re like 90% of L&D professionals, you want to measure the impact your training programs have on your business. You just don’t have the right kinds of data to provide that kind of evidence. After all, completion rate and assessment scores, while fairly easy to gather, don’t say a lot about resulting on-the-job behaviors.

That story is changing, though, as we develop better ways of training employees and tracking their progress. For instance, at Axonify, we ran the numbers on 18 million short, question-based training sessions from 260,000 frontline employees using our platform, and we were able to pinpoint and quantify the training impact for our customers. The average business received a 29% boost to their KPIs as a direct result of using AI to deliver their training programs that continually adapt to each employee. Put another way: without that training, those businesses would have taken a 29% dive in their most important metrics.

Digging deeper, the same study shows that training had a 39% impact on productivity, a 33% impact on sales and revenue, a 29% impact on safety, and a 12% impact on customer satisfaction.

How can you show the same kind of impact on your training? Strap on your runners and get ready for a new personal best.

Good runners measure the right things

If you’re training for a marathon, does it matter if you can dunk a basketball? Your goals – or KPIs – are centered around time, distance and stamina, so it makes sense that your jump height doesn’t impact your success while the number of runs you complete in a week does.

The same goes for your training program. If you run training in your organization, you’re probably tracking some metrics already (and have been for quite some time):

  • Participation rates in your programs
  • How much those programs cost
  • How long they take to complete
  • The number of attempts each employee takes before they pass
  • The average assessment score
  • Employee feedback

We shouldn’t ignore that data. It tells a valid story about how we build and deliver training. After all, if no one completes our programs, we need to know that information too.

But on their own, those metrics are a little like a runner dunking a basketball. What do participation rates mean to a sales team that’s lagging on their quotas? What does a completion time say about a factory floor that spends too much money on safety incidents? And when accident rates fall, and quotas are met, how do you know other influencing factors aren’t at play, like new tools, marketing efforts or product promotions?

Bridging the gap between training and impact starts with identifying organizational goals, like improving safety; the KPIs that matter most to your business, like reducing injury reports on the warehouse floor; and the behaviors that feed into those KPIs, like workers who use machinery in unsafe ways.

So when you give those employees targeted training about proper equipment use, you can measure in real-time how your training moves the dial on injuries. You may notice a drop immediately following a three-week run of daily safety questions, for example. That’s a pretty clear indicator that you’re doing something right.

In short, measure real, tangible changes in your KPIs and the behaviors that feed into them. Like the runner who says “because I ran an extra day each week for the past month, I’ve knocked three minutes off my run time,” you want to be able to say, “because of this training program, we have made X percent more sales.”

Good runners figure out what works for them

Finding the right running regimen doesn’t happen overnight. You may have started with a program from your local running club, but you experimented with new things and tweaked your routine over time because some drills didn’t make much of an impact for you, while others were wildly effective. It’s a continuous and personal process that yields results for the long term.

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Like a good runner, L&D teams need to adopt the same mindset: continuous, personal, targeted, and long-term.

We’re already evolving past the firehose-style, one-size-fits-all approach to employee development in favor of AI-enabled systems that focus on microlearning, targeted progress, and reinforcement over time:

Targeted and focused topics: A steady drip of super-relevant information is much easier to remember and apply than throwing everything in the book at new hires all at once.

Personalized for each learner: Knowing what’s sticking and what’s falling on deaf ears across your organization provides a goldmine of data that can help you track individual progress, serve up personalized lessons and tweak your program, so it has the biggest impact possible.

Reinforced and repeated: Learning is rarely one-and-done. Our short-term memories can only hold so much at a time, and we forget quickly if we don’t recall what we learn. Continuous reinforcement accounts for 52 percent of training impact, our training study found.

Making the biggest impact possible means revisiting how we train in the first place…and it means thinking of learning as a continuous activity that lasts the duration of an employee’s time with your company.

Training isn’t a race to the finish line

Here’s how you become a better runner: you don’t stop once the race is over. You train continuously, you keep what makes you better, you throw out what doesn’t, and you improve over time.

Right now, L&D is training people for the burst of power required to win a sprint. In fact, they really should be conditioning them for the long-term, sustained performance that wins a marathon.

If we’re going to prove the impact of training in our businesses, we need to change the way we think about measurement and data. We need to think about not only which metrics matter but also how we gather and use that data for continuous, personal, targeted, and long-term improvements.

Just like a good runner.

Carol Leaman, President and CEO of Axonify, is an award-winning thought leader with an impressive track record of successfully leading tech companies. Not only is she a disruptor in the corporate learning space, but she’s also the brains behind the Axonify Microlearning Platform. Prior to Axonify, Carol was the CEO of PostRank Inc., a social engagement analytics platform she sold to Google. She was also the CEO at several other technology firms, including RSS Solutions and Fakespace Systems. Carol is a celebrated entrepreneur and trailblazer (Sarah Kirke Award 2010, Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Intrepid Award 2011 and the Profit500 Award for Canada's Leading Female Entrepreneur 2017) whose articles appear in leading learning, business and technology publications. She also sits on the boards of many organizations and advises a variety of Canadian high-tech firms.

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