Determining Business Needs in Instructional Design
The Business Outcome or Business Linkage is used to spell out how a learning initiative supports the organization's initiatives, strategies, or goals (Garnevale, Gainer, & Villet, 1990). That is, the learning initiative needs to correct a performance gap the difference between the actual or present performance and the desired or optimal performance:
Business linkage is a “high value add”, which is basically defined as the difference-making in business in that it adds high value. Yet, defining how our learning initiatives link to other business units is one of the activities that we normally spend the least amount of time on. We normally spend an enormous amount of time on designing and delivering our learning programs, but conversely, we often fail to determine exactly how it impacts the organization. Thus we spend the least amount of time on the most important activity seen by our customers how does the resources spent on learning and training platforms help them?
The chart below shows the average percent of time for creating a learning platform. As shown, most training activities spend very little of their time showing their customers how their efforts add value to their clients (Trolley, 2006).
Since each customer is different, you have to ask them what their expectations are and how they would measure success (Trolley, 2006). If they do not see the learning programs benefiting them, then they are going to start picturing your department as a consumer of the organization's resources rather than a resource that produces valuable assets.
Start with the End in Mind
To ensure you capture the business outcome or linkage, begin with the end in mind a learning or performance initiative should be a means to an end. Thus, learning initiatives should show how they will increase revenue or reduce costs. For example, training salespeople in order to reduce the percentage that fail to make sales will both increase revenue through more sales and reduce turnover costs.
Mapping the pathway of a good training and development program would look something like this (Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, Flanagan, 2006):
Successful training and development → More effective and efficient actions or behaviors → Improved business outcomes.
Since the flow of causality of the above pathway is from left to right, training must be planned in the opposite direction:
Desired business outcomes → Required changes in performance (behavior) → Experiences and learnings likely to produce the desired outcome.
Thus, designing a viable learning program should proceed in a manner similar to this:
- Analysis Phase: Determine the business outcome How does it link to the business unit(s)?
- Design Phase: Determine required changes in the learner's performance.
- Development Phase: Create the experiences that will change the learner's performance.
“Impact Mapping” is a tool developed by Robert Brinkerhoff and Stephen Gill (1994) to ensure linkage between learning initiatives and business objectives. An Impact Map has three core elements: capability, performance, and results.
If we learn how to do something, we have the capability to perform in a new way. For value to occur, we have to change our behavior and use the new capability in performance. Further, our performance must be aimed at worthwhile results Brinkerhoff and Apking.
Part of an impact map for Customer Service Reps might look like this:
- The capability is the New Knowledge and Skills
- The performance is the Job Behaviors
- The results are the Job Success Indicators, which in turn creates the Business Objective
The Impact Map shown above can be used in conjunction with the Backwards Planning model that was introduced in the Introduction to Analysis section. In this step, Determining Business Needs or Outcome, the desired result or objective is spelled out in detail and agreed upon by both the Business Unit and the Learning/Training Department. The next step in the Analysis Phase will identify the performance (Behavior) that is needed to obtain this objective:
Customer Understanding and Agreement
To reach a common understanding of the required outcomes between the training team and line leaders, you should define the following activities and ensure you customer understands and agrees to them:
- What business needs will be met?
- What will the learners/performers do differently and better?
- Who will be able to see and confirm these changes?
- How will we measure and document the results?
Learning initiatives should always be undertaken to improve the performance of the business, thus they should always be defined in business terms. An ROI (Return On Investment) is not normally required, and in some cases is not even cost-effective; however there should always be a clear causal link.
For example, frequent feedback to subordinates is normally considered a means for promoting better performance, which should equate to higher profits. Thus “the students will learn feedback skills” is NOT a business outcome as it does not relate to a verifiable outcome. A better business outcome would be “the learner's subordinates receive more frequent and better feedback” as a result of the learning initiative. The first outcome only told us what will be learned, while this outcome gave us a result than can be measured and verified.
The Business Outcome or Business Linkage should be one of the first things to determine during the analysis phase. However, to fully understand it, you might have to perform several of the other steps in the analysis phase. In any case, it must be spelled out by the end of the analysis phase as this will determine if a learning or training platform is required.
Go to the next section: Performance Analysis
Return to the Table of Contents
Analysis Templates (contains several analysis templates)
Brinkerhoff, R & Gill, S. (1994) The Learning Alliance: Systems Thinking in Human Resource Development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Garnevale, A., Gainer, L., & Villet, J., (1990), Training in America: The Organization and Strategic Role of Training. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Trolley, E. (2006). Lies About Learning. Larry Israelite, ed. Baltimore, Maryland: ASTD.
Wick, C., Pollock, R., Jefferson, A., Flanagan, R., (2006). Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results. San Francisco: Pfeiffer