S4:E16 • May 16, 2024 •
Data-Driven L&D Strategy with Vivan Blade and Jimmy Nelson

In the third episode of the Digital Adoption Show’s L&D Upskill miniseries, host Neha Smriti discusses the importance of data-driven learning and development (L&D) with two distinguished guests, Vivian Blade, a top HR influencer and leadership development expert, and Jimmy Nelson, an experienced L&D consultant. The conversation emphasizes the transformative power of L&D in the modern workplace, particularly through the use of data analytics.


Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another insightful episode of the Digital Adoption Show, your go-to podcast for inspiring stories of execution and growth. I’m your host, Neha Smriti, Growth Marketing Manager at Whatfix.

Introduction to Data-Driven L&D

This is the third episode of our L&D Upskill miniseries, where we delve deep into the transformative power of L&D in reshaping today’s dynamic workplace. In today’s episode, we will talk about a very special topic that I guarantee our listeners will love: ditching the guesswork with data-driven L&D. Who wouldn’t want to know the secret sauce for success when it comes to data, especially in the context of L&D?

To discuss this, we have not one but two great minds with a remarkable history of execution and success in their careers. With great excitement, I would like to introduce our guests who stand at the forefront of the L&D landscape, ready to share their knowledge and experience with us.

Meet Our Panelists

Our first panelist is a recognized top 100 HR influencer with over 15 years as an independent consultant, author, speaker, and executive coach. Vivian specializes in leadership development and organizational growth. Her background includes impactful roles such as Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at General Electric and training leadership at Norton Healthcare and much more. Vivian is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Louisville College of Business. She has authored several influential books, including the bestseller “Resilience Ready: The Leader’s Guide to Thriving Through Unrelenting Crisis.”

Alongside Vivian, we are pleased to welcome Jimmy Nelson, an experienced executive learning and organizational development leader. Jimmy currently serves as a learning organizational development consultant at Nelson Training and Development and has held successful leadership roles at Ingram Content, Norton Healthcare, Babcock Power, and many more. Throughout his career, Jimmy has excelled in implementing transformative learning strategies and organizational frameworks that enhance performance and employee engagement. His passion lies in driving improvements in organizational and leadership capabilities.

Vivian and Jimmy, I am really excited to discuss the nitty-gritty of data-driven L&D with you. But first, for our audience, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, your journey in the L&D space, and welcome to our show today.

Vivian’s Introduction

Vivian: Sure, thank you so much for having me on, having Jimmy. I’m excited about the conversation we have today around learning and development, which I’m very passionate about. You gave a great background on our work, so I’ll just add that I am extremely passionate about growing and developing leaders. I spend a lot of my time focused there and on the future of work with everything changing in our environment today. The work, how work gets done, the workplace, the workforce, all those elements are driven by a lot of forces. I spend a lot of time helping organizations and leaders navigate through this period and understand how to lead through chaos and change.

Jimmy’s Introduction

Neha: Great. Welcome to our show. And now, Jimmy?

Jimmy: Sure. Married, wife, three kids, two dogs, you know, the normal kind of thing. I’ve been in training development since 1994 and have seen a wide variety of industries. I focus mostly on leadership development and making that transition from a non-leader role to a leader role. Especially when it comes to what we’re talking about today, and that’s data from a learning and development-specific perspective. I focus mostly on coaching, problem-solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, and leadership development.

Neha: Great, great. Welcome, Jimmy. I am sure with all the extensive experience in this field, there will be some great conversation today. Let me start with the first question.

The Role of KPIs in Data-Driven L&D

Neha: The first question for you is, we all know that data analytics has transformed the way we understand and improve learning outcomes, right? So, what key performance indicators (KPIs) do you find most effective when it comes to measuring and optimizing the impact of L&D initiatives? And how exactly do you use data analytics to identify performance gaps?

Vivian’s Insights on KPIs

Vivian: This is a great question because in today’s environment, learning has changed a lot. With so much online learning, we have different kinds of data available. But I want to go back to the optimal question here first: how do we optimize training and learning and development? It goes back to the goals of the organization. What’s important for the organization, the team, and the individual’s roles? Doing a good needs analysis helps understand what kind of data we need to look at.

Common KPIs include revenue, customer retention, employee retention, and turnover. These are areas Jimmy and I work on a lot, related to leadership. How do we create an environment that is sticky for our employees, a place where people want to be? Engagement surveys, 360s, and technical skills performance are some examples. Safety is another area in manufacturing environments like GE. These are some broad areas, and I’ll let Jimmy add his thoughts.

Jimmy’s Insights on KPIs

Jimmy: To add to what Vivian said, one issue many learning and development people face is that everything else in the organization is run by KPIs. They look at the bottom line, turnover, profitability, sales—all KPI-driven. But some organizations don’t even have learning KPIs built into their system. One of the first things I suggest is creating learning and development KPIs so the executive teams look at them as part of running the business.

I recently read a report that said only 33 percent of people do level 1 and level 2 evaluations. More than 60 percent aren’t even doing the basics of data analysis. I agree with Vivian: we need to know the expected outcome before starting training. This helps build what I’m teaching on specific outcomes and measure the ROI, even if it’s not an exact science. The C-suite needs to monitor learning and development KPIs just like other business metrics.

Neha: That’s so true. As Vivian mentioned, it depends on the goals and KPIs of your organization, team, and individuals. Data analytics helps make evidence-based decisions rather than relying on gut feelings.


Aligning L&D with Organizational Goals

Neha: Moving on, as an L&D leader, how do you align your department’s goals with broader organizational goals? What role does data play in demonstrating the real-world impact of your learning initiatives on business outcomes?

Jimmy’s Approach to Alignment

Jimmy: The first thing is realizing that learning and development are business people. We need to be business professionals, interacting with those setting goals and making decisions. Collecting data on what the company wants to achieve and how we can support that from a training perspective is crucial. Feeding that data back to the executive team helps them see the impact of L&D on business outcomes.

Vivian’s Approach to Alignment

Vivian: You have to be integrated into the business, involved in strategic conversations. Being proactive is key—understanding what’s coming and interjecting development needs. For example, AI is changing how work gets done. How are we upskilling our workforce to handle these changes? Learning and development must have critical strategic objectives aligned with business goals. A good needs assessment helps align learning with specific needs and ensures training is not just a reactive measure.

Neha: True. We have seen such a shift from being order takers to facilitators of workforce needs. It can be daunting to justify why learning is necessary, but it all falls into place eventually.


Addressing Challenges in Data-Driven L&D

Neha: Finally, what are some major challenges you have faced when implementing a data-driven approach in L&D, and how have you addressed those challenges? We want to hear some real-life examples and anecdotes.

Vivian’s Challenges and Solutions

Vivian: One challenge is the long cycle to impact KPIs. Understanding the needs, aligning expectations, and measuring specific training impacts are crucial. Soft skills training, for instance, translates to hard data like employee engagement and retention over a longer cycle. Sometimes data is not available, making it difficult to measure impact.

In leadership development, we help organizations define what qualities are important for their leaders and measure outcomes over time. Using virtual learning opportunities for measurement and follow-up assessments helps. Reflecting on changes in leadership practice and encouraging conversations around these changes are also effective.

Jimmy’s Challenges and Solutions

Jimmy: A classic example is working with a company to improve culture. Initially, they didn’t understand the importance of measuring outcomes. I provided graphical representations of evaluations and continuously fed them data to show improvements. Over time, this engagement led to the vice president participating in the training and further buying into the process.

Another example is a DEI project. Tracking completion rates by area and presenting them graphically created a healthy competition among leaders, driving engagement and responsibility for developing their teams. Providing the data they needed helped them see the impact and made them more invested in the process.

Neha: Those were great stories. Any parting thoughts before we close this episode?

Parting Thoughts

Jimmy: In today’s world, learning and development is a key business partner. Begin to think and act that way, and you’ll become invaluable to your organization.

Vivian: Absolutely. Tell your story using data. Be proactive and strategic. Build relationships with business leaders and integrate yourself into the business. The opportunity for L&D as a profession is immense.

Neha: Thank you, Vivian and Jimmy, for joining us today. Your insights and stories have been invaluable. To our audience, stay tuned for more insightful conversations every Thursday on the Digital Adoption Show. We are available on all major podcasting platforms. If you like our episodes, please leave a review, comment, or rating to help us continue delivering valuable content. Thank you!

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