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What L&D professionals need to know about impact mapping

The issue of quantifying L&D results in organizational outcomes is an old and sticky one. There are numerous factors why this is so difficult, yet executives and learning specialists everywhere are still looking for ways to not only make training more impactful but be able to measure and report on it in terms of business achievements.

The researchers at Centre for Learning Impact have spent the last decade perfecting a new methodology aimed at providing organizations with “the expertise, models and tools to evaluate training effectiveness and drive performance and bottom line results.”

Today, I will discuss what impact mapping is and how it can help organizations that need a more focused learning approach.

An intention map rather than an itinerary

What I found most interesting about this model is that it moves away from traditional methods of designing learning paths while maintaining the same general frame. In other words, you won’t need to change every tool used in learning design or change the general mindset of the L&D team.

Read more: How to create highly personalized learning paths for your employees

There has always been a focus on getting results that are clearly congruent with and have a positive impact on business outcomes. So why didn't it bring more positive results?

There can be a lengthy conversation on the topic, but the Canadian researchers who designed this model found out that the number one issue was the lack of genuine alignment between the training sessions and the company’s goals.

Drawing an impact map means offering a big clear picture from learning interventions to whatever result employees need to reach.

Looking at the learning value chain

Making an impact map means giving concise descriptions of what needs to happen at every step in the learning value chain.

At a capability level, a clear enumeration of the skills and competencies the employees will gain is the first step in getting the mapping process underway.

Going forward to the job performance tier, we should find information about how the learning objectives will improve employee behavior and bring positive results in their job roles. Taking a page from Kirkpatrick’s model, this is where the applicability and transfer of knowledge should be made evident.

Read more: Measuring training effectiveness — the Kirkpatrick model

The point is not to write these two levels to death and make them overly detailed. It’s more important to make sure they are achievable, closely connected to each other, and easy to quantify.

Once these are written down, it’s time to move on to the third, final and most important level.

Translation of learning outcomes into organizational results

When I previously said that this is the most important level, I didn’t mean that the other two were less relevant—quite the opposite. Organizational results will prove impossible to map if they don't have a solid foundation.

However, organizational results help both L&D specialists and financial executives understand how organizational learning has led to an improved performance for the entire business.

What usually happens at this point is that whoever is in charge of making the presentation for a certain training program will come up with a pompous description, throw around some big words, so it sounds like the mission statement, and be done with it.

Acknowledging the organizational results taxonomy

The novelty of the impact mapping model is that instead of sticking with a literary approach to transforming job performance outcomes into company results, it goes a different way.

There are three types of objectives, and all have a seat at the table:

  1. Tangible outcomes are, as the name gives away, easy to grasp. They have to do with things like quality, cost, output, or time. All these can be converted to currency without a hitch.
  2. Intangible outcomes are more theoretical, but you can still find means of measuring them even if it will be in percentages rather than money. Here are some examples:
    • Work climate improvements can be measured by job satisfaction and turnover rates;
    • Customer service evolution can be seen in issued complaints, retention rates, or satisfaction surveys;
    • Talent development can be assessed by the performance appraisal numbers, the bonus scheme, and the job nominations.
  3. Strategic outcomes are indeed more in the realm of corporate poetry and usually can be assessed by the general consensus and gut feeling of stakeholders. Some examples of these are:
    • Supporting diversity
    • Sustainable development
    • Social responsibility
    • Succession planning

Wrapping up

While impact mapping is in no way revolutionizing the way organizations approach learning in relation to business outcomes, it offers a highly useful framework that establishes a clear and straightforward line of sight from training intervention to their desired end result.