For L&D to prove real business value, it’s more important than ever to couple employee learning more tightly to business results. What we’ve discovered—and companies including Walmart and Bloomingdale’s, have proven—is that when you focus on business objectives first and then create a corporate training program that aligns with those objectives, you can achieve the goals of the business and, ultimately, prove impact.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not so fast. Unfortunately, the reality is that many organizations we speak with have this process backwards. They create corporate training programs that may provide all kinds of interesting information, but this information doesn’t line up with key business objectives that help individuals, teams, departments and divisions achieve specific goals that really have a measurable impact on the business as a whole.


To achieve any business outcome, employee knowledge and behaviors must be aligned with this outcome. Think of it this way, what your employees do each day directly impacts their ability to achieve performance objectives. And what they know directly impacts what they do.

So, here’s our 4-step approach for applying a business-first approach to learning in a real work environment:

  1. Begin with the end in mind: Focus on business objectives first. Then, define departmental and individual objectives.

Ultimately, you need to understand the specific business outcome(s) you want to achieve. If you don’t know what the corporate goals are, you can’t create a training program to support these goals. So, the first thing you need to do is to work with the business to obtain these objectives. An example of an overall corporate business objective might be to reduce work-related injuries by 10%. To meet this objective, the warehousing operation determines it needs to reduce forklift accidents by 50%. For each individual forklift operator, this might mean s/he must meet an objective of no more than one forklift safety incident per year.

  1. Define the job actions (behaviors) employees need to take to achieve those objectives

The second part of the process involves digging deep into the ideal behaviors (job actions) that workers will need to perform consistently to achieve those outcomes. One fairly common source of forklift accidents is tipovers caused by improperly loaded items. If we break this down further into specific behaviors that are required to prevent tipovers, these might include:

  • Keeping each load within load limit recommendations.
  • Positioning the load according to the recommended load center.
  • Not adding extra weight to counterbalance an overload.
  • Keeping loads close to the front wheels to keep the lift truck stable.
  1. Identify the learning content employees need in order to be able to perform key job actions (behaviors)

Once specific behaviors are defined, the next step involves building knowledge so employees have the information they need to perform these behaviors correctly. We recommend using microlearning content delivered in short bursts (as frequently as daily) to build knowledge and keep it top of mind.

For our forklift example, microlearning content around keeping each load within load limit recommendations could include information about:

  • Acceptable load weights
  • Acceptable container sizes
  • How to lift a load properly
  1. Continually monitor job actions (behaviors), measure results and adjust to optimize impact

By defining granular behaviors, like those above, as well as the specific content that helps employees understand and apply these behaviors, you have a consistent way to observe these behaviors and measure each operator’s results. For example, a manager could regularly document the desired operator behaviors, such as:

  • # of loads kept within recommendations.
  • How frequently the operator positions the load properly.
  • If the operator ever adds extra weight as a counterbalance.
  • Average distance loads are held from the front wheels.

By continually measuring knowledge growth against the application of defined behaviors on the job, you can easily identify where employees are having success and where they are having difficultly. Similarly, by measuring behaviors according to defined objectives, you can determine if these behaviors are actually having a positive impact. If you notice any issues, this allows you to adjust defined behaviors and associated learning content proactively to help identify the right knowledge and the right job actions to achieve the business objectives you set out to accomplish.

For example, if the operator is still experiencing tipovers, documenting the behaviors will help identify where operation can be improved, which will also identify where the operator needs either additional learning or mentoring to achieve the defined objectives.

This becomes an iterative process: evaluating job behaviors and comparing them against performance, identifying deficits, and delivering learning to eliminate the deficits. From here, L&D tracks learning success on each of the learning topics, correlates that with data regarding improvements in observed behaviors, and works with managers to relate behavior improvements to performance improvements. It’s an easy step, then, to link performance improvements to achievement of departmental objectives.

We hope you’ll give this approach a try and look forward to hearing your results.

Carol Leaman

Author: Carol Leaman

Carol’s not your typical CEO. Sure, she’s built several startups into multi-million-dollar successes, and as Axonify’s President and CEO is currently driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge. But she’s more the doors-open, come-see-me-anytime sort of executive. Her ambitions are sky-high, but her approach is warm and down-to-earth; Carol doesn’t just dream big, she makes big things happen.

You can read more of her writing at ATD, CLO and Training Industry Magazine. She’s also a regular contributor for Fortune.

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