Have to design a virtual L&D initiative that needs to drive behavior change? Think performance, not learning.

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: October 8, 2020

My evaluation colleagues and I recently conducted an impact evaluation of a large-cohort (500+ participants), mission-critical global leadership development program for a very large company.  The program, 100% on-line, was intended to help leaders change their behaviours to be more innovative: supportive of experimentation and risk-taking, creative with trying new ideas, innovating with new market initiatives, and so forth. 

With more than 500 leaders across the globe, the impact rate (percentage of participants that applied their program experience) was greater than 90%. Leadership actions we documented in this impact study were shown to have driven multiple and valuable results: new market initiatives, new revenues, increased profits, leaner organization changes, and so forth. In short, a booming success that thrilled stakeholders. But get this: fewer than 10% of participants believed that the program helped them learn any new skill that was helpful to them.


So what made the difference?

Here are the top elements of the program that participants said helped them take action:

  • Examples of practical application actions that could be taken
  • Convincing evidence and messaging about the high priority of a need to change
  • Examples of valuable results that changed actions could achieve
  • Senior leader presence and engagement that sent the message “This is important!”
  • Dialogue between participants and their managers in which commitments to act were discussed
  • Peer interactions that raised a sense of accountability and shared determination

In my view, there are lessons here for all of us L&D folks who are struggling to leverage online modalities for impact and results.


Performance vs. learning

Kudos to the L&D program designers who viewed their challenge through a ‘performance-change’ lens, versus a ‘learning lens’.  They recognized the truth that when it comes to doing new things, most people already have the fundamental skills to do them, but there is something else that is keeping them from changing: lack of motivation, fear of failure, lack of trust that the new actions can make a worthwhile difference, lack of encouragement, and so forth.

Any of you facing similar design challenges would do well to think about this example. And make sure your design is chock full of the task assignments and other program parts that would address the elements in the bulleted list above.


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