Strategies and Tools to Drive Measurable Diversity ROI Impact

The link between people and profits is clear. Utilizing human capital assets is the primary vehicle to drive corporate and organizational performance and results. Thus, in a global economy and diverse world, developing a competent skilled employee base using a learning culture is vital for long-term national and global success. Performance and profits are closely linked and require a comprehensive business and diversity training strategy to utilize human capital assets effectively.

Professional training approaches to drive skill development are one of several activities that must be undertaken to achieve an organization’s strategic business objectives and ROI impact. The only way to determine that skill development and diversity training are having the desired effect is to use formal training measurement processes and cost-benefit analysis methods. The results of these activities can confirm the positive effects of diversity training and development and identify improvements to make it better. Therefore, driving measurable diversity ROI impact requires changing behaviors in organizations and building skills that are integrated into an employee’s behavior, attitudes and values.

I will weigh in on this topic with a few thoughts in a two-part analysis. In part 1, I will discuss the need to use integrative diversity training methods to drive ROI-based performance outcomes. In part 2, I will highlight the use of integrative learning tools such as simulations and gamification to build practical approaches to drive measurable strategic business results for the organization.

Creating an Effective Diversity ROI-based Learning Organization

Any organization that wants to succeed, and continue to succeed, has to recruit and maintain a diverse workforce consisting of people who are willing to accept change and willing to learn and develop continuously. This is true of everyone in the workforce from the chief executive officer to the newest recruit. One of the jobs of the chief diversity officer or diversity director can be divided into three main parts:

• Defining and monitoring the diverse workforce’s people skills and competencies needed.

• Recruiting and retaining people capable of meeting or developing cultural competencies, strategic process management skills, technical and other competencies needed to leverage diversity as a ROI and performance improvement strategy.

• Providing the learning opportunities and resources required for effective organizational performance.

Defining and monitoring the learning needs of a diverse workforce must be a deliberate and comprehensive process. This task has been described using many terms such as manpower planning, human resource assessment, skill needs analysis, etc. It is not the name given to the activity that matters per se, it is the work that is done to identify the diverse workforce needs at all levels that is important. This is not a one-off exercise — it is a continuous process of assessing business needs as they constantly change, analyzing the implementation and effects of your diversity strategic plan learning interventions and gauging their impact on the organization’s performance and ROI/ ROM (return on investment/mission).

Learning involves a constant interaction between people and their environment through experimentation, exploration and questioning. An environment that is exciting, and one in which people have goal and non-goal-directed fun, leads to considerable learning and growth. Building a learning organization means encouraging people to be themselves, to question and explore their working environment and to be able to influence what goes on around them. For this to happen changes, have to take place in what I will call the conventional rule-based organization, where supervision is concerned with getting people to toe the line rather than learn and grow. To learn, people have to open their minds to new ideas and suggestions, and learn to effectively work across cultures, differences, functions, etc., in a way that includes and values others, then take the time to evaluate the impact of this learning application in driving organizational performance. This is encouraged and viewed as a requirement in a learning and evaluation-focused organization.

The key to an effective diversity training intervention is how well the target audience learns and integrates the concepts, skills and values being taught. It requires the diversity training professional first utilize a strategic business alignment process followed by an instructional systems design, or ISD, approach and incorporate an ADDIE systems process into their deployment methodology. These terms will be explained in more detail later.

Author Roger Kaufman mentioned recently that a number of years ago, Joe Harless in his brilliant “An Ounce of Analysis Is Worth a Pound of Cure” set the stage for encouraging serious people not to pick a solution, or cure, before knowing the problem. I also take his position. Nevertheless, people still address presenting symptoms with a “fix” before documenting the existence of a problem. In doing so, they assume the validity, importance, value and worth of the problem. Research shows that we too often do what our first instincts tell us to do, and we fail to move on to really digging deep into our problem-solving abilities. The conventional advice is to begin performance improvement by analyzing the problem. This is both ineffective and inefficient.

Some of the tools in our current arsenal of approaches, such as problem analysis, training needs assessment and ADDIE, tend to encourage us to assume that the problem at hand is what we should resolve, rather than a possible symptom of an underlying or larger problem. If we start there, we can analyze the presenting symptoms, but we very well might not get useful performance improvement.

And judging from the number of organizations failing in recent decades, a lot of time and money has been wasted on fixing the wrong problem or doing what we already do but more efficiently.

It is time for us to rethink how we go about planning and conducting diversity training, needs assessments and the like so we don’t continue to create future failures.

A Better Way

You have great chance for success if first — before doing anything, including problem analysis or a training needs assessment — you know where you and your organization are headed and you are able to justify your goals with performance data. Next, you must determine measurable objectives for knowing when you have arrived. Validating where you are headed and justifying why is the major role of a valid needs assessment and a major tool for avoiding failure.

We must resist relying on our first impressions and past experiences to ensure that what we use, do, produce and deliver will add value to all stakeholders. The field is changing as it moves from a focus on individual and workplace learning to also align that with contributions within the organization, as well as value added to all our external clients and societal partners.

The ISD Process

Once you have successfully addressed key strategic business alignment issues, an ISD approach is appropriate. ISD is a systems approach to analyzing, designing, developing, implementing and evaluating any type of training. Each phase of the ISD process provides information that feeds directly into the next phase. Each phase must be completed before moving on to the next phase. If a phase is skipped, the process being used is not ISD.

Professionally created diversity training follows its five phased process: Analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation, commonly referred to as the ADDIE model. In the ADDIE model, analysis is the input for the instructional system; design, development and evaluation are the process; and implementation is the output.

Phase 1: Analysis

The analytical phase is sometimes referred to as a front-end analysis, needs assessment or needs analysis. An effective needs analysis answers the following questions:

• What is the problem?

• Is diversity training the answer to the problem?

• What knowledge and skills should be included in the diversity training course?

• Who needs to be trained?

Analysis is the data-gathering element of diversity training design. Here diversity instructional designers assemble all the information they can possibly gather about the strategic business problem or opportunity before they consider anything else. Decisions about every aspect of the project must eventually be made. The information that diversity instructional designers gather at this stage will be put to use throughout the diversity training initiative process, so it is necessary that they have every piece of data to ensure the training design will be successful.

Phase 2: Design

After the problems have been defined and trainees and course outcomes have been determined, it is time to begin the design phase. During this phase, a training blueprint is developed that includes:

• Learning objectives.

• Content outlines.

• Course structure.

• Training methods and media.

Design is the blueprinting stage of instructional systems during which diversity instructional designers create the blueprint for a project with all the specifications necessary to complete the project. During this stage, diversity instructional designers write the objectives, construct course content and complete the design plan.

Phase 3: Development

The next phase of the ADDIE process is the development of the diversity training course. The steps of this phase are:

Step 1: Develop a draft set of training materials.

Step 2: Pilot test the training materials with the target audience and make the necessary revisions.

Step 3: Finalize the training materials.

Materials production and pilot testing are the hallmarks of development. Everything from lecture notes to virtual reality is brought from design to deliverable. Before diversity instructional designers move from development to implementation, it is wise for them to do pilot testing to ensure that deliverables do not have to be redeveloped. Because of the time and expense involved, no one wants to reprint manuals or recode a technology-based project after a project goes into implementation. The pilot testing process allows organizations to implement any necessary changes in the project before the expenses associated with materials development are realized. The time and effort expended in pilot testing is well worth the effort, if for this reason alone. Pilot testing also helps designers feel confident that what they have designed works.

Phase 4: Implementation

The most familiar of the elements is implementation. The implementation phase involves conducting the diversity training program and completing any related follow-up activities to ensure the transfer of learning to the job setting. At implementation, the design plan meets the leaner and the content is delivered. The evaluation process that most diversity designers and learners are familiar with takes place in this element. Diversity training evaluation is used to gauge the degree to which learners meet objectives and facilitators or technologies deliver the expected outcomes.

Phase 5: Evaluation

The final phase of the ADDIE process is to determine whether the diversity training was successful. Evaluation doesn’t deserve to be listed last in the ADDIE model because it takes place in every element and surrounds the diversity instructional design process. Evaluation is a constant guard at the gate of failure. The advantages of using an instructional system are numerous, the most important being the ability to design diversity projects quickly and efficiently. Nothing is left to chance or ignored when a diversity instructional designer stays within the framework of the ADDIE or other ISD models. One possible disadvantage is the necessity of a designer to be familiar with the ISD process as well as making certain the entire intervention is aligned with the organization’s business strategies. It is my contention that an effective ROI-based diversity training evaluation initiative cannot be completed unless the diversity training initiative’s design was built using the ADDIE methodology and a behaviorally specific competency model built on correctly structured objectives. These elements drive performance and strategic outcomes.

The ADDIE elements overlap somewhat, depending on the project, and because the instructional system is dynamic, there will be some sharing of duties. The resulting training design is one that generates a learning environment that provides a constant interaction between participant and their learning environment through experimentation, exploration and questioning. A proven technology that can produce this type of impact, if built on an ISD ADDIE-based model, is the use of simulations in diversity training programs along with diversity ROI measurement and evaluation.

In the next segment (part 2), I will cover the use of simulations and gamification tools to build practical approaches to drive measurable strategic business results for your organization.