Desired Program Outcomes vs. Objectives

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Jul 11 2023
4 min read
Desired Program Outcomes vs. Objectives

“Desired program outcomes” can be a difficult term to understand. It’s easy to sometimes confuse cause and effect. But understanding the difference is critical for HR teams. That’s because setting L&D program goals around clear and measurable metrics is important for success. 

Can’t the Experts Just Do Their Job?

On top of all the other tasks that HR needs to do, setting L&D metrics can be a chore. So maybe you wouldn’t be that surprised to learn how many organizations are content to simply run courses, but not look at their results. This might be a holdover from the days when it was technically difficult to create personalized talent development courses. 

At that time, a “one-size-fits-all” approach was the best that many organizations could do, and this resulted in generalized workplace training courses that were often not relevant to an employee’s role. And, if you can’t use a certain skill in your tasks, then there’s no way to assess the training behind that skill. 

However, with advances such as AI-based L&D platforms, this excuse is no longer valid. Still, this LinkedIn study found that only 5% of companies have implemented an assessment process for upskilling and reskilling courses. 

Even for companies that have decided on some kind of metrics, many of them are looking at the wrong numbers. One of the factors behind this is the difficulty of measuring soft skills, because performance in this area is, to a degree, subjective. For instance, some employees prefer a manager who is straightforward and concise in giving instructions. But for other employees, this style can be considered rude and unhelpful.  

For reasons such as these, L&D programs – and employees – suffer. According to HBR, only 12% of workers apply the skills they learn through L&D to their jobs.

A Source of Confusion

When setting goals for an L&D program, it’s easy to interpret the goal of the course as being what the course teaches. This is known as an “objective”. For instance, here are some common workplace learning objectives:

  • An onboarding class to train employees in the use of payroll systems
  • A leadership seminar that explains different types of conflict resolution
  • A coaching program centered on time management skills 
  • A technical training class about Agile methodologies

How many times have you seen course descriptions like these? If asked what the employee learns, HR would say, for instance, “the use of payroll systems.” Statements like these are more about what the student sees than what the student does. In other words, they define a course as an event where the employee passively receives information.

Activating Outcomes

Instead, any evaluation metric should focus on activity. When the employee demonstrates at least one aspect of what they have learned, it shows that there is an actual outcome for a course. Here are some of the ways to characterize outcomes:

  • Measurable actions that the employee can apply after the learning is complete
  • Behavior that is observable and beneficial to managers
  • Activity that can be included in feedback or assessment initiatives
  • Performance that is noticed by customers, partners, and coworkers

A good rule of thumb for defining desired program outcomes is to use action verbs. “Understanding”, for example, is NOT an action verb. Instead, a goal statement should describe some kind of practical task performed by the employee with the following considerations:

  • Setting
  • Exact specifications
  • Key performance indicator

With this concept in mind, let’s revise the above “objectives” into outcomes:

  • Use payroll system to input daily hours and send timesheet to HR
  • During a role playing situation, identify the correct type of conflict resolution method
  • Organize an example of a daily schedule in such a way that it saves an hour
  • Explain how a specific programming task will function in an Agile environment

These types of precise desired program outcomes can do more than just give a measurable aspect to an L&D program. When employees have a clear idea of the kinds of evaluations that will follow a course, they will pay more attention to the “hands-on” parts of the training. Incidentally, it’s this type of skill application that helps to fight against the forgetting curve. Similarly, when working with outside experts, the standards that you set can be a guide that assists them to design a course. 

If You Desire Good Outcomes, Try Growthspace

Metrics aren’t a nice feature of the Growthspace platform; they are actually at its core. Growthspace was created based on the concept that being able to assess the effect of workplace learning and development is the foundation of progress. When L&D success is measurable, everyone knows that they are on the right track. 

That’s why every Growthspace program starts and ends with goals and metrics. But, in keeping with the platform’s user-friendly premise, the grading system is very simple and practical. Thankfully, due to Growthspace’s many other features, its courses get consistently great grades from both employees and managers.

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Over the past 20 years, Erin Biehl has led teams in the education, hospitality, and technology sectors, excelling in customer success and as a Learning & Development manager. In her L&D role, she designed a leadership framework and developed a comprehensive L&D program for a global company from scratch. Certified as both a DISC and change management facilitator, Erin merges her professional expertise with her academic background, holding a degree in education. Beyond work, her enthusiasm for teaching shines through as a group fitness instructor, specializing in barre and dance classes. Also, a proud mom to her son and two lovable pups, Erin relishes her family life in the beautiful state of Maine

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