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Faces of HR: Panalpina’s Dr Alvin Oh on measuring ROI of learning programmes

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Learning is effective if every programme is designed with a measurement, more so than an assessment in mind, affirms Dr Alvin Oh, Regional Lead, Talent Management & Learning, Panalpina.

Q How do you prepare for the skills gap impacting the future workforce, in your organisational context?

The future workforce is typically characterised by digital savviness, inter-generational astuteness and cultural intelligence. It is the social fabric that would have weaved the foundation of Panalpina. Undergoing an acquisition transition now with DSV, the future workforce of DSV-Panalpina could be a harmonised pool of operational and strategic talent that is tactical in its business leadership approach and process-centric execution, leveraging on technology in terms of information and automation.

To prepare for such a workforce in the context of DSV-Panalpina, a balanced integration of technical/functional competencies synchronised with people capability, would be necessary. Hence, in my opinion, identifying the skills gap that places too much emphasis on one and at the expense of the other for now is a cause for concern and a much needed intervention moving ahead.

Operational excellence that has made DSV successful in growing its business must now also leverage on greater professional leadership development and embrace organisational development solutions. This should be reinforced by talent management, so as to harness the best of the newly combined human capability which can accelerate sales, product and functional efficiency for greater operational effectiveness to augment business excellence.

Q What is your approach towards motivating employees to reskill for the digital age?

The digital worker is one who thrives on an intelligent use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and integrated technology. What is often found lacking is the inability for all levels of employees to combine and achieve balance in high tech skills and high touch skills.

There is no easy solution to this human challenge at the workplace as it contains elements of personality, role, corporate culture, leadership, and many circumventing factors to make it a success. However, it is certainly possible with the right human capability development strategy and execution.

Employees can be motivated to reskill if the organisation has the right ingredient. They need to have what I would term as, ‘success quotient’.

Lifelong learning is about constantly motivating both leadership and followership (all employees) and even business owners / shareholders to want to learn and measure up to their quotient, which centers on 22 elements as research has shown.

My approach would be to imbue some, if not all of these performance transformational competencies which can be found inherent in our talent but would require development in order to unleash their fullest potential.

This is talent development in action, which forms a bigger part of talent management as it goes beyond administering the talent process but gets down to coach, to mentor, to guide and a whole lot more of deep value added activities.

Q Today, it is still an issue to evaluate learning effectiveness in the workplace. How can learning managers measure and prove the ROI of their employee learning programmes? Do you have a magic formula?

This has been an issue since the 1990s and the storm of controversy over evaluating learning effectiveness which has abated, seems to be flourishing again. My Masters dissertation with the University of Leicester, Centre for Labor Market Studies, UK which I carried out and wrote about in 1995, discussed how the ROI on learning can possibly be measured viz-a-viz the research and published works of Donald Kirkpatrick and Jack Phillips.

I did further research on this subject in 2001 using a more empirical approach on banks and financial institutions on a more specific topic as the basis of my doctoral thesis research with the University of Hull, Institute for Learning, UK. It suggested that a possible formula (no rocket science though), is to attach an economic measure of return in terms of both qualitative as well as quantitative inputs.

In my opinion, learning is effective if the high tech-high touch competencies are developed and transferred to the workplace, with a transformational outcome on performance. This is human capability building with our talent, the people asset of the organisation.

To formularise, learning is effective if every programme is designed with a measurement, more so than an assessment in mind. This measurement correlates attitude-skills-knowledge gained with the profit-loss on the business.

Specifically, the ‘value of solution’ versus the ‘outcome of the bottom-line’. How much (in fiduciary terms) of a customised programme measured by its architecture and roll-out is accounted for in terms of how it has helped to save costs, raise revenue, expand markets, promote innovation, and most of all how leaders can offer a different kind of business/organisational  leadership in leading beyond managing.

Q What do you want people to get out of your session during the Learning & Development Asia 2019?

First and foremost, I want to thank the organisers for their kind invitation to allow me to share and offer a thought leadership perspective on this ever, so relevant topic of talent development, especially in the light of performance transformation.

I hope and I trust that through my presentation and knowledge sharing, the message of how to move L&D up the value chain linking to the business objectives is now made more evident by focusing on transformational values encapsulated in the 22 elements as measure.

Much has been said and written about skills and competencies but to link business needs and people strategies. In my book, which was published by McGraw-Hill in 2015, I have endeavored to discuss what contributes to excellence from the essential leadership principles and practices that provides a measure of performance transformation through our talents of the digital age.


Catch Dr Alvin Oh’s session at #LearningDevelopmentAsia this 17-18 September 2019 as he will be addressing the talent needs of ever-changing dynamic organisations  by upskilling and retraining.

Visit the event website to check out the stellar speaker list and reserve your seat! Or you can simply email our friendly colleagues at renamelt@humanresourcesonline.net and ryanc@humanresourcesonline.net to find out more.



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