By Corporate English Solutions

03 October 2022 - 16:10

It can be frustrating to assess, track and report on communication skills development. Not to mention designing programmes that actually improve on-the-job-performance. Thankfully, there is a way. Tried and tested. 

We share how British Council partnered with an MNC to integrate assessments into the learning design of their high potential programme to enhance performance and report on ROI.


Reading time: 6 minutes

If we asked you what per cent of your employees are applying the learning they gained from your recent skills training, what would you say? 

And what per cent would say that the learning enhanced their on-the-job performance? 

Curious - was that a guess or are you tracking learner progress? 

If we could make a guess now, we’d say your answers show low scores. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

One recent report stated that only 12 per cent of employees apply new skills learned in L&D programmes and 25 per cent believed that training measurably improved performance. For an L&D professional, those figures must be of concern.

Just imagine how much easier your job would be if you had a way to track learner progress, during and after skills training, and the training’s impact on the business? Imagine, too, how much more confident and convincing you’d be when reporting training ROI. 

Well, one international MNC which partnered with the British Council to develop a skills training programme for new managers, did just that. With game-changing results.

The secret of this L&D success story? 

Read on to find out.

Step 1: Skills competency matrix development

Enter the matrix. 

The MNC wanted to invite individual contributors, each with 3-7 years’ experience in the company, onto their Asia Pacific high potential training programme. But first, with the help of the British Council and internal stakeholders, they mapped out a skills competency matrix with seven levels.

They identified four communication skills categories essential to successfully lead projects and diverse teams nationally and internationally: presentation skills, influencing skills, giving feedback and stakeholder engagement. To support these skills, three English language skills were identified: listening, fluency and accuracy. 

And, just like the advice in our blog on writing communication skills competencies, the seven broad categories were broken down into micro skills. Multiple stakeholders, including target participants, their managers, existing new managers and L&D colleagues, were consulted to ensure a complete and accurate skills matrix could be developed. It was also an opportunity to create stakeholder buy-in for the process, assessments and training. 

Now to the levels.

The matrix with its seven levels was mapped to the micro skills needed at the different levels of seniority in the organisation. These ranged from 1-3 for individual contributors, 4-5 for middle managers and 6-7 for senior managers. A description of each level was agreed by all stakeholders. Competency descriptors were developed for each level. 

Let’s take a look at an example of the skills matrix up to level 4:

Micro skill: giving constructive performance feedback
Level 4 Gives clear, specific constructive feedback which is adapted to different stakeholders to motivate them and improve their performance
Level 3 Gives clear, specific constructive feedback which focuses on improving performance
Level 2 Gives constructive feedback which focuses on performance, but which is unclear or demotivating in its delivery 
Level 1 Gives constructive feedback which lacks focus on performance

Now to the heart of learning: assessment. 

Step 2: Assessment development

We know that, as an L&D professional, you already take a strategic approach to training evaluation. But how to design a rigorous communication skills assessment, beyond the self-report, which accurately captures the skills gained during, and after, the training? 

The MNC and the British Council created a rigorous assessment design and process which enhanced both the quality of the assessment and the effectiveness of the learning. 

Here’s how:

Benchmarking existing and target skills levels

They measured, at the start, the existing skills levels of the high potential employees to know where they were on the matrix and the level they should achieve by the end. In that way, the training course content could be mapped to the target level, up to level 4 on our skills matrix. 

Keeping it real

For skills training to impact performance, it makes business sense to base the skills assessment tasks on real-life scenarios. The MNC really kept it real. They wanted the new managers to showcase their communication skills through a brief presentation and four short simulations. The tasks were open-ended, not the usual, fictional case study scenarios, so the managers could add their own contexts and situations. 

The British Council developed the skills assessment criteria to determine the competency level of each participant. Performance on each task was measured using a five-level matrix. 

And what better tool than video to evidence skills levels for benchmarking and maximising the learning. All assessments were videoed and made available to trainees to review.

Train the assessors

The teams agreed that the assessments should be carried out by the trainers so that detailed feedback could be given. And to ensure consistency of the assessment and reliability of results, training was provided for the trainer assessors. 

And now, this assessment can help create better learning design.

Step 3: Integrated assessment and learning content design

The assessment not only forms part of the training programme but it also informs the learning design itself. When the MNC carried out the initial assessments, they discovered the average score was 1.5, lower than the expected 2 or 2.5. This discovery allowed the L&D team to design the training at two levels: foundation to move those at levels 1-2 up to 3 and intermediate to move those at 2.5 and 3 to level 4. Thanks to the skills matrix, everyone had a clear understanding, due to the mapped levels and competency descriptors, of what the next levels looked like. 

A rigorous post-programme was designed to avoid the forgetting curve, the tendency for the skills and knowledge to fade after training. Managers were debriefed on what actions their direct report had to take to move to the next level. Further communication skills assessments were conducted, each following the same format as during the training. Detailed feedback from managers and peers made a real difference too. The new managers were supported to implement the skills and make greater impact in their role. And six months of coaching by the trainer was a further catalyst to embed the learning and enhance performance. 

A winning design for communication skills training 

The MNC’s high potential training programme really lived up to its name – developing high potential. 

The benefits of integrating assessments into training were tangible:

  • Clear descriptors of competency levels brought clarity of current and target competency levels for all stakeholders.
  • Assessments integrated into the training design (and basing design on assessments) provided regular touchpoints with managers and progress updates.
  • Tracked learning for every module made updates sharable. 
  • Training was always meeting need through adjustments by the delivery team to ensure maximum impact and improved ROI. 

Follow the tips here, and no longer will the impact of your skills training be left to guess work. As the MNC’s L&D success story shows, integrating assessments into the learning design, before, during and after, significantly deepens the learning. And enhances performance. With tweaks to your learning design and process, you too will have detailed and accurate progress updates to report your training ROI. 

See how you can partner with the British Council to develop your communication skills assessments and learning design.

Find out more here >