8 Key Metrics to Ensure a Successful Practical Training on Critical Conversations

No doubt that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. However, quite often it is not easy to identify what is worth measuring and what simply adds complexity to the scenario. Let’s see how to optimize training metrics with the perspective of our field experience.
Andrea Laus
SkillGym CEO
9 min read


Here at SkillGym, we have a long track record of case histories of Leaders who successfully turned Critical Conversations into empowering moments of reciprocal development with their reports, clients and peers (read one case study here “How Practicing on Digital Role Play Improves Performance: a Case Study”).

All of them developed their mindset, attitude and behaviors through a disciplined and consistent practice of their skills.


In a previous article (“Building a Community of Leadership Abundance”), I discussed in detail the importance of practicing to reach mastery, a concept that not only applies to conversational leadership, but also extends to any activity in which humans intend to excel.

Today I want to focus my attention on the importance of measuring along the way, the effort and the results of practice in conversational leadership, since I am absolutely convinced that selecting the right metrics is one fundamental ingredient of the recipe that leads to mastery.

Unfortunately, while some metrics are almost always taken into consideration for any training program, it is quite common to rely on some that are not suitable to ensure the right balance of activity toward a meaningful goal.


At the same time, certain measures are relatively easy to take while others are less so because they are difficult to keep up-to-date, particularly in large organizational contexts. The qualitative measurement of self-awareness, for example, is quite complex to measure in addition to being tricky to analyze.

Based on our hands-on experience here at SkillGym in training hundreds of thousands of Leaders around the world in the most compelling and critical conversations, let’s consider the most important metrics you should rely on when designing a training experience of this kind.


Results come from discipline

First of all, you should find a balance between measuring the goals of your training program and the discipline with which trainees attended, otherwise it will be not possible to understand why certain results happen (or do not happen).

There are two complications here:

  • Either the balance is not appropriate, resulting in a much too broad of information in one of the two sides, or
  • The information is not properly organized, resulting in additional noise over the signal


Finally, keeping track of the long-term development of these metrics, as well as the impact of their aggregation across a diverse population taking the training, is equally important -both for judging the results and for adjusting the recipe on the way.

After several years of refinements, I currently consider the following eight metrics as the most significant in terms of defining a properly balanced, efficient and effective conversational training program:


Results metrics Discipline metrics
Confidence Reliability
Self-Awareness Focus
Self-Control Effort
Learning Agility Balance

Of course, there are many more elements to consider, particularly when the training program focuses on the development of very specific behaviors or competency areas (SkillGym measures over 50 detailed skills that can be aggregated according to several competency models).

Measuring the ongoing sentiment of trainees is also very important (we also do this in a very detailed way).

Ultimately, we always see that the above eight metrics (or “observation angles” as we like to call them) are the well-known 20% carrying the 80% of the overall impact of whatever training program you may design.

So, let’s see them one by one.


1. Confidence

Confidence can be defined as “the feeling or belief that one can have faith in, or rely on someone or something”. When referring to the world of leadership conversations, confidence becomes the degree of courage, determination, fearlessness and self-perceived experience with which Leaders approach a conversation -especially a so-called “critical” one- with another person.

If I were to choose one key metric to predict the outcome of a conversation, it would be Confidence.


However, it is not easy to measure. We first need to agree upon what exactly we are measuring and, then find a way to measure it meaningfully for assessing the quality of a training program, and eventually adjust its content.

At SkillGym, we have decided to measure confidence as the result of the overall quality with which each specific skill is used along the conversation. We consider not only the absolute quality of each behavior, but also the context: the specific situation and the flow (dynamic development) of the conversation.


Measuring Confidence as the result of the level of mastery of all the skills required along the conversation is also a great way to define the scope of the training.

At the end of the day, that’s what we aim for: increasing our Leader’s confidence in taking and managing (more) leadership conversations.


2. Self-Awareness

The second paramount metric is the well-known self-awareness, which is one of the most important elements to rely on for a well-balanced development of any skills.

It requires no definition, but how to measure self-awareness in a meaningful way is of issue.

At SkillGym, we simply ask the trainee to rate the quality of his performance and we compare such self-evaluation with the score provided by the simulation’s algorithms (i.e., confronting the self-perception with the real outcome). The closer the two scores are, the higher the trainee’s self-awareness.


This assessment is accomplished in two steps and in two ways in order to build the most effective and representative self-awareness index possible.

  • First, we check trainees own perception of their behavior (internal self-awareness)
  • Then we ask them to reflect on how they think the other person perceived those behaviors along the conversation (external self-awareness)


The combination of these two angles provides a much more comprehensive measurement of the overall self-awareness of each trainee.

Taking this measure during and at the end of each conversation provides an amazing amount of information that builds up an evolving profile of the actual development.


3. Self-Control

Another very important metric is self-control. In a conversational context, we can define it as the ability to keep a consistent approach and quality of relation through the entire conversation, no matter what happens inside.

This is a very important KPI and according to our experience, it not only has the power to affect the long-term quality of the relationship inside a team, but it also has a great degree of impact on the other two above mentioned metrics. In fact, a lack in self-control lowers the overall confidence and confuses self-awareness.


I think that one of the best ways to measure self-control is that of monitoring the spikes of those emotional reactions -on both sides- that lead to a hasty change in the quality of the relationship during the conversation.

The flatter the spike curve, the higher the self-control. Self-control should always be analyzed in conjunction with Confidence, since one can have a high level of self-control but still be maintaining a bad conversation.


4. Learning Agility

The last qualitative metric we recommend focusing on as a top priority is Learning Agility, which means “finding yourself in a new situation and not knowing what to do, but then figuring it out”.

There are various definitions of what’s inside learning agility and certainly ways to measure it.


Overtime, we have found it very useful to focus on three dimensions that can be helpful to monitor:

  • Skill Flexibility, showing how trainees adapt the application of certain skills to the changing environment (being “skill resistance” is the opposite).
    For example: applying one conversational behavior in a very efficient way when talking to about a report does not necessarily mean that the same approach will optimize a conversation with a peer. How flexible are Leaders in adapting their skills to the circumstances?
  • Learning Speed, how fast are Leaders in understanding, applying and evolving their current behaviors?
  • Retention Degree, for how long the newly acquired approach can last if not properly maintained with consistent ongoing practice?

We have seen that measuring these indicators with SkillGym and aggregating them into a pondered unique measure of Learning Agility provides very useful insight about the efficiency of any learning strategy.


5. Reliability

One of the trickiest aspects of learning engagement is making sure that people attend their training as expected. We can call it “Reliability”.

You can’t expect results to happen if you don’t even show up.

Reliability can be measured as the ratio between your expected schedule of training and the number of times you actually have shown up.


Do you measure reliability? I think it’s worth doing. Especially when it comes to digital learning (overall, classes are much more difficult to skip, but when it comes to digital…).

I have recently discussed the issue of ensuring consistent “traffic” in digital learning in this webinar where I presented our approach at SkillGym and the results we obtain by focusing on this metric. I dedicated an entire article (“Three Case Studies and One Strategy to Keep Users Engaged with Digital Learning”) on strategies to increase participation to digital learning.


6. Focus

Showing up is just the beginning, of course. Then you must be mentally present.
Measuring focus is relatively easy, but still very important.

Here at SkillGym we consider several elements such as the level of concentration during the conversation, the time spent in reviewing a conversation played before and so on.

Analyzing our big data, we find a great degree of correlation between Focus and achievement of the learning goals. It seems trivial, but it is quite important.


7. Effort

Effort can be measured by the amount of exercise that is spent on practicing. It’s probably the easiest measure you can take and certainly one of the most used.

Again and again, I see how much the quantity of practice is related to the level of mastery of skills.
Every time Leaders increase their effort in practicing, they improve consistently. However, this happens mostly when the other metrics I am talking about in this article are balanced.


The point is, don’t expect change to happen for free. A great deal of effort has to be put in.

However (there is an interesting article here about the importance of rhythm in a practice schedule), consistency and rhythm are much more important than intensity (read: quantity).
Does it ring any bells? In fact, when you go to the gym to prepare for the summer, it is pretty much the same, isn’t it?


8. Balance

The last metric I want to talk about is balance. We noticed that a well-balanced program scores higher in results and engagement than one where the quantity and type of practice is not well defined.

Balancing a training program is not easy since you need to consider several elements such as: which type of conversations to practice, which frequency, which quantity of rehearsal, when to practice and what to do in between.


Lately, the concept of “adapting learning” is becoming more and more popular, referring to the idea that balancing a training program is paramount and it should happen -if not in real time- quite often and in a personalized way for every single trainee.

At SkillGym, we are very familiar with this concept, since one of the key features of our Digital Role Play system is called “Digital Fitness” and consists of an AI-based set of algorithms that continuously tweak the schedule of practical training on critical conversations for each trainee.

Several months after the implementation, I need to say that the more personalized the training path is, the easier it becomes to ensure consistent engagement and thus, reaching the training goals.


Focus on what generates the maximum impact

Sorry if I went on too long here. However, I trust so much in the power of focusing on what really makes a difference, that I feel it very important to share with you our experience on what metrics really matter.

Time and again, I have witnessed a direct correlation between managing these KPIs and obtaining faster and easier results to the extent that I really want to underscore the importance of choosing wisely the (few) metrics to monitor as a priority.


Then of course you can still check the good old competencies of the classical leadership curriculum -we do it too. But please, never forget that we are in the era of results and your internal clients, the Leaders you want to help develop, have an ever decreasing attention span and are becoming continuously less fascinated by learning to develop a competence map.

Focusing on metrics that they also perceive as “actionable” is not just a best practice for L&D professionals, it is also a smart way to make leadership training more appealing to Leaders.


Going digital makes the journey much easier

Clearly, going digital to practice critical conversation elicits a lot of advantages including in the field of measuring the above metrics. Some of them can be tracked in the traditional way, others require too much effort and others are really challenging to measure if you don’t have a digital system doing it for you.

And it’s not just about measuring once, it’s about consistency of measurements. It’s not just about helping one single Leader once.

It’s about having better control and understanding of which factor impacts the learning program as a whole. A consistent and continuous monitoring of these eight KPIs goes a long way toward a more organized and higher performing training activity.


You can also try it out. We are always available for a 1-hour discovery call of SkillGym.

Have a great day!


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