Published on 2012/02/21
The Most Overlooked Key To Justifying R.O.I. In Learning
Collaboration and executive participation are important elements of successful learning engagements. Photo illustration by Jonathan Lister.

You’ve got a new big-wig in your company who wants to know the results of the training initiatives you rolled out last year. Unfortunately, she isn’t impressed by your smile sheets, so you need to dig deeper.

However uncomfortable, your predicament is not uncommon.

The training industry has struggled to measure the ROI of learning engagements for years. Many reasons have been listed for the ongoing struggles; from the cost and effort required to, a lack of clarity about whether improved performance is really a direct result of training. Trying to justify results afterwards can be extremely difficult, to say the least.

Fortunately, justifying the R.O.I. of learning engagements need not be so cumbersome.

The most overlooked key to justifying R.O.I. is to focus on the design of the engagements rather than focusing solely on how you’ll measure results afterwards.

While this may seem obvious, it’s surprising how often the importance of program design is underestimated. How do you know if you’re on the right track? Here are three health indicators that your training programs will be able to justify their expense.

  • Executives from the business are involved in program design. When executives can get their fingerprints on a program, it’s more likely that their people will show up, be held accountable and coached afterwards. The program itself should have better relevance because the desired outcomes should be clear, allowing those involved with design to create clear lines of sight between the content / exercises and those outcomes. This is also a huge factor in participant engagement.
  • Learning engagements are surrounded by accountability and collaboration. Treating training as an event will get you fired. Nobody has the resources to burn on “check the box” training. Learning engagements that have ongoing collaboration and accountability have much higher success rates than one-time events because participants are expected to apply what they’ve learned and to demonstrate results doing so. There are many great resources that enable virtual collaboration, including Group Systems’ Think Tank, Adobe Connect and Saba. That being said, there is no substitute for accountability.
  • Development is tied to Action Learning Projects. This is another great example of strategic collaboration. Many learning professionals mention that the level of executive support they receive is in direct proportion to the relevance and outcomes of the action learning projects tied to their learning engagements. A general format includes putting participants into teams that work to address specific challenges in the business. Some teams have executive sponsors as coaches who guide their efforts and mentor the participants. The teams work on these challenges over a period of time and then report their recommendations and results to a team of senior leaders. Strong results in these endeavors can make an exponential difference in the perception of value, which makes it easier to gain cooperation, mindshare and budgets in the future.

If these health indicators are present in your business, chances are good that you’re getting solid results and have a seat at the table. If these indicators are not present or are not strong, there is work to be done. As you consider how you’ll justify the existence and value of your training and development, remember that focusing on the design of programs can make your life a lot easier.

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Readers Comments

Hillary Childs 2012/02/21 at 8:34 am

I don’t think any tactic has been so successful for our training and development shop than bringing executives in on the game-planning, if you will.

Encouraging them to have a say in what skills we’re trying to strengthen and how makes them more excited about the training we’re delivering and that trickles down and impacts the rest of the team positively.

    Brian Williamson 2012/02/23 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Hillary! It’s great to see how engaged leaders get in the outcome of programs when they have a say in the process.

    What are some of the actions you’ve taken to get executives involved?

Hillary, what about when you get executives/management involved, and they insist on allocating less time for training than required for proper training?

Example: We have had to turn some customers away, because the decision maker insist on only 2 days training for cost reasons. As the we are the knowledge experts and specialized in that training for 18+ years, we know the minimum for PLC training to be delivered successfully is 3 days. (sometimes 5 days, depending on employees past knowledge and experiences). So when we can’t convince executive to allot enough time/funds for ‘proper’ training, we have to turn customer away. As only 2 days PLC training would make employees just knowledgeable enough to be dangerous causing possible damage to man or machine.

Most, after we explain the risk, allocate the funds/time for proper training. But some just go to another training provider who will just go through the motions for 2 days instead of delivering proper training.

I would appreciate your advice as I can tell by your very knowledgable article, you have a lot of experience and may have tackled this situation before.

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