Having been in the business of executive and management development for 18 years, I’m quite familiar with the questions clients have about return on investment (ROI). We routinely include positioning on this in our work proposals, and follow through with components of program design that are explicitly intended to answer that question. While some program outcomes can be readily measured, others take more time to see impact – so there is a range of applications that can and should be brought to bear as education service providers do their work.
Fundamentally, however, there is often a mindset shift that is required of education service providers. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the event of education, and not on the impact it should have. Think about how many resources are wrapped up in answering questions about the who, when, what, where and how of education. Event planners, internal learning and development staff, assessment experts, systems engineers and support staff – all focused (and rightly so) on the delivery of the education. But what about the ‘why’ of the intervention?
Mindsets need to change about why we, as learning and development leaders and providers, are here. We are not here to provide learning events alone. We are here to drive successful, behavioral impact in the business to improve business performance, on whatever metrics have driven the need for learning in the first place. This has a few critical implications:
- Often, different conversations with different stakeholders are needed. You really need to be asking the question: “As a result of this learning and development initiative, what organizational performance effect are you hoping to realize?” That may mean that you need to talk to business leaders, and help forge or strengthen the alignment between the L&D function and the line.
- Your designs, however beautiful and compelling, will be insufficient as long as they do not incorporate the insights from answering the question above. No learning intervention design should leave the shop without a clear articulation of how you are going to assess the impact of the learning at the organizational level.
These can be tough conversations, especially in ‘hardened’ organizations where traditional educational models reign and budgets and infrastructure are relatively secure. It can, in fact, be quite threatening to put your reputation on the line, as a learning and development professional, by putting real business impact metrics in place. However, this is our responsibility – to do anything less would be a disservice. And, with the many options we have available to us for ensuring that there is accountability, support and process to favor effective application of learning at work, we really don’t have any excuse.
Further good resources here: Arun’s work at Design4Performance; Conrad and Bob’s 2012 article on the 5 moments of learning need.