I think most L&D practitioners (and their bosses) would agree that training return on investment is pretty high on their list of 'important things'.
Training ROI stands for training return on investment. It is a measure of training success in terms of meeting your desired objectives. ROI is most often seen as a financial measure, accounting for the training benefits relative to the money invested in an intervention.
ROI gets to the bottom line, measuring business results that are a result of training. It does not measure the lower level results that you would associate with a 'happy sheet' evaluation, such as learner satisfaction and learning distance travelled.
What's the outlook for training ROI?
The great news is that an employment survey by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) shows that employers are continuing to invest in training and development. On average, 60% of the UK’s workforce has undertaken training, equating to £42.0bn of employer expenditure - an average of £1,500 per employee.
The bad news is that a relative few organisations are taking steps, aside from making an initial financial pledge (paying a provider/consultant, employee time off the job etc.), to maximise their return on investment. This means that learning and training will rarely result in the desired objectives being met.
As Jay Bahlis says in a paper on maximising training impact, “Whether training decisions are based upon financial measures – such as Return On Investment (ROI), or qualitative measures – such as Return On Expectations (ROE), the ultimate objective should always be the same – generate the greatest benefit (value) at the lowest possible cost”.
#1. Use training as a strategic business tool
All too often training is employed as a remedy to strengthen weaknesses in a team, rather than as a strategic part of organisation development. As Investors in People UK has stated, aligning employees’ skills and development areas with an organisation’s strategy will boost the overall performance of a business.
#2. Have clear organisational goals in mind for training
An organisation should always ask itself what its goals for training are, and what benefit it will receive from improving knowledge and skills, and creating behaviour change in the workforce. These aims and goals should be explicitly communicated to the employee so that they understand what is expected of them before, during and after the training. Explaining the bigger picture will encourage them to align with the overall vision of the business.
#3. Identify skills gaps accurately by asking for outside help
Don’t be afraid to engage external support to help identify gaps and potential interventions. An external consultant will be able to look at business needs objectively and identify skill gaps. It is often difficult to see past the person in real need of further support, particularly in a small business.
#4. Ask your people to commit to what they want from the training
Establishing organisational goals is essential, but it’s also important that your people understand the value of training from an individual and personal perspective. Ask them to think about what the training might involve, and what they want to gain from it.
A useful technique is to encourage your people to write down questions before the training and challenge them to answer them during an intervention. Don’t forget to make sure they are clear on what you need them to know and do as well, since your objectives will determine your own perception of whether the training was a success.
#5. Create a clear and focused environment
Most of us have busy lives and multiple tasks to complete in the working day; for your people to get the maximum benefit from a training programme, they really need to be focused and free from other distractions. That means no phones, no meetings to attend, no e-mails to respond to etc.
In the lead up to a training intervention, provide your people with deadlines for cleaning up their schedules. A proactive and attentive approach to learning will pave the way for learning, learning transfer and learning retention; this all adds up to increasing return on investment.
#6. Ensure that the training meets the needs that YOU have
Ensure that the aims of the training course or intervention are personalised to your business proposition. Accepting a training programme that has been generically created for all companies is unlikely to target skills gaps and improve performance in your business. This is not always the case, but if ROI is a real driver (and why wouldn’t it be) then the choice between an ‘off the peg’ programme or a tailored/bespoke one should be given real consideration.
If you decide that bespoke is the way to go then request a bespoke consultation, and insist on a recommended plan of action that is tailored to fit your organisation and provide the outcomes you need.
#7. Evaluate job behaviour before and after training
It is very important to evaluate job behaviour before and after training to see exactly what impact the training has made. And don’t stop there. Continue to monitor change to ensure your training investment has longevity. Post-training evaluation sheets are simply not enough. A good training provider will work with you to evaluate return on investment effectively.
#8. Aim to foster personal and professional development
Organisations that truly promote and foster learning will see a much greater return on training investment and subsequent increases in performance; with that in mind organisations should look to the development of 3 key factors that can play a crucial role in building a learning organisation;
- Top-down leadership behaviour that provides positive reinforcement and reward for all learning, both formal and informal
- Systematic learning processes and practices that promote learning and its positive application in the workplace
- Create a supportive learning environment where employees feel ‘safe’ and have time to practice and reflect without fear of failure or mistake
- A method of aligning individual learning goals and interventions with organisation objectives so that employees can recognise how they fit in to the bigger picture.
Keep an eye out for my next blog on “Being a learning organisation: from talking to walking”
#9. Ensure your employees are consistently engaged
Lack of motivation or even boredom can be the downfall of a potentially effective training programme. Make sure your team are fully engaged and focused throughout the duration of their training. If something isn’t working, or your team are losing concentration, communicate this with your training provider.
Good professional providers will be flexible with their programme, and if your team are not responding well to an aspect of their training, they are obliged to adapt their style or delivery. Programmes should be continuously improved and adapted to create the best results.
#10. Consider training as you would a project
Think about training as a project; the greatest ROI will be achieved from training that is well planned, organised and systematically controlled (allowing for fresh thinking and innovation of course). As with any project you should set out by defining your exact objectives, defining exactly what it is you are looking to achieve.
Once you know the desired impact it is time to engage all stakeholders, ensuring they know what is expected of them at all stages. You will need to decide on the most suitable methods of training, determining the true costs whilst planning how you will best measure the ROI that training should have.
The training should be well designed and organised in a way that maximises learning and its application. Upon completion, the training should be evaluated and the ROI measured. Close the ‘project’ by considering lessons learned and actions to ensure future training ROI is further maximised. More to follow on this in future blogs.
Implementing the previous tips and treating training investment as a project with measurable time-bound outcomes should provide a significant chance of maximising your training return on investment.