ROLI (Return on Learning Investment) Requires that Learning is Tied to Strategy

It’s my theory that training and development is the ugly step child of departments like sales, finance, direct labor and other more clearly value add areas of a business. This is because we so often fail to measure things and create a strategic tie with measurable outcomes like these other areas do.  I recently read a frightening statistic that suggested about 90% of training initiatives fail to show a bottom line result.  So how can we be the minority of this statistic?

I have to think that the high level reason for this common problem is that we fail to fully follow the full HRD model that applies the Deming “Plan-Do-Check-Act” approach.  In the HRD world the path is Assess, Design, Implement and Measure. Classic process improvement here.  If you don’t plan it; if you don’t tie it to strategy; if you don’t measure and implement wisely, you fail to deliver.

Why do we fail to apply this well known discipline?  Perhaps because it is a hard thing to do.  It is so much simpler for the Training Department to act as the recordkeeping and reaction team.  We track learning activities (recordkeeping).  And we respond to requests without questioning them (reaction).  So as managers come our way to request Excel training, Tuition Reimbursement, Off Site Seminars, and so forth we respond by playing administrative assistant and lining this training up. This is the simple way to do things and emblematic of very traditional and transactional HRD.

To really undergo a full blown assessment means we need to understand the strategy of the company and plan training out thoroughly.  We need to be in touch and aligned with our executive partners.  If that Excel class will not result in a tangible bottom line learning improvement that will be applied on the job, it may be worthless.  The question to ask is what behaviors need to be changed and what knowledge needs to be added that will translate to outcomes and business impact?

Beyond being part of this strategic discussion, we need to truly understand how to make learning stick.  In the past year I was charged with doubling training for over 300 healthcare workers at a long-term care company.  We did double the training in the course of one short quarter by implementing a very efficient LMS software system.  However, we discovered quickly that many employees were just going through the motions to “check the compliance  box” on the training list so they would not appear on the delinquent report.  This led to a deeper discussion around what classes impacted actual, tangible, behavior and outcomes on the job.  Is it sufficient to merely view a one hour lecture on preventing patient falls?  Or do we need to also have a follow up in person class, provide tools for application to the students and then measure the before and after results in terms of fall prevention (eg last month we had 100 falls, but after training and practice we have 95 falls resulting in a 5% improvement).  This type of measurement discipline needs to be applied to learning in order for it to be worthwhile.

Another fantastic model to study is Fitzpatrick’s learning model.  This is worth a blog unto itself.  The reason I love this model is because it starts with selling your product to the customer.  It asks the question — are my trainees convinced that this training is worth their time?  If not, scratch the project and work on your sales pitch.  Good old fashioned “Sales 101” is something we need to apply to every discipline.  This is because adult learners are not at all like children in school.  They need to be sold on the “why” behind the training before they will be engaged in the process.  Without the why, the mind will not be prepared and engaged to learn and apply.

The point being, training needs to have purpose, vision, strategic buy in and measurement.  Please share your thoughts and ideas – how have you kept training strategic at your organization?


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