Over the years, many CFOs and CLOs have asked how they should measure their training investments. While it is a good question—and a question that absolutely should be asked—we think there is a much better question that should be asked first.

How relevant is the training to the participants, their bosses, and the business as a whole?

While training can and should be measured, most training initiatives consistently fall short for two reasons:

  1. They are not fully implemented or executed.
  2. They do not show measurable improvements in performance or in business results.

These two factors have created ambiguity and cynicism around training as a strategic investment. After all, why would an organization want to invest in processes without clearly understanding how improvements will impact their business? Line leaders and their direct reports tell us there are clearly some disconnects between learning and results.

Learning investments, like any other investment, must be appropriately managed if you expect a benefit. Without managing the learning process to ensure that training translates into performance and results, there may be little or no benefit for the individual, their boss, their team or the company beyond the employee engagement boost related to investing in career development. Do not get me wrong. I think employee engagement is a critical component of a healthy organization and that learning and development can—and should—play a critical role in developing talent and improving performance.

But LSA Global Has measured more than 800 training projects; and we have found that training alone, even when it is highly customized and targeted, only changes the on-the-job behavior and performance of one in five participants on average. While those odds are fine from an employee engagement and hygiene perspective, they are not great odds for improving performance.

For organizations and employees to realize the full value of training, they must treat training like a change initiative—not an isolated training event. While this may sound obvious, we continue to find organizations that press ahead with learning and development initiatives that have no clear link to business priorities. This typically occurs due to a lack of rigor in analyzing business priorities, performance objectives, and root causes as part of the design phase for a training initiative.

This lack of alignment with the business is exactly what causes training and other talent development initiatives to be out of step with the critical imperatives of a business. We believe this lack of alignment also is behind the recent trend toward increased learning analytics and the desire to more effectively measure the return on human capital. In our conversations with executives, HR professionals, and line managers, they tell us that they need to measure learning initiatives to justify budgets, approaches, and opportunity costs.

Advertisement

We believe, however, that most companies would be better served by focusing their resources not on measuring training, but on managing and fully implementing their learning initiatives in alignment with their key strategic priorities. Here’s how:

Begin With the Business Objectives in Mind 

When training initiatives have a clear line of sight to guiding business imperatives, teams are able to move fast, learn, and adapt their approaches to produce defined results. The more learning is aligned with critical business drivers, the greater the impact. Without this alignment, organizations can only hope that their training investments make sense. This feeling of “guessing” is unfortunately what drives many companies to either decrease their investments in learning or to increase their attempts to measure training ROI.

Once you have clarity around what matters most to the participants, their boss, and the business, it is time to fully manage and implement the learning solution.

Support Individuals and Teams Through the Learning Transformation  

To be successful, each learning initiative must identify and employ meaningful levers that help with the successful application of skills to job-specific tasks. If you want to transfer learning and have the new skills “stick,” ensure that you, the participants, their bosses, and the executive team can adequately answer five key questions:

  1. Relevance: How does the skill development apply directly to an individual’s role and the group’s purpose compared to other priorities?
  2. Resources: How is the necessary time, tools, technology, information, supporting processes, and structures being made available to produce the desired result?
  3. Reinforcement: How is your environment supporting (incentives, consequences, recognition, etc.) the application of the new skills for participants and their bosses?
  4. Renewal: How is the organization ensuring continuous improvement through coaching, mentoring, follow-up, and refreshers?
  5. Review: How are you measuring the efficacy of the intervention at individual and group levels?

These five critical elements should be identified, managed, and adjusted before, during, and after each learning initiative to ensure adoption, transfer of knowledge, and performance improvement. This approach places learning (as needed, just in time) within project teams, business initiatives, and projects instead of just inside a classroom or on a computer screen. Learning should be integrated as a part of the job, not outside of the job.

The Bottom Line 

Because everyone has limited capital and resources, you will have the best return on your training investment if you focus on helping people achieve the critical few priorities of the business and on fully implementing solutions before you worry about how to measure training investments. There is little benefit to measuring a “flawed and shallow” implementation. Instead, be sure to focus on proper execution before investing in measuring something that has never quite lived up to expectations.