The overriding challenge of running successful internal training teams isn’t managing the complex logistics of training, keeping up with learner expectations for content, or delivering training reliably and consistently. It’s doing all of that and more with a limited budget that often undervalues the team’s contributions. Securing the resources you need to maintain operations requires demonstrating return on investment, and that means communicating the value of training operations to key stakeholders in the organization.
As training leaders, we are keenly aware that learning and development is extremely important. But all too often, the rest of the business doesn’t see it that way. After all, training operations can be expensive, and it can be challenging to directly correlate them to revenue generation. Business leaders often adopt the mindset that training operations are necessary, but view them as a cost center, not an area for investment.
So, how can you convince business leaders that, with the right investment, training operations can actually drive value? Let’s first examine what kinds of data not to use, and then we’ll consider the kind of data that will make a difference.
Activity Metrics Only Go So FarThe standard baseline of easily accessed metrics about training operations is familiar. Enrolled learners, attendance rates, grades, pass/fail rates—these are all data points we naturally collect and have quick access to, so they tend to be reported when the training team tries to explain its work to the rest of the organization. But these metrics don’t capture the most important factor for business leaders—training programs’ organizational impact.
Every training course has a cost, but it should provide a benefit to the organization by developing employees’ skills and making them more effective in their roles. Activity metrics alone don’t communicate the return on investment for the cost of training. The number of learners taking a course, their grades, or their attendance—none of it matters if learner behavior doesn’t change or the changes don’t have a measurable impact on the business.
So, while activity metrics are important, they don’t tell the whole story. In order to prove L&D is generating a positive return on investment (ROI) and justify further investment, training leaders need to show a link between training operations and the strategic goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) of the business.
Linking Training to KPIsTo communicate the importance of training to the C-suite (and those who control the budget), you must make a connection between training operations and the success or failure of the business. Luckily, most businesses define their success or failure clearly, by laying out KPIs and objectives and key results (OKRs) that serve as yardsticks for success.
So, what training leaders need to bring to the table is straightforward: concrete data that aligns training operations with those business goals and objectives. Obviously this is context-dependent, but the core principle is that training teams need to get better at measuring the impact of their training after the event or course is over.
For example, if you put out a new onboarding course, what data are you going to gather so that in six months, you can assess whether new hires are really being served more effectively? Do you have the infrastructure in place—the right tech stack, the data literacy skills, the communication skills—to consistently gather, analyze, and communicate that level of detail for every aspect of your training operations?
Attaining that level of clarity can be difficult, but it becomes almost impossible if your training team is operating with an insufficient budget. To secure and grow the level of investment necessary to provide the best learning experiences, it’s critical to substantiate the impact of training with data.