ATD Blog

Linking Learning and Business Results: Are You Part of the Problem or the Solution?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Learning professionals are constantly having to validate their department’s worthiness. When business is booming and profitable, life is great. Management professes their devotion to their employees in every communication. They increase training budgets and support new and innovative professional development programs.

However, as soon as business shows signs of slowing or profits start to diminish, training quickly becomes an expense instead of an investment—a luxury instead of a necessity—and is usually first in line for budget cuts. Just when increasing skills becomes most important, when competition is tough and business is scarce, investment in skill development can disappear overnight.

So, how can you improve your chances of not ending up at the bottom of the food chain? Become part of the solution! Make sure that every training program is linked to the desired business outcomes of the unit that funds your training budget.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, I am constantly amazed when I speak to learning colleagues who don’t know the strategic plans and operating targets for the organizations they support. How can you link your learning activities to desired business outcomes if you don’t know what the desired outcomes are? If you cannot, you will quickly become part of the problem (expense) rather than part of the solution (investment).


Once you know the desired outcomes, ask yourself these questions about every training program you want to implement: 

  • What will someone be able to do after they participate in your program? 
  • What proficiency or skill will they acquire from your competency model? 
  •  How will this new skill or skill level contribute to the desired business outcomes?

In other words, if they have this new skill, so what? If the answer to “so what” is not helping the business achieve its desired goals, go back to the drawing board and rebuild the program until it does.
Once your program is providing competency-based learning, measure it. Have participants use a competency assessment tool to measure that skill before and after your program. If possible, capture the business results before and after your program, too. Calculate the difference in skill and business results. If your program is not positively influencing the desired skill or results, go back to the drawing board and rebuild the program until it does.

Stop trying to justify your programs to leadership with words. Use numbers to show them why they need you.

About the Author

CEO, SkillDirector Stuart Rogers is SkillDirector's CEO, focusing on strategic leadership, finance, and operations. He has broad operational, sales, and executive management experience at companies in the technology and hard goods distribution sectors. Stuart holds a bachelor's degree from Wofford College and an MBA from the University of South Carolina, with concentrations in marketing and finance.

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