Corporate Training & e-Learning Blog


The "Value" of Learning?

Company business units all over are being expected to demonstrate and document their value to justify the investment their company is making to operate them. This includes training functions and departments. How on earth should we be expected to measure the value (ROI) of our efforts? What measures should we capture? What business result indicators should we focus on? We are training experts, not business analysts. But we are being asked to determine and measure business impacts that are extremely difficult to measure.

A Summer 2008 article published in Training Industry Quarterly gave me a few insights into this increasingly common dilemma. Some of the difficulties right out of the gate are that senior management is asking for measurements that aren’t necessarily practical for training divisions to measure. Their perspective is too “big picture” and conceptual, when what we are in fact able to measure is not. The business measures that we may be able to capture are on a much smaller scale, so we must first decide what business outcome(s) to measure and then get senior management to agree. In other words, “get them to align around some intermediate business impact parameters that are indeed measurable.”

The article goes on to offer a couple of good examples. At Halliburton, the leaders decided that the outcomes most important to them are employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. Customer satisfaction and cash flow are relatively easy to measure. Why employee engagement? Halliburton has had evidence that employee engagement is critical to their financial and market performance. They have successfully measured it and they link leadership development programs to the impact they have on the employee engagement index.

The second example provided is from Sun Microsystems, where they discovered a link between mentoring programs and employee performance. A key step in their research was to relate mentoring to measurable performance improvement agreed to by Sun’s senior management. The metrics included rate of promotions and salary increases, as well as bonuses. They found that those who were mentored received more rapid pay raises and promotions – that they were higher performers than the control group. They also found that the mentees had similar superior performance. So Sun’s “senior managers were aligned around the business outcomes measurements based on compensation and promotion.”

Measuring the impact of learning on a business is not an exact science – nor is it the same across businesses or even industries. There is no prescribed way of doing it. You just need to figure out what is best to measure, get senior management’s agreement on it, measure it, then report on your findings. Easy, right?

So what skills do we need to be able to do this? First we need the ability to have a conversation about business impact - to understand it well enough to discuss it. We also need the ability to design a learning intervention experiment with control groups and statistical techniques. If these are not our strong skills, we need to align ourselves with people inside the organization (or outside) who can help us. The article mentions that CLO Institute offers a fully online CLO Certification program to teach some of these business skills that people who have come up through the training organization ranks may not have.

The bottom line is that training organizations are expected to change from being tactical/reactive to being more strategic. We all need to embrace this and learn how to move forward with it.


  • Excellent one, Jenna. I quite agree with you, in that sine a lot of the things are near impossible to measure, we are better off using some kinds of proxies for measures.

    By Blogger Atul, at 6:05 AM EDT  

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