Although many learning professionals talk about the importance of conducting return on investment (ROI) analysis of training programs, few actually do it. Many reasons are given for not conducting this level of analysis. One reason is that time and resources are limited and learning professionals have many other programs to deliver. Fair enough. However, the question is not whether an ROI analysis should be conducted, but how time and resources can be freed up so it can be done.
Why ROI Matters
One way to free up the time and resources necessary to conduct ROI analyses on your training programs is to only offer programs on which there would be a return. Radical idea? I don't think so. In a March/April article in Training Magazine, David McGeough, VP of Training and Development at PAETEC, says that some 15 to 20 percent of all training programs at the telecommunications company are given a full ROI analysis. PAETEC is a leader in this area, and they are making a concerted effort to measure the impact of their training programs on business results, but I ask "What about the other 80%?"
If you are going to run training like a business, the best way to measure success is to figure out the financial return. PAETEC is doing this because they realized the direct impact that great learning programs can have on reducing sales rep turnover or in reducing product install cycle times, each of which directly impact revenue growth and cost savings.
No Measures, No Training
But the question I ask is not whether ROI should be conducted, but whether training programs on which ROI will not be measured should be delivered at all. Think about it. If a learning professional develops a training program knowing that there will be no ROI to measure, how will she know if it will improve performance? She can't. So I say, don't do the training at all.
Learning and development professionals need to be laser-focused on improving the major business metrics that drive revenue increases or cost savings. Everything else is a luxury and should not be addressed by the training department. There is just not enough time or resources to work on anything else.
So this is the debate — should learning professionals only offer programs on which there would be a return on investment? I think so. What say you?
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.