Is Assessing Training ROI a Waste of Time?


Saul Carliner wrote a thought provoking article in the June, 2009  Training magazine about the problems associated with attempting to measure ROI (return on investment) in training. Carliner points out, I think rightly, that measuring ROI at a course level is futile for a number of reasons. The one I found most interesting is simply that senior executives in most companies simply aren’t interested.

I think we sometimes overestimate our own importance and forget how relatively small a company’s investment is in training its employees. As Carliner points out, an ASTD study shows that organization spend between 1 and 3 percent of payroll expenses on training, he goes on to say:

In contrast, organizations spend as much as 20 percent of expenses on marketing. If an organization needs to cut expenses, cutting out all training would have less impact than cutting marketing by 10 percent.

Because of the important, but relatively small impact on the organization’s resources, spending additional resources analyzing the impact training, particularly at the course level, simply isn’t high on executives’ to-do lists. Carliner points out those senior managers rely much more on word of mouth to form their perceptions about how training is working than on ROI analytics or even course evaluations.

Carliner suggests that perhaps we ought to take this information to heart and stop spending precious resources on analyzing ROI. Instead, he says, we should consider focusing more on managing perception of the training effort. I agree, and think one way to do this is to focus on designing and developing training that actually relates to business needs and is well designed. This of course, involves knowing being close your core business by being close to those who are shaping. This too, can help favorably shape the perception of your training function.

You can read Carliner’s article here.

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