Other Perspectives on Training ROI

Different opinions make the world go around. Not a day after finishing Saul Carliner’s article suggesting that measuring the ROI of training is largely a futile effort and writing about it here, I picked up my June, 2009 issue of CLO magazine and read a couple of articles expressing a generally opposite view of the issue.

In their article, The Real Reasons We Don’t Evaluate, Jack and Patti Phillips suggest that indeed we ought to evaluate training ROI, but often don’t for a number of reasons. In particular, they suggest that we often don’t evaluate because we are afraid of the results we might get, that we are waiting for direction to evaluate from senior management, or that sufficient investment simply is not made in the evaluation process.

Deanna Hartley, in her article CBA or ROI? That is the Question, offers additional insight into the distinction between CBA and ROI analysis. She suggests what may be a middle ground on the question of analysis; agreeing with business partners up front on what metrics will be used and on the level of evaluation that will take place. Above all Hartley suggests not trying to put too fine a point on the evaluation results. She says, “The ideal solution would be to conduct three estimates: an aggressive one, a conservative one and the learning professional’s best guess.”

So what are we to make of this whole ROI/CBA business? In my view, the most important factor that determines the value of training is alignment with business objectives. If the training function works in partnership with senior management to understand and hopefully even help shape business objectives, then training solutions implemented to achieve those objectives will generally provide a higher ROI—no analysis needed. With clear business objectives in view, solid front-end analysis will help ensure a good result.

If in fact we determine to go into ROI analysis mode, then I think we need to focus at the macro level, at least at first, to determine whether we are getting the returns we seek. As for the metrics we use, I think a study of Gilbert can be of great value here as they can be useful inputs to the financial models used in business.

Finally, those of us in the business of performance improvement can benefit from going back to school to learn something about how business executives think about business. Perhaps then we can successfully integrate our training metrics with business metrics to truly determine training’s value to the business.

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