While talking to a colleague in finance about an upcoming customer golf day his company was organising, I innocently asked him what sort of return he expected to see on the investment in the event. “Oh, you can’t measure something like this,” he said. “And you don’t really need to. It’s obviously good to have so much time with our customers in a relaxed setting.”

I was struck with the contrasting angst expressed by us learning and development folks over whether we can measure the effect of what we do. If we decide we can measure the impact, what method is most valid? Then, if we choose a method we like, do the people we give the results to believe them or really care?

Do metrics matter?

Why is there such a difference in attitude towards measuring success in different sectors? Of course, metrics matter. I’ve spent so much time sweating over level 5 data to demonstrate a c.1500% ROI – it can’t have all been in vain. But the above conversation with my friend made me wonder why there’s so much hand-wringing about proving ROI in learning and development. Is it a deep-seated insecurity? Is it a reaction to being too easily dismissed as a cost code? Are we suspicious that many of our colleagues don’t believe that the majority of learning activities deliver value?

This insecurity isn’t due to a lack of technical expertise, poor instructional design or ineffective facilitation. Rather, it comes down to the extent in which learning is considered central to the achievement of key business deliverables – the extent to which it’s considered critical to business success.

L & D prosperity: delivering on business goals

Maybe that’s the first prerequisite of L&D effectiveness – whether learning is thought of as necessary to the achievement of a business outcome. If the outcome itself is critical and the delivery of it requires employees to learn and apply new capabilities, then a fairly obvious sign of learning success is whether the outcome was achieved or not. In my experience, when learning is considered a critical enabler to delivery, and delivery happens successfully, there’s usually far less pressure to wave ROI stats under the CFO’s nose.

It’s about how learning and development is positioned in an organisation and what it commits to work on. It can be quite tough, for example, to sell leadership programmes to your top team on the basis that leadership is, by definition, a good and important thing.

For learning to prosper in an organisation, it always has to be connected to a very clear business purpose. If L&D people are routinely involved in conversations about important business goals, and they focus their energies on demonstrably helping the business achieve those goals, then we’ve found our place in the value chain. As long as we continue to deliver, we can be a little less paranoid about proving our worth with ROI stats.

Written by Andy Hedge, global head of learning and development, Xchanging

I’ve spent more than 20 years, mostly loving a range of learning and development roles with some of the most interesting organisations around. I’m passionate about learning and the role of learning and development in achieving business success.

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One Response to “How do you measure success in L&D?”

  1. Great blog Andy and so true – in fact I have just come out of a Skype with a lady in the US who has spent 6 years researching transfer of learning and transfer of learning stats are very different to measurement…..it is almost implicit that if we effectively use the right models to get greater transfer of learning then we must have greater results but if we are constantly chasing our tail to prove what part of our organisation success can financially be set off against the training cost then we are probably missing the biggest part of evaluation ROE – Return on Expectation…..we set up training interventions with an expectation that something will change and if it did change it would make a difference. If we are seeing the change and the difference and people are using the learning effectively then we know we are on track. And measurement can be quite skewed sometimes by individual factors….on one programme we are running for Project Managers they are asked to report back 2 and 4 months later on what they have achieved…..one lady made a change to her approach which meant she saved the organisation £1.5m ….that would have paid for every training programme they had run for the last 5 years and more, but does that measure the full effectiveness of the whole programme! Time for more common sense, effective observation, management support back in the workplace and, as you very rightly say, connection to the goals.