One of the presenters at a session at this year’s American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Conference in Florida began as follows: “Several years ago, I lost my job as a training manager in a medium-sized manufacturing company, because I did not have the information available to prove that my activities delivered a sufficient rate of return”.
He then, predictably, went on to outline a complex, if ingenious, approach to determine training’s return on investment (ROI).
A whole industry has developed around ROI – countless seminars present new ways of isolating the impact of a training intervention from other activities taking place at the same time to measure its effectiveness.
The assumption seems to be that if you assemble information from multiple sources, analyse it correctly and package it appropriately, the chief executive will see the light, your role will be enhanced, and your future will be assured.
I find it hard to believe that the speaker had lost his job because he’d failed to acquire the necessary information to prove ROI.
What may have actually happened – and has certainly happened in many other cases – is that the chief executive reached the conclusion that the training manager was not delivering sufficient value to the organisation to justify their salary.
If this was the case, firmly held impressions would not have been altered by a column of figures.
This does not mean that training metrics do not matter. It is essential that those responsible are managing the resources effectively and delivering value, and that this value is demonstrated and accepted by senior management.
We need to develop a fresh perspective, rather than burrowing further down into the dark ROI tunnel.
Helpfully, some new work is emerging from the ASTD Research Team, which can help us in developing this new approach. It is due in October, but some interim findings were presented at the Florida conference.
The ASTD, in a joint project with IBM Research, has been exploring this issue of value.
The ASTD research will argue that if the chief executive has a high level of trust in the chief learning officer, over-elaborate metrics become less important. To quote from a slide at its presentation: ‘there is more value in front-end alignment than back-end isolating proof’.
This, it seems, is the way forward. The role of the trainer is altering in light of new economic and business demands: the way we demonstrate and deliver value is only one dimension.
Martyn Sloman is CIPD adviser, learning, training and development