One of the biggest issues chief learning officers and other learning leaders struggle with is proving the return on investment (ROI) of their learning and development (L&D) programs. This can only be achieved if learning outcomes can be linked to business goals.
The baseline view of ROI is usually revenue minus costs. While other business areas like sales and marketing are able to calculate ROI in the traditional way, the ROI of L&D programs must be determined differently.
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Proficiency gains and engagement linked to business metrics is the type of data that should form the backbone of managing a strategic L&D investment. The right kind of data and measurement should deliver learning leaders with quantitative and qualitative insights rather than subjective observational data points. It should guide frontline managers on who, what, and when to coach and prove (or disprove) the ROI of L&D programs.
But when presenting your L&D initiatives to the C-suite and building a case for expanding your program, you need more than course-completion rates, one-off assessment results, and qualitative observations. To win the hearts, minds, and funding support of the executive team, you need to tell a strong corporate learning story that will answer the question “What is the business impact?” This will need collaboration across business units to determine goals, defining internal resources and champions, illustrating the execution plan, and setting metrics to define success.
To guide your efforts, these are the four pillars needed to successfully design, present and get buy-in for top down program support from the C-suite. We’ll examine each pillar briefly.
1. Share The Program Plan and Roadmap
Put your L&D program in the context of your company’s business objectives and explain how your training can impact the organization. Walk through the business goals your L&D program supports, share the hypothesis to be tested, and answer the following questions:
- What is the use case?
- What behavior do you intend to change?
- Which metric(s) will be used?
- Are metrics measured, pre, during and post the program period?
- What alternatives were considered?
- What action will be taken from the results?
- What cross-functional support and effort is needed for success?
2. Define Dedicated Internal Resources
Two popular methods of calculating ROI, the Phillips ROI Methodology and Bersin’s Learning Impact Measurement Framework, actively encourage discussions with company-wide stakeholders as part of the model to help inform your hypothesis. Regardless, it just makes good business sense to identify cross-functional support in advance of a program or learning leaders risk losing relevance and engagement. Highlight the role and responsibilities of each stakeholder — such as an executive sponsor, program managers, and content contributors — and keep them motivated by reviewing insights throughout the program to adapt to any red flags in real-time. For example, a red flag could be a drop in engagement, frontline managers not actioning coaching recommendations or a glaringly obvious weakness in knowledge or skill that cannot wait to be addressed at the end of the program. Having the right players on board who are invested in helping to guide and shape the program contributes to and validates its success.
3. Prove Flawless Execution
Illustrate how you will put the program into action from conception to completion, including the development of necessary content, approval processes (especially important when it comes to heavily regulated industries), communication plans, and the report stack and frequency. Share any lessons learned and strategic pivots made throughout the program. Give your company’s leaders confidence the L&D program was a well-oiled machine and will continue to adapt to continually support business goals.
4. Merchandise Your Success
You should be armed with great intel, data and insights, so be ready to share it! Reiterate the agreed metrics chosen to determine success, as well as how they link learning objectives to business goals and outcomes. With this objective and data-driven insights, you can now discuss the good, the bad and the ugly to make recommendations for future training initiatives, or inform future business strategies.
Data Tells the ROI Story
The right data strengthens your business case and allows you to show the C-suite how your L&D initiatives are the missing link between productivity and performance. By explaining the why and how behind your programs, you’ll create a higher connection between training’s impact on business goals, which strengthens the business case of L&D and, ultimately, informs subsequent training programs and shapes the company’s future.
To learn more about how to shape the C-suite’s view on measuring the ROI of corporate learning and business line training initiatives , download our eBook, How to Quantify the Value of Corporate L&D Programs.