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Training ROI: Chasing a Unicorn or Real Possibility?

Training ROI - UnicornSomewhere in the midst of the dog and pony show, the investment manager lost me. I think it was right after he said, “Check out how slick this is; you can export your gain/loss history straight to excel for your own personal record.” In fairness, the investment manager knew I wanted to invest, and that I had some money set aside to do so. From there, he assumed the hard part was over. All he needed to do was show me some cool online features, and he’d be cashing his commission check.

My problem with the investment manager wasn’t that he failed to display sufficient product knowledge, or that he was unwilling to take the necessary time to show me all the options. In fact, on only the basis of the aforementioned, he was impeccable. My problem with the investment manager was that he failed to uncover the most important consideration in my buying decision process: ROI.

Learning & Development Status Quo

The mistake I almost made was investing my money in a bundle of features, without considering the ROI impact. In the training world, this mistake is far too common. To illustrate, a scenario I’ve seen many times goes something like this: A business unit leader taps the training department to develop content, the training department solicits proposals from several vendors based on loose scope requirements, and ultimately, makes a decision based on important factors such as cost, timeline, and vendor “flash.”

The typical outcome of the above scenario goes something like this: The training department celebrates the creation of a shiny new course on time and within budget, the business unit leader celebrates the beginning of his department’s increased knowledge of the subject matter, the course full of features and flash is launched to thousands of employees, and minimal, positive impact is realized.

The Value of Quantifying Training ROI 

The above hypothetical combined with my experience with the investment manager underscore a problem that permeates training departments and organizations across the world: not enough attention is paid to defining, and subsequently, quantifying the return on your investment. Of course, not all are guilty of gross training ROI negligence.

In a recent conversation with the Senior Director of Technical Training for a Fortune 100 technology company, the executive emphasized that, “training to us is viewed as a revenue generator, and not a cost center.” Applying this model may not work for everyone, but adopting the mindset that a company’s training dollars can be quantified through learner impact is a critical first step.

Focus on What’s Real: Don’t be Distracted by Features and Flash

When selecting a partner to work with, it’s easy to default to cost and/or a vendor’s impressive portfolio. The danger with this, however, is that neither cost nor portfolio matters unless learner behavior actually changes. At Allen, we’ve seen countless examples of failed training that was designed to win a contract, deliver the content, and move on. If you apply solutions that have flash, but don’t provide measurable results, you are in essence implementing a mythical solution.

The challenge for training professionals and business unit leaders is to find a content development partner with a process for accountability. At Allen, one of the first conversations we have with prospective clients centers on how they define success, how we will measure it together to ensure accountability within our process, and change learner behavior. At some level we are all accountable for the success or failure of the training initiatives we own, and if your partner doesn’t have a process to ensure behavioral change, well, you may be chasing a unicorn.