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Christina Lattimer

People Development Magazine


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A Measured Return On Your Learning Investment


One of the biggest wasted opportunities for both individuals and organisations is when benefits of learning and development aren't realised.  Learning programmes are usually bought in to correct or change something and there is a perceived skill, knowledge, behaviour or competence gap.  More often or not, the focus is quite rightly on tuning the learning intervention to equip oneself or the team or organisation with the missing attribute.   However, even when the most brilliant programme has been put together there is often a gap between the learning and the realisation of benefits.  The 7 principles outlined below, I believe bridge that gap.

There are many evaluation models and cost/benefit frameworks which attempt to determine the “worth” of learning and development in the workplace.  Depending on the type of learning required, some models and frameworks are easier to apply than others.  Sometimes even when applied, the expected outcomes and improvements have either not materialised or they have taken far longer than expected.

Even when the learning programme is excellent, it doesn’t always deliver results

A number of years ago, I worked with an organisation who had invested a great deal of employee time and financial resource into a learning and development programme, with frustratingly little result.  A professional business consultancy had evaluated before and after, calculated a ROI which was a persuasive driver to buy in the proposed programme, but 18 months later, the expected benefits had simply not accrued.

The MD was totally frustrated; as the learning programme was polished, expert and inspirational.  Employees were enthused, and bought into the concepts and the benefits of working in a different way.  The formalised feedback on the training event was excellent.  The business consultancy had done an amazing job.  So what had gone wrong?

Improving knowledge, skills and behaviours doesn’t always mean better results

In another example,  lack of effective leadership skills and behaviours had been identified as a big problem for this national organisation.  It was decided to re-design the leadership skills framework and to develop a programme for all senior leaders.   A set of behavioural standards were developed, and a methodology to measure changes was put in place.  A coaching and mentoring framework was agreed along with monthly action learning meetings.

There was a new spring in the step of leaders across the organisation.  They gave positive and enthusiastic feedback for the coaching and development programme.

When the 2nd annual employee feedback survey showed less than a 1% improvement in perceptions of employees, alongside results with marginal improvements, they were dumbfounded.

Great learning programmes don’t always result in improvements, but they should

Those examples are simply two of hundreds I have seen, when learning and development has been brought into an organisation; the learning has been evaluated and the content and application has been faultless. The organisation is absolutely clear about the improvements they want to see.  But yet, still, the expected results did not materialise.

Why is this?  As you know there are many factors which impel or motivate people to change the way they do things, and learning new skills, behaviours, knowledge or even raising awareness is just one part of the equation.

When your business is buying in development interventions, you want to be able to see a real return on investment, otherwise why would you use precious financial resources on it?   No one can completely guarantee a return on investment, but the chances of a return can be greatly improved, and more importantly you can pinpoint exactly why the return hasn’t been realised by introducing the following principles.

When I was asked to do some work for the organisation in the first example, the MD was frustrated that the learning he had bought in had not realised the outcomes he required, even though the learning providers had delivered the learning they had promised.

Seven simple principles

My first step was to establish the following 7 principles if I were going to take on the task of getting results:

  1. A learning and development provider will facilitate a real return on investment in partnership with the commissioning organisation.
  2. Learning must enable a measureable improvement or change by the learner.
  3. The improvement or change must contribute to the overall outcomes for the organisation.
  4. Each learner must develop a “call to action, or objective” where they are accountable for achieving the measureable improvement or change. 
  5. The organisation must enforce accountability, usually through theirperformance management system.
  6. The achievement collectively of “calls to action, or objectives”will result in a measured outcome for the organisation.
  7. “If it is not possible to set individuals a call to action or objective which aligns with overall business objectives, following learning then the commissioning organisation should consider whether development is actually needed.

I agreed to deliver a short refresher programme, with a pragmatic design.   I explained unless the training included an accountable call to action for each employee, it would likely be unsuccessful once more, and so secured his agreement to establish accountability for achievement within the organisation.

We agreed at the end of the event, each employee would identify a work based objective to

  • Improve, abandon or shorten a process and to quantify the savings.
  • Improve customer service or increase customer satisfaction, with a measurable difference
  • Reduce the number and type of complaints
  • Create a measureable increase in quality

In  a 6 month period, 95% of employees met objectives,  outcomes were recorded and collectively it was calculated that almost  £1 million had been saved up to that point as a direct result of achievement of the outcomes or objectives.

Not only were amazing results achieved, employees felt an increased sense of ownership of the success of the initiative.  They had tangible evidence of their contribution and saw a real difference.

Incidentally, these principles will also work for individuals if you are thinking of buying in your own self-development programme.  For the majority of learning, unless it translates into accountable action, then it might be a “nice to have” but not necessarily an activity which will create signifcant change.

Christina has managed people for twenty seven years and led hugely successful teams. She has worked with people at all levels in various organisations to help them achieve their potential, and she has been actively involved in the learning and development field in a number of different roles.

People Discovery is a Leadership Development provider based in North East England, working globally. 

2 Responses

  1. Brilliant

    I work to a very similar set of principles and have seen really strong positive results. Often one of the challenges is for the training team/organisation to acctually say no to the business in early stages unless they can show where the measurable business benefit of the intervention will happen. To this end i always ask key stake holders to establish the evidence of change as the first stage of design. If they cannot show where the evidence of change will be measured then saying No and guiding them in a different direction is the best approach.

    Once we understand where the change will be seen we can start to look at all the things the impact on that change and build interventions accordingly.  This can add a lot of clarity to ROI measures and also demands that interventions move beyond the traditional methods for learning and into operational linking training more closely with the business.


    Thanks for the article nice to know there are people out there who are trying to make Learning and Development more business savy with the added bonus of more effective outcomes



  2. Great Minds

    Thanks Phil for taking the time to feedback and comment.  Like you, I find it heartening to know others who make sure a return on investment is at the heart of the Learning offer.  I find that operating the principles actually helps facilitate the diagnostic assessment, and very often you find, learning and development is not the real problem for lack of results or resistance to change. 


    Thanks again, much appreciated, and have a lovely weekend. 



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Christina Lattimer


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