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Paul Matthews

People Alchemy Ltd


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Practical questions you can use for ROI thinking


Paul Matthews takes a practical approach to this month's theme.

Perhaps it is because people don’t know any other way. Perhaps it is because they have their heads firmly stuck in the sand. Perhaps it is because people are simply cranking the handle and doing what they have always done. Whatever the reason, it is costing organisations dearly.

Every day, people are attending training courses where little thought has been given to how that course is going to change things in a positive way for whoever is paying for it. This does not apply to all courses by any means, but it is a significant proportion, and that is all the more surprising given the budget constraints over recent years.

I get asked to deliver workshops on aspects of L&D strategy, and the role of L&D people in the delivery of their strategy. In almost every case, I have to ask for an explicit list of outcomes that they want from the workshop. They seem to think that putting me in a room with some of their people is ‘a good thing to do’. So I thank them for their trust in me, and the fact they think I can weave some magic, and then ask lots of questions.

Here are some of the questions, in no particular order, that I might ask:

Given the topic you want me to cover,

  • What behaviours should change?

  • What will people stop doing, start doing, or do more of?

  • What should they be able to do that they can’t do now?

  • What should/could/will improve and by how much?

  • How can we measure the improvement?

  • What do you think the hoped-for changes are worth?

  • Who else will it impact, and by how much, and what is that worth?

  • Have the participants been consulted on what they think they need?

  • What do the participants want?

  • What is it ‘costing’ the participants to be involved?

  • How would the participants like to measure the outcomes?

  • What will be done to embed the changes into the workplace?

  • What mini-projects or tasks could be given to participants to encourage experiential learning?

  • What follow-up will be done?

  • What support will be available?

By the way, notice that the questions focus on doing rather than knowing. Ultimately an organisation cares about what people are doing, and capable of doing, not how much they know.

I also often use the following four questions to look at all the possible consequences. You will find these four questions difficult to answer, but until you have properly considered them, and have answers for all of them, you have not really understood the consequences, and ROI is all about consequences.

  1. What will happen if we run the course?

  2. What won’t happen if we run the course?

  3. What will happen if we don’t run the course?

  4. What won’t happen if we don’t run the course?

I think it is also important to see things from the perspective of the course participants. After all, they are the ones who will deliver the desired benefits, so involve them from the beginning. Too many times, training courses are done ‘to’ people, and then their performance is assessed from afar using subjective measures they don’t even know exist.

The questions above will not get you to a hard financial ROI figure. They are not designed for that. They are designed to get people thinking more explicitly about the differences a training course or workshop will make. They should also be asked before training course is run, and asked before it is even designed. They should be asked at the very beginning.

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance support. He is also the author of the brand new bestseller "Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times". Paul blogs at

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