How Training Impacts

Today’s world of business requires us all to choose between changing things up, or become redundant. Tough words, but equally as true for those in the people or training industry as all other industries.

So, let’s start with the first ‘change things up’! How do current formulae for ROI serve the Training or L&D space of today? Could it be time to change those up? Is it time to move the needle from ROI to ROE (Return on Effort), or transform completely to ROI (Return on Impact).

If we were to take that step, and focus on Return on Impact, we would reach our second chance to ‘change things up’. Is it possible for those who speak the language of numbers and formulae to soften the edges and consider that some return will not translate into numbers? No amount of innovative formula creation will capture the power of all gains from well-executed Training Initiatives.

Let’s contextualize this. In a major 15-month organizational change initiative, with the aim of converting the current culture of management to a culture of leadership and innovation, the below represent major milestones of the project, creating large, immediate and ongoing impact.

1. Peer Education and Influence

At one stage, small resistance to the learning activities within the 10-strong team crept in, with one questioning overtly: ‘Why are we doing this? We were told there’d be no extra work during this initiative’! At that particular moment, one other colleague responded immediately with ‘This is not extra work for us. This is THE work of a leader that we have not been doing’! It is entirely possible that a trainer could embed that message into every part of a 2 year program and still not be heard, yet when ‘one of our own’ generated relevant meaning, highlighted their own lost opportunity and challenged from within, the impact was undeniable, and remains so til today. How would traditional ROI measure that milestone? No idea, but given that statement, and its impact could not translate into immediate financial gain, it likely would not carry importance. Yet the impact of that statement is still influencing.

2. Shift from silos to collaborative synergy

It became obvious that historical legacy of silos was a burden on a culture of innovation, as it became clear that not one person can know everything and not one mind can create a future. We learned to get to know each other from the inside out, understood priorities and even explored cross-border opportunities. The philosophy of ‘your problem but our challenge’ became embedded as we carefully stepped into each other’s lands, creating our one collaborative land. Cause and effect of each of our actions became evident, and led us towards intentional behavior.

Habits that separated were gradually replaced with behaviors that united, resulting in client meetings attended by two or three departments, open sharing of resources (both human and technical) and coffee conversations to explore possibility.

How would traditional ROI measures record ‘behaviors that united’ in the balance sheet? No idea, but given that the impact could not immediately translate into financial terms, uniting behaviors would likely not carry importance. Yet, one of those actions has already resulted in two clients exploring additional customized services. Where that will lead is anybody’s guess.

3. A mindset shift

Return on Impact can also influence our mindsets. To shift the needle from an auto-pilot management culture to a dynamic, progressive culture of leadership and innovation required resourcing, and a whole new ‘justification’ for more investment. Traditionally, any training budget is limited, and many describe as an after-thought. Change (isn’t that the aim of training) requires people to adopt and use new behaviors which is not a natural human tendency. Yet this change (let’s estimate new behaviors to bring 80% of emerging business success), is expected to be achieved with the tiniest of budgets (let’s say 10% of total organizational budget). If that is true, then so too was the reverse, in which 90% of the existing budget was being allocated to areas of business that would bring only 20% business success. Where is the business sense in that?

With this new mindset revolving around impact, the picture is clear and arguments fade into oblivion.

Shaking things up should reach to the very core of organizations, including long-held beliefs of what is important. An organization today that is prepared to change will consider change in all aspects of its operation, including measures and KPI’s. ROI could very well be a essential victim of emerging workplaces. Could the conversation about impact versus investment be as relevant as another in the training world about objectives versus intentions?

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business consultancy and learning organization ‘business en motion’, working with strategic change, leadership and organizational development, assisting businesses and leaders to move ahead.