When the budget ax is throwing off sparks at the training grindstone and the overall return on workforce development programs is being called into question,
training professionals should take a lesson from 2-year-olds. That's right, 2-year-olds.
Anyone who has spent time around these rambunctious youngsters knows that they have an intuitive fondness for repeatedly asking a simple, three-letter question: "Why?" And more often than not, when they are given an answer to that question, they follow up with an even peskier, "Why?" No doubt, we're all guilty of, at one time or another, driving our parents, grandparents or siblings near-insane with such a constant barrage of inquisition. But somewhere along the winding path to adulthood, we stop asking that all-important question, and that's a shame.
Training professionals around the world spend an incredible amount of time and energy identifying and quantifying who gets trained, what training is delivered, where and when it is provided, and last but definitely not least, how it's delivered. The "why" is all but absent, and it shouldn't, no, can't, be if workforce development initiatives have any hope of truly contributing—on a continual basis, not just in prosperous fiscal times—to organizational success.
No, I'm not going to spend my remaining space discussing the need for revised Kirkpatrick Levels or proclaiming the virtues of all things roi, because, quite frankly, I believe return on expectations, or roe, is infinitely more important to assess. And roe begins, in my opinion, by asking the simple question, "Why? Why is training needed?"
That question, when asked of a key executive, say a vice president of sales who has come to you seeking new product training for his or her sales reps, provides a clear idea of critical success factors without endless and tiresome meetings and no wasting of precious corporate time and resources scrambling to work up some numbers of questionable utility.
By focusing on doing a good, upfront job of figuring out the why—then the who, what, when, where and how—training is needed, a highly usable set of measurable criteria surfaces. Establishing a consensus of expectations and tracking that initial vision all the way through the project will naturally lead to tangible measurements of both performance and change.
Consider Verizon Wireless, a company that has been using this method with great success since its days as Bell Atlantic (before it merged with gte to create Verizon). Prior to the beginning of any training initiative, a member of the training team conducts a 15- to 20-minute interview with a key executive involved in the learning effort—usually a company vice president who is financially accountable for the project. Based on that person's expectations, specific learning objectives are established. Then, and only then, are the remaining pieces of the training puzzle, specifically the who, what, where, when and how components, are put together. Once the training is complete, the executive is interviewed again and asked to quantify the results. Did this project do what we wanted it to do? Did we get a return on the VP's expectations? If so, quantify them. For some companies, the answers to such questions are enough of a return. For others, like Verizon, that data is used as "reasonable evidence" in an roi calculation.
Anyone who has ever tried to quantify training's roi knows how difficult it can be to move from reasonable evidence to proof—and put simply, the roi of doing roi well is frequently too low to justify the effort and expense. That's where roe can, and should, be used.