A 6-Step Process to Show the Value of Training

Bringing a culture of accountability to learning and development to make sure your training delivers impact and ROI.

Wherever your role may be in learning and development (L&D), there is often a concern about the value you contribute. If you are a designer, what’s the value of the design you are offering? If you are a developer, what’s the value of the content you are providing? If you are a needs assessment analyst, was it the right solution? If you are a facilitator, what was the influence of the facilitator on the results? Wherever you work and whatever you do, there is an easy way to show the value of what you do. Demonstrating the value follows a logical value chain that has been accepted in the learning and development field by an estimated 95 percent of learning and development functions globally.

5 Levels of Success

Suppose you are creating enablement tools, such as technology support, a coach, or a mentor, to ensure the learning is used. Could you show the value of a coach or mentor? Yes, you can show the value of any part of the process. But first, you must show the value of the learning program and how it affects the organization. The program owner, funder, sponsor, or supporter would need to know the value of the program and all its components.

The learning program should deliver results along the five levels of outcomes. For reaction, the participants should see the program as important to their success, relevant to their needs, something they would support, and something they would recommend. Next, participants need to learn the program’s content, which is often an assessment of the knowledge gained or the skills acquired or enhanced.

After attending the program, participants must use what they’ve learned, and that is often labeled application—applying what they learned. This is important because you want them to use what they’ve learned frequently and be successful with it. If not, then perhaps the learning is a waste. But this is not enough; you need to see the impact, the consequence of the action taken or the behavior used. Application should have an impact. If not, participants were just busy with no consequence. The impact is the most important data set for an organization’s sponsors, funders, and top executives. Impact measures such as productivity, sales, incidents, accidents, waste, error, rework, and retention are already in the organization. There are hundreds of impact measures in most organizations. For an executive, learning should connect to one of those measures to be successful and supported.

But there is still more. Sometimes executives want to know if the program is worth it, particularly if it is an expensive, important, or strategic program or if it is one where they don’t understand the value. The ROI calculation brings the results into their world by converting impact to money and comparing it to the program’s costs to calculate the actual financial ROI. Literally thousands of organizations are taking this approach routinely for major L&D programs.

The Process

To make sure your program delivers impact and ROI, follow the six-step process, shown in Figure 1.

The first step is to connect the program to one or more business measures. That’s the why of the program. If the program doesn’t have an impact, most executives would consider it a waste of time. It’s an important issue. Using discussions, a review of the data, or a case study helps to identify the business measure in the beginning.

The second step is to ensure that this program can deliver the impact you identified. Is it the right solution? Some discussion and maybe a simple analysis can help to answer the question.

The third step is to expect success, proclaiming that the program’s success does not occur until the impact is delivered. This includes setting objectives for reaction, learning, application, and impact and providing these to all the program stakeholders. They are needed to design for impact results with tools, templates, processes, encouragement, and support. Make it their challenge to deliver success.

The fourth step is how much? Collect the data for levels 1,2, 3, and 4. All the classic data collection methods are used to capture data.

The fifth step—is it worth it?—follows the tasks of isolating the program’s effects on the impact data, converting data to money, totaling the cost, and calculating the ROI, using the benefit-cost ratio and ROI. To sort out the program’s effects on the impact, several techniques are available, ranging from comparison groups to estimates. The good news is that this task can always be accomplished. Also, converting data to money has already been done in most organizations. The best way for executives to understand the importance of a particular measure is to know its monetary value. This will be the profit (if it is sales) or the cost avoidance for a measure such as accidents, incidents, errors, waste, rework, turnovers, absenteeism, and out-of-compliance discrepancies. The program costs are easily captured, making ROI possible and feasible, and should be considered for those expensive programs.

The sixth and final step involves presenting the data to those who need it. Along with showing the results is leveraging the results, ensuring you keep the budget and the funding, and have the proper support and respect in the future. Presenting this kind of data to senior executives is a marvelous way to change the perception of learning and development. It makes executives look at learning as an investment instead of learning as a cost. This approach can make a world of difference.

With the results of the program, you then can sort out how much of this value was caused by the facilitator, designer, developer, coach, or mentor. This is where we can sort out the effects of the different influences that have been delivered. This helps us understand the value of the various components.

This process is presented in more detail in our book, “Show the Value of What You Do: Measuring and Achieving Success in Any Endeavor” (Berrett-Koehler, 2021). Contact us at info@roiinstitute.net if you would like to have a free copy of this book or if you would like to see a case study describing the process outlined above.

Jack J. & Patti P. Phillips
Patti P. Phillips, Ph.D., and Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., are the authors of “Show the Value of What You Do” and the CEO and chairman, respectively, of consulting firm ROI Institute. A researcher and consultant, Patti serves on the UN Institute for Training and Research board of trustees, International Federation of Training and Development Organizations board, The Conference Board Human Capital Advisory Council, and the Institute for Corporate Productivity People Analytics Board. She has written or contributed to more than 50 books describing how individuals can demonstrate the value of their work. Jack has taught his proprietary methodology to more than 50,000 professionals and managers in 70-plus countries. He is a global keynote speaker and has written more than 100 hundred books. He has served as an engineer, trainer, learning manager, HR executive, general manager, president, and college professor.