Soapbox: ROE: Demonstration of Training Value

Return on expectations (ROE) demonstrates the degree to which training initiatives satisfy the expectations of key business stakeholders.

Return on expectations (ROE) is a foolproof way to show the value of training in the terms desired by key stakeholders. ROE demonstrates the degree to which training initiatives satisfy the expectations of key business stakeholders. Assumptions that may assist training professionals include:

  • Key stakeholders are high-level managers or executives.
  • Stakeholder expectations primarily include the accomplishment of the organization’s highest-level goals and mission.

Figure 1: The Kirkpatrick Model

Level 4: Results: To what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the learning event(s) and subsequent reinforcement.

Level 3: Behavior: To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job.

Level 2: Learning: To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, and attitudes based on their participation in the learning event.

Level 1: Reaction: To what degree participants react favorably to the learning event.

The Kirkpatrick Foundational Principles outline at a high level the key considerations in creating positive ROE.

1. The end is the beginning. Showing the value of training begins before a program even starts. Training professionals should be clear on the Level 4 Results the organization exists to accomplish. These aims nearly always highlight sales and profitability in a for-profit company or mission accomplishment in a not-for-profit organization.

A specific initiative also has leading indicators, or short-term measurements, that show the initiative is on track to make a positive contribution to the highest-level results. Typical leading indicators include employee retention, customer satisfaction, and new product sales, and are often the targets identified as desired program results.

Every major initiative should focus on one or more leading indicators that key stakeholders feel will most affect the organization’s Level 4 Results. This will generate ROE.

2. Return on Expectations is the ultimate indicator of value. Whenever executives request employee training, learning professionals must ask them questions sufficient to clarify how the training would contribute to the highest organizational results by advancing the leading indicators. This is a negotiation process in which the training professional ensures the expectations are satisfying to the stakeholder and realistic to achieve with the available resources.

Learning professionals often need to convert the typically broad, un-quantified expectations into observable, measurable leading indicators by asking the question, “What will success look like to you?” These leading indicators become the targets upon which collective efforts are focused.

Next, learning professionals should work with managers to identify the critical behaviors that, if performed consistently on the job by training graduates, most likely will produce the desired results. Once these key items are determined, training professionals can assess if training is the appropriate intervention. If so, they can proceed with the traditional identification of learning objectives and program design. If not, they can offer their assistance with other targeted interventions.

Training professionals should ask stakeholders during this process what evidence is required at each level to show the initiative is a success. Defining measurement methods, tools, and techniques at the start of the initiative makes evaluation much easier to perform.

3. Business partnership is necessary to bring about positive ROE. Once there is a clear understanding of the result to be accomplished, the next step is for training professionals to work with business managers and supervisors to create a tactical execution plan.

Historically, learning professionals have focused most of their efforts on training events (Levels 1 and 2). However, the largest ROE actually occurs at Level 3, on the job after training. To achieve maximum ROE, training professionals and front-line managers must work together before, during, and after training as a unified force.

When participants return to the job after training, required drivers must be in place. These are processes and systems that reinforce, monitor, encourage, or reward the performance of critical behaviors on the job. Training professionals should work with managers before training to design the required drivers and to provide as many tools and aids as possible. After training, they should check in with managers and support them in their efforts. Agreement on roles and responsibilities at the beginning of an initiative is critical.

The degree to which drivers are implemented relates directly to the extent to which critical behaviors are performed. The performance of critical behaviors is what yields the business-level results that comprise ROE. The partnership between training and business departments in planning and executing a strong required driver package is perhaps the largest predictor of program success.

4. Value must be created before it can be demonstrated. Training events alone typically result in only 15 percent transfer of learning to on-the-job behavior (Brinkerhoff, Robert O., “Training Impact Evaluation Senior Managers Believe and Use,” Get Zeroed-In on Learning and Measurement, Issue 6, 2006). The successful implementation of the required drivers creates the other 85 percent of learning transfer required to accomplish ROE.

In general, training professionals should spend fewer resources on formal training (Levels 1 and 2) to allow for more on-the-job involvement after training (Level 3).

A dashboard is an effective tool for tracking and communicating the progress of initiatives. It should include the highest-level results, leading indicators, critical behaviors, and required drivers. The dashboard should be updated and reported on a regular basis to show if the initiative is on track to achieve the desired results. Any areas not hitting their targets can be addressed so the initiative stays on track to achieve the planned ROE.

5. A compelling chain of evidence demonstrates your bottom-line value. Following these five principles makes demonstrating the value of training and related reinforcement straightforward. The evidence to be collected is defined clearly at the beginning of the project by the stakeholders, and data is collected throughout the process.

This chain of evidence includes both quantitative data and testimonials from people who participated in the process. This combination of evidence creates a story that is easy for everyone to understand and appreciate. Because the plan was created and executed in partnership and agreement, there is no question regarding what evidence is important and what results should be highlighted.

If partnership has occurred throughout the process, and any areas falling below target have been corrected, the desired ROE will be achieved.

Visit to read the highlights of an impact study conducted by an organization that successfully delivered positive ROE to its stakeholders.

Dr. James D. Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick work together in Kirkpatrick Partners, the One and Only Kirkpatrick Company. They are the creators of the Kirkpatrick Business Partnership Model and the New World Kirkpatrick Model. They welcome questions and comments at For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.