Taking Care of Business

Workplace learning has risen to the top of many business leaders’ to-do lists. While this is most L&D practitioners’ dream, it comes at a price: the need for “accountability.”

Business leaders are placing tremendous pressure on Learning & Development (L&D) practitioners to demonstrate that their learning efforts and initiatives are worth the allocated budget. This is one of the biggest—and never-ending—challenges facing those involved with any aspect of workplace learning.


There are many reasons L&D practitioners are unable to connect their efforts with actual workplace applications. One that stands out is that L&D practitioners tend to focus on “the learning” rather than on “how the learning results affect business performance.”

L&D practitioners like to talk about being “accountable,” but they often fall back on the “three monkeys approach”: If we do not speak, see, or hear it, this pesky accountability issue will go away.

Regretfully, many L&D practitioners remain under the impression that if proper learning takes place, then everything else will take care of itself. Those involved with learning quickly discover how to integrate and apply Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. Yes, organizations explicitly hire L&D practitioners for their expertise with Level 1 (developing training that resonates with learners) and Level 2 (learning retention). Not one business leader expects anything different. What they expect, however, is that their L&D practitioners ensure that the first two levels contribute to improving job performance (Level 3) that will lead to business improvement (Level 4). This is what business leaders call “accountability.”


Herein lies every L&D practitioner’s challenge: getting employees to learn the right skills and, ultimately, apply these skills to the job. In an attempt to answer this need, some propose what appear to be relevant solutions such as measuring learning’s “return on investment” (training ROI) and how well learning meets business expectations (ROE). But these solutions often fall short of evaluating how well learning contributes to on-the-job effectiveness and its role in helping to achieve business objectives.

That said, here’s a news flash: Your business leaders have a growing need for innovation, creativity, and the capacity to manage continuous market changes. Your business leaders are under tremendous pressure to foster knowledge-driven business environments. Leaders increasingly are depending on organizational knowledge (and by extension, those responsible for it) to help them develop strategic and business advantages to maintain relevance, let alone survival, within their market space.

As a result, rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has risen to the top of many business leaders’ to-do lists. Even though this is just about every L&D practitioner’s dream, it also comes at a price…the need for “accountability.”

From our business background perspective, workplace learning is on thin ice with business leaders. The biggest impediment to conducting effective evaluations is the workplace Learning community’s “ivory tower” mentality. There is a pervasive arrogance within the Learning community that “learning” should never tarnish itself with business.

What many L&D practitioners fail to acknowledge and accept is that their leaders view “learning” as simply another business activity. For some reason, many believe this undervalues workplace learning. On the contrary, it brings the realization that, like every other business activity, learning must prove value and account for how it contributes to achieving the organization’s objectives. And while leaders recognize learning’s relevance, they will marginalize and possibly eliminate it altogether if it does not deliver value, directly or indirectly.


L&D leaders are not solely responsible for effective learning evaluations. To achieve complete learning accountability, every L&D practitioner—from instructional designers to the Chief Learning Officer—must design, develop, and deploy learning solutions that align with business objectives and contribute to tangible results.

So what do you do to demonstrate accountability for your learning initiatives? E-mail us at ajayp@centralknowledge.com and tell us how your learning efforts derive value for your organization.

Ajay M. Pangarkar, CTDP, CPA, CMA, and Teresa Kirkwood, CTDP, are founders of CentralKnowledge. com and LearningSourceonline.com. They are employee performance management experts and three-time authors, most recently publishing “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley). Help them start a “Workplace Revolution” at blog.centralknowledge.com or contact ajayp@centralknowledge.com.