How to Prove the Value of Your Learning and Development Programs

Ever had a hungry gorilla show up at your door demanding to be fed? If you’re a CLO in today’s business climate, it’s quite possible that you can relate. In fact, you may be feeling the squeeze from anxious executives looking for ways to save money or cut costs right now. And if you can’t “feed” the gorilla with impact data or ROI that proves the value of your learning and develop programs, you can’t count on their continued funding.

In times of economic downturn, investing in learning is more important than ever. Employees today have to be at their best, because they are often multitasking due to a smaller staff. Learning needs more budget instead of less, so this isn’t the time to lose part (or all!) of your budget.

Even though the economy is growing in the USA, some industry segments are not doing well. Uncertainty across the globe—from the Brexit fallout in the UK and Europe to the oil pricing fluctuations affecting businesses in oil-producing countries—causes executives everywhere to play it safe and curtail the variable expenses that aren’t necessary. Of course, during times like this, executives often invest in projects that they see have future value.

Learning and development is a huge asset in shaky business climates. But if a hungry gorilla—a.k.a. an executive in charge of funding—shows up at your door, you’d better find a way to feed it fast. Otherwise your programs, and possibly your job, could get tossed out the window.

Once the gorilla has shown up, you’re in a precarious position. Here’s why:

You have a short timeline to show results, often weeks—not months.To change some of the processes so that you can measure the results may take much longer.

You now have ROI on the executive agenda.It needs to be on your  You need to be driving the issue.

You are now defensive.You need to be on the offensive. If the program that you evaluate is not adding value, it is hard for you to make the argument that you would like to change it to make it better. You are defending what you have accomplished. If you are on the offensive, and the evaluation is not where it needs to be, you can make some adjustments without a problem.

It’s best to feed the gorilla to keep him away from your door. You do this by producing an executive-friendly scorecard, say the authors. But this scorecard cannot be dominated by input data (counting people, times, and costs), reaction data, or learning data. It must have some application and impact data, detailing how people are using what they have learned and the impact it is having on the organization.

And for major projects or programs, the financial ROI is needed, showing that this is a good investment. When this is routine, the gorilla will be happy and won’t come to your door at all. Here are three tips for keeping him away:

Tackle the elephant in the room.

It’s getting to be a jungle in here! The elephant is fear. CFOs and learning and development workers are fearful that an ROI study would raise more issues than it would resolve. But by getting proactive, you have a chance to determine if your program works and implement adjustments to make it successful. And if you’ve designed your program from beginning to end with impact and ROI in mind, it should work and display real results, every time.

When it comes to delivering results for programs, hope for the best is not a strategy, luck is not a factor, and doing nothing is not an option. Be proactive. Step up and show the value of your major programs and be prepared to change them if value is lacking.

Stop analyzing the wrong metrics.

Don’t get stuck focusing on ineffective metrics involving your learning and development programs, such as average fill rate of your classes or the content of these classes. These measures show nothing and won’t impress an impatient CEO. You’ve got to give them something promising and tangible to show real value offered to the company.

Embrace design thinking.

Integrate it as you rethink the learning process. Learning and design professionals should take a cue from other fields and rethink their processes using design thinking. Specifically, they need to design for success, with that success defined as credible data connecting the learning programs to the business.

This will most likely require a drastic change in how you initiate, design, deliver, and evaluate learning. However, the results will be well worth it. Trust me, you don’t want to test the patience of a gorilla—or a nervous CEO looking to make cuts. Design for success and then dazzle your C-suite with scorecards that show your value in no uncertain terms. This will help guarantee the future of your learning and development department—which is vitally important during economically unstable times—and help your organization thrive.