T&D and the Relentless ROI Dilemma

I had the good fortune to stumble into a great discussion thread on LinkedIn this week that finally tripped my trigger this morning on the C-suite’s addiction to ROI. I recognize this affliction is common these days and any attempts to pry fingers off traditions are often seen as more of an assault than an effort to evolve beyond current paradigms. Methinks we ultimately must drive transformational change in the perceived role Training & Development (T&D) plays in the organization.  Current T&D practices produce traditional training outcomes. What the C-suite needs to see…and will respond to…are a workforce that has the capacity to be agile and effective at the point of work…AND…produces sustainable business outcomes.

The discussion suggests C-suite perspective shapes how we package “ROI” or whatever expression will trigger funding approval of a new “learning investment”.  Then came the mention of calculating ROI on something that has not yet happened. That picked a scab and opened an old wound…again. I say “again” because it is something that seems to be a tradition at the C-level…and not that that is a bad thing, but I am convinced it is limiting…not to mention fraught with subjectivity. True we can benchmark others having gone before, but every organizational configuration has its own abnormalities that may or may not allow someone else’s experience/results/outcomes to manifest locally. Alas, that does not seem to be a detractor from repeatedly going down this same path.

I suggest that this perspective could be a “compartmentalization” of Training & Development as being something less than a source for sustainable performance outcomes. This may be more cultural than anything else that shapes this perspective. Our C-level folks need to see human capital as their largest asset…and many truly do…but limitations by seeing T&D’s contribution as “training” the workforce is a far cry from what they need to see. And I think we [T&D] have  put ourselves in that corner by measuring success on the lower levels of Kirkpatrick’s scale…stats showing only 15% or so reporting level 3 impacts…even less at level 4. Convincing senior leadership how “busy we are” will not fund anything seen as “new”, or in some cases, protect a budget on the block to get whacked. Forget integration of something that is seemingly outside the domain of T&D, like EPSS, or developing a Web services Learning Broker, or anything else that would facilitate learning outside the paradigm we have so effectively entrenched.

Learning @ the point of work? Yeah, good luck with that. C-level folks see that as jargon, and they do not understand the significance of learning and work converging. Yup…a new paradigm…and one that does not fit the current culture of…or the perception of…or the charter and scope of T&D. Here is where the need for transformational thinking must come into play.

I do not think, however, that leading with a new paradigm is the approach to take…certainly not dropping the name of something unknown like “Learning Broker”. As I said earlier, methinks we have a cultural requirement to shift the thinking about “T&D outcomes” to a higher level…better yet…on a broader scale. And that means shining the light downstream, post-training to tangible business outcomes that facilitate Workforce Agility & Capacity…and render Sustained Capability. There is not a C-suite on the planet that wants anything less. They just do not see that coming from T&D.

Connecting the dots between T&D efforts measured at Levels 1 & 2…and despite even a few Level 3s sprinkled in, are not enough. When you consider Capacity & Agility & Sustained Capability, none of these outcomes are manifest in the traditional domain or the traditional charter of T&D …they manifest in the downstream, post-training work context. In the work context, our workforce produces tangible business outcomes…or loses them…or creates waste…or creates business liability…all of which “push buttons” and/or set off alarms in the C-suite. We cannot connect those dots unless we can monetized those results…and that can be done easily if we have taken the forethought of identifying them as part of our business case. As we know, that which can be monetized can be extrapolated to ROI, or whatever mathematical formula floats your C-level boat with greater confidence and less subjectivity.

Personally, I think that our T&D organizations tend to lack performance consulting competencies. I believe without these skill sets embedded, we [T&D] do not have a prayer to work effectively in the downstream work context environment…and that is where we need to “be seen” by the operational side of the house…and “be valued” as true business partners.

We earn this “partnership” status through producing and facilitating things like Workforce Effectiveness, Agility, and Capacity to produce Sustainable Outcomes. Sound jargony? It is if we cannot integrate this “jargon” as part of our operational lexicon when we position T&D to our C-level team. We do not need fluency. We need deliverables, and that means more than integrating new T&D jargon, there must be a corresponding link to results. The results we seek to “own” manifest outside our current charter and scope. They manifest in the downstream, post-training work context…at the “edges of the learning ecosystem”.

Yeah, back to the ecosystem. Sorry. Can’t shake it. My passions about this new paradigm for continuous learning have changed me for good, and can truthfully say that I could never take another learning leadership role in an organization that was not open to transformational change in the T&D function…to the prospects of embracing the holistic concept of an “edge-to-edge” Learning Ecosystem. Current thinking? I really do not see much evidence so far, but I am confident we cannot avoid this paradigm much longer as learning and workflows converge. In order to drive a sustainable, going concern, T&D must be present and effective at that critical point of convergence; therein, we find tangible outcomes necessary for evidence of sustained capability…or if you must…ROI.

I welcome any dialogue or comments you may have.
Take good care!

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning