learning professionals meeting to discuss measuring ROIIt never fails to surprise me how many of my colleagues hold on to the nonsense belief that measuring ROI is just too difficult. Far too many in our profession hold onto that notion that we simply cannot accurately determine the value of the product we provide. So let me say again: Measuring ROI is a straightforward task. It’s not only clear, it’s an essential skill that you need to master. You need to know it for the sake of your profession and for the overall health of the organization that you support.

The Silly Excuses Used for Not Measuring ROI

A recent article in a popular learning magazine prompted me to write again about this topic. I won’t point to the article, but I will say that it contains many of the excuses I’ve heard for years now. Here are just a few of those reasons for not measuring ROI:
  • Assessing training results using Kirkpatrick’s Level 4 is just too onerous and impractical.
  • Your boss is convinced of your value by seeing that you created many new training programs; you don’t need to prove that your learning programs led to your organization’s improvement
  • You show that employees engage in many training activities, which convinces business stakeholders that your team offers value to the company.
  • If you can show employees learning through their job activities, through experiential learning, you can show value and avoid other measurements.
  • If you can measure learning using HR metrics, not business metrics, then you do not need to show an ROI.
It may be comfortable to lean on these excuses, but it will keep our profession relegated to the role of order taker rather than business partner. We have a more important role to fill, and we need to take ownership of that responsibility

Why Does This Notion Persist?

I think the false idea that measuring ROI is impossible persists for a number of reasons. One is that many of our colleagues entered the field without understanding the value of learning or having  instructional design (ID) competency. Many L&D practitioners were attracted to a learning role because of their expertise in a particular subject. SMEs are often recruited to join the training team. There’s nothing wrong with that path, but it often means the person lacks the necessary knowledge in the science behind learning. Another reason this notion persists is the belief that you cannot isolate the impact of a learning program. People have tried to do this in many ways. They’ve used complicated math models trying to isolate learning impact from all other possible influences. This thinking is misguided and impractical, but many in our profession don’t see any other way to proceed.  They abandon the quest without considering new and more efficient ways to measure. A third reason why our profession falters here is the belief that our current efforts are enough. Many in our profession run reports from their LMS, see lots of activity, and think that somehow shows value. Or, they look at the results of their smile sheet surveys, see lots of high ratings, and think that proves the effectiveness of their programs. Of course, none of this is true. Those things show activity and the opinions of learners. But neither demonstrates the value or necessity of our programs.

These Issues Are Fixable

As long as these notions persist in our profession, I will continue in my crusade to eliminate them. Measuring ROI is not too difficult and it’s a skill that can and must be learned. SMEs who lack ID knowledge can gain it. With training in instructional design, you can learn the correct way to design a measurable learning program. I’ve covered in depth how learning measurement is easy once you know how to do it. I’ve also debunked the notion that you must isolate the impact of learning. No other function in business attempts to show value in this way. What we must do instead is find the metric that can be directly influenced by a training program. Instead of trying to connect training to strategic metrics (which are influenced by several things), choose the operational metric that can be directly influenced by behavior change. Finally, a flurry of activity in no way shows the value of our profession. If you focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness, then you’re missing the point of what learning programs do. If you focus on your smile sheet results, you’re also missing the point. Smile sheets only reveal the opinions of our learners. They don’t tell us what has been learned. If you’ve been convinced that measuring ROI is too difficult or not a worthwhile pursuit, please contact us here at eParamus. We can teach you how to make these important measures and deliver the ROI results your business leaders want. Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.
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