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Clear Expectations Improve Measurable ROI for L&D

Expectations are like looking through the windshield and measurements are like looking in the rearview mirror. Establishing clear expectations makes calculating ROI much easier in a few ways. When the destination is clearly defined, it’s easier to determine what to measure. Involving stakeholders upfront to help with the calculations means its easier to figure out how to measure it later. 

Business leaders want L&D to succeed - particularly when their business goals rest on employee performance - but they often need a little guidance to know how best to help L&D. We’ve come up with these steps to establish clear expectations that lead to measurable ROI for L&D.

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Let’s explore how two different companies followed these steps to align with the businesses’ expectations. Here's a little information about each company.

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Step 1: Stakeholder Selection

In our experience, it’s hard to overstate the value of business leader stakeholders. They are the conduit to expectations, important and relevant data, and ROI calculations.

When determining the relevant stakeholders for an initiative, look for the leaders who have an organizational or financial stake in the success of some initiative (that has a related L&D scope). Generally speaking, start with those whose goal(s) will be directly impacted by the learning initiative. Next, look for those who will be indirectly impacted. If it isn’t readily apparent, ask around. Typically, when the complexity and number of functions involved in an initiative grows, so does the number of stakeholders. 

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Step 2: Uncover Expectations

Getting a handle on business leader stakeholder expectations is relatively easy. Request a short 1:1 interview with each stakeholder and ask them about the goals, the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve the goals, and how they will measure that the goal has been achieved. We’ve written about this previously here

Next, consolidate the findings and review them during a meeting with the entire group of stakeholders. The value of this two-stage process is in surfacing and reconciling differences or disconnects, determining if anything is missing, and making tradeoffs or prioritizing when needed.

Initiatives of different kinds will elicit different kinds of input from stakeholders. While L&D doesn't define business strategy, L&D must take the lead in drawing the line from stakeholders’ goals, to performance outcomes, to the learning outcomes.

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Step 3: Determine Measurement Dimensions

Identifying measurement dimensions, determining the appropriate data, and how the data will be used is primarily the responsibility of the business leader stakeholders. Generally, their goals include this kind of information. While L&D isn't the driver, it’s a good idea for L&D to work with the stakeholders to define the data that best works to a) measure the overall results and b) determine the impact of training on that result. In some cases the data that is directly on point doesn’t exist and needs to be assembled.

Exposing gaps in current data isn’t always comfortable for the stakeholders. However, finding out early with time to remedy the situation is often far better than the alternative. Additionally, it is often the case that the stakeholders recognize that the cost and burden of creating the very best data isn’t worth it in the overall scheme and so work with what is available and make inferences as needed. While it may not be the ideal outcome, it is generally far more practical.

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Step 4: Identify the Data

While L&D may have ideas about the data to use, when asked, most business leader stakeholders have some ideas about measurements at the ready. Encourage them to explain their rationale for using the data. If you’d like to learn more about using the wide and expanding variety of data, see these articles we wrote for Training Industry:

Creating a Data-Driven Learning Strategy and Alignment 2.0: Predicting and Measuring Results

Many times you will find there are gaps between goals, dimensions, and the available data. Work first with what is available, then branch to defining new data to be obtained, if needed.

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Step 5: Establish Calculations

Once the measurement dimensions and data have been defined, baselines can be calculated. While there are a number of simple ROI calculations available, follow the stakeholders lead. For a variety of political and buy-in reasons, if the calculations move beyond the simple to something more complex, better to have the stakeholders leading the way. They’ll trust their own evidence far more than L&D’s.                                               

Conclusion

To provide evidence of business benefit and ROI, L&D should follow a consistent process that engages business leader stakeholders in a strategic way to surface the goals they value and the metrics they trust. Business leaders want to be successful and by extension, they want L&D to be successful in aiding them along the way. It is wise to trust their input and follow their lead.