For too long, leadership development has not been seen as a strategic, long-term source of increased income. Training has been seen as “time away from the job” and not part of “the real work of the job” – a line item in a budget and an activity that requires dollars but doesn’t visibly build profits. That stops today because I am going to share the five steps that you can take to document the bottom line impact of training and development. To ensure learning development ROI, the learning initiative must:

1. Align to the business strategy
2. Evaluate and measure outcomes
3. Involve stakeholders
4. Engage participants through experiences
5. Require new skill application

Align training to the business strategy. Every training course. All of it, even technology training. Leaders (and all employees at every level) are more likely to attend training and to incorporate new behaviors if they understand the business context and purpose. Organizations known for higher performance year after year invest in their employees, from the top down. But they don’t waste their investment. These organizations spell out their goals to all employees and show how the development of specific skills and competencies will move the organization toward those goals. All stakeholders must understand how their individual learning and development will impact the business. A healthcare COO, for instance, must see how spending two days learning to increase leadership and management skills of directors on his team will impact 2016 efficiencies: their better leadership and management skills increase their engagement and productivity which in turn, increases the engagement and productivity of their manager reports who themselves respond with greater engagement and productivity, lower turnover, and higher patient satisfactions scores.

Evaluate and measure outcomes. The effects of training CAN be measured. What is happening that tells you training is needed? Are too many goals unmet? Must the organization look outside whenever a job comes open because no employees are prepared to step up? Is income per employee slipping year after year? Every organization has its own critical metrics. For example, ask participants, “Would you recommend the training to peers?” or “Was the content correlated between objectives and business needs?” Use pre- and post-training assessments to know objectively that behaviors have changed. Measure goal achievement before and after the development process. Track employee engagement scores. Alert the participants, “These are the three (or five) outcomes that we intend to affect through training.”

Involve stakeholders. How often, in the midst of particularly powerful training as “ahas” ripple across the room of participants, have you heard someone in the group say, “You know who really needs this training? Senior management!” Getting the right people on board from the beginning is a vital step to ensuring the training is successful, new skills are acquired, and that it leads to behavioral and even cultural change. It is important to involve each stakeholder group from executives to managers to coaches and mentors in ways that reflect their strengths and enable them to drive the changes that matter most to them. These individuals may not participate in the training itself, but they can have a lasting effect on its implementation. Stakeholders can be involved during preparation for the training by serving as sponsors and showing how the training connects to the strategy. During the training event(s), stakeholders can use a coaching guide to reinforce new learning. After the training is completed, stakeholders can present an aggregate business impact report to all participants or even all employees. They can recognize different stakeholders for their contributions. They can also share learning plans that illustrate how behaviors and processes will change it the future.

Engage participants through experiences. Before any learning program, start focusing on the purpose and outcomes, and engage the participants through an interactive experience. To help participants get ready for training, schedule a kickoff session that explains who, what, where, why and when so that they are fully fired up. To help participants to start experiencing the curriculum and outcomes, share articles, newsletters and case studies about other organizations’ successes. Enable the participants to gather any data that might be useful in training activities, or to take assessments needed in the program.  During the training, be sure to break up activities with a variety of group and individual activities. Move people around within the building or take the group outside. And be sure that there is follow-up to reinforce the content learned and to encourage participants to fully use their new skills.

Require new skill application. To truly deliver learning ROI, the new skills and competencies must become part of the fabric of the culture. The performance management system should reflect the new job requirements. To anchor the new skills and behaviors in the culture, participants – and their managers – need to be held accountable for implementation. Managers can be coached to review skills and recognize new approaches. The training participants might be part of an action-learning team to complete an important project for the organization using their new skills. Reinforcing webinars and renewal sessions may be the tool to ensure the new behaviors and skills are used regularly. Share the results with all stakeholders – leadership and participants. If the results are disappointing, use them to help tweak future training and to uncover and address the reason goals are still achievable. Document and celebrate the positive results!

Real learning – involving the real behavior changes needed to provide different financial results – requires a comprehensive approach. Leadership development ROI is easy to document if developing metrics prior to the training implementation is a priority, and if care is taken during preparation phase, the training itself and the follow-up. One-time, one-off training disappoints because we are all creatures of habit: we return to old ways and old processes. Only new ways, new processes, new behaviors and new skills, will push the organization toward its goals.

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