What’s to know?

January 6, 2005

I want to facilitate the conversation between business managers and learning professionals. They speak in different languages and I propose to help them communicate with one another.

Lots of people have ploughed this field, only to come up empty. Every savvy vendor’s dream is to sell bottom-line benefits rather than training. ROI is a hot topic in the training community:

  • Workshops on calculating the ROI of training are flourishing.
  • ASTD has started entire conferences devoted to measuring training ROI.
  • Jack and Patti Phillips are packing them in at ROI certification workshops.
  • Knowledge Advisors is selling ROI tools to vendors and their customers.
  • ASTD Store’s consistent bestsellers are books on calculating ROI.
  • Training, TechLearn, and ASTD conferences are chock full of sessions on ROI.
  • A recent ASTD survey found “linking training to organizational objectives” the number one need.

This trend didn’t spring up overnight. Articles written dozen years ago read much the same as today’s. Jack Phillips has had time to write 23 books! TechLearn has featured breakouts on ROI since its inception. Sadly, the results are mostly smoke and not fire. Most organizations continue to underinvest in training. “People are our most important asset,” say the senior management. Nonetheless, when times get tough, they immediately defer mainteance on these precious assets.

Why have previous efforts to link learning and performance so miserably failed? Among other things,

  • A training manager can’t be successful in a vacuum any more than one person, in isolation, can make a baby. It’s the relationship between training managers and business managers that needs work. Speaking a common language is only part of this.
  • ROI is an obsolete measure of corporate performance. It is the wrong tool for the job.
  • ROI focuses on accounting for the past rather than making decisions about the future.
  • Knowledge work is a different animal from manual work.
  • The nature of work has changed, from conformity and obedience to innovation and self-direction.
  • Training metrics focus on what an individual can accomplish (a legacy of schooling) but corporations care about performance — by teams and by individuals augmented with information systems.
  • Value creation through process improvement and applying operational leverage is a new capability.
  • There are no specifics on how learning investments create value.

I could go on, but this is getting depressing.

To link learning and performance, how should management and the training community behave differently? What do they need to know to co-create training that not only works well but is recognized as such?

time for lunch. Drucker? Selling skills? Handy. Checklists.


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