ROI for training – it’s not rocket science

First, please allow me to declare an interest: when professional development of any kind shows a return on investment, finance directors take a more benign view of that particular line on the spreadsheet when seeking ways to save money. This keeps providers like Zoomly in business.

It shouldn’t be so hard to demonstrate ROI on learning & development, coaching, training, performance support, CPD, or whatever it’s called where you work – but for far too many organisations that seems the case. If you’re going to be asked to demonstrate ROI this year, may I offer a few tips based on what I’ve seen work?

Identify the ROI you seek at the earliest stage in the whole process

So, let’s imagine your CEO decides that what managers need this year is a leadership course. Before you even begin to consider potential providers ask your CEO to identify what they need to see change and why. Do they want to reduce external hiring at this level and shift to 60%-plus promotions from within? Or do they want to raise productivity and efficiency, with less time taken per project delivered and a 50% reduction in rework? Or do they want to stem the steady stream of leavers amongst those managed by this group? You need to be able to work with your CEO to put clear metrics for success in place. If your CEO is too busy to get involved, ask for other senior managers’ opinions. Finance Directors can be more interested and constructive than you might think.

Recruit senior stakeholders within the business

With the best will in the world, a training activity that is initiated and owned by HR might stay there. No matter how well-intentioned, it can prove tough to sell internally to potential participants and almost impossible to measure ROI when done. Senior stakeholders, key influencers, ‘training champions’ (if you must), need to be convinced of the business imperative before their support can be counted on.

The key here again is to work with them if you’ve identified a problem in the business that you believe can be addressed by training, and get their input. Is the problem causing pain in the business and if so what kind? Or is the problem something those in the business are aware of but it’s just not seen as a priority right now? (In which case you need to change course and find out what IS the priority right now – and work with them to fix that instead). Senior stakeholders are best placed to identify what success will look like and what potential obstacles lie in the path.

Build ROI into the whole programme

If you leave measuring ROI until the end of the programme you’re a) at risk of attempting to retrofit business metrics into holes they won’t quite fit and b) letting yourself in for a great deal of work. It’s been my experience that most people on training programmes want to improve their own performance and they want to be able to demonstrate the difference they can make to their employer as a result. So why infantilise them by keeping quiet about the ROI required?

Ensure participants know upfront why the programme is necessary, the results expected and how they will be able to demonstrate their contribution. For example, they may work on a live business issue or process improvement project as part of the course. Or they may build an individual case study to be presented at the end. Or they may form teams to competitively pitch to senior management for a prize. Or a combination of all the above.


If you want to discuss a specific project and how to determine ROI, please feel free to get in touch via

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ 





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