Can Diversity Learning Be Linked to ROI Performance?

There seems to be a myth operating within some communities of practice, which suggest that the results created by diversity initiatives defy measurement. It is often presented with a belief that creating a measurable diversity process that drives business is something of a complex and mysterious art form. Organizations are looking for strategies to deal with increased competition, options for reducing cost and increasing productivity to affect the bottom line. Many diversity training evaluations use poorly designed “smile sheets” and focus primarily on attendance records that have very little to do with the business needs and specific performance requirements. I believe this must change.

Accountability is a key issue for diversity training, just like any other business unit. Diversity training is only one of several initiatives that are undertaken to achieve an organization’s diversity objectives. Left without the effective practice of utilizing consistent, time-tested methods of diversity training ROI evaluation practices, diversity organizations can become an easy elimination target for those who do not believe in its value. Consequently, the idea of being able to calculate the diversity return on investment of diversity learning and performance programs is mandatory if diversity is to take its place at the strategic partnership table.

Skill development is one of several activities that must be undertaken to achieve an organization’s strategic business objectives. The only way to determine that skill development and diversity training are having the desired effect is to use formal training evaluation processes and cost-benefit analysis methods. The results of these activities can confirm the positive effects of diversity training and development and identify improvements to make it better. It is my contention that diversity training measurement and evaluation strategies can contribute to maximizing an organization’s overall return on investment.

Any organization that wants to succeed, and continue to succeed, has to recruit and maintain a diverse workforce consisting of people who are willing to accept change and to learn and develop continuously. This is true of everyone in the workforce from the CEO to the newest recruit.

Diversity ROI Evaluation Must Be a Deliberate and Consistent Process

Defining and monitoring the learning needs of a diverse workforce must be a deliberate and comprehensive process. This task has been described using many terms such as manpower planning, human resource assessment, skill needs analysis, etc. It is not the name given to the activity that matters; it is the work that is done to identify the diverse workforce needs at all levels that is important. This is not a one-off exercise — it is a continuous process of assessing business needs as they constantly change, analyzing the implementation and effects of your diversity strategic plan learning interventions and gauging their impact on the organization’s performance and ROI.

The lack of measurement practices for diversity sets diversity apart from the rest of the organization. Therefore if we, as diversity professionals, want to be effective communicators of value added to the bottom line, we must build rapport with our audience using diversity ROI methods. The business case and rationale for diversity must be linked to strategic business objectives and initiative results. Next, it must be displayed and communicated in organizational impact-related terms.

I am convinced that the only way to determine that diversity training and skills development are having the desired effect is to use formal training evaluation processes and cost-benefit analysis methods. The results of these activities can confirm the positive effects of the learning and performance initiative and identify improvements to make it better. Evaluation approaches can contribute to maximizing the organization’s return on training investment indicators.

Evaluation helps us use measurement to make decisions (example: to stop, modify or expand a process, determine its benefits and appropriate next steps). This implies:

• Knowing what decision the evaluation data will help you make.

• Measuring scientifically, using data collection methods and research designs that separate the effects your program is having from all other influences on your outcome variables.

• Choosing the right measures to reflect what your program is really trying to and did accomplish.

The Critical 7 Levels — Don’t Perform Your Initiative Without Them!

I have found it useful to first to distinguish the “evidence-based, outcome-focused” measures from other types of “activity only” measures. Diversity ROI must be based on evidence and impact results. Anyone responsible for diversity training is also responsible for evaluation. Whether you calculate the impact or not, from management’s point of view, you will always own the ROI of the initiatives you implement. So, the amount of evaluation that you provide depends on the types of decisions that your organization must make and the information needed to make those decisions. There are seven levels you can use in the Hubbard Diversity Return-on-Investment evaluation methodology to demonstrate your ROI impact:

• Level 0: Business and Performer Needs Analysis.

• Level 1: Reaction, Satisfaction, and Planned Actions.

• Level 2: Learning.

• Level 3: Application and Behavioral Transfer.

• Level 4: Business Impact.

• Level 5: Diversity Return-on-Investment, Benefit-to-Cost Ratio.

• Level 6: Intangibles.

For example, if your only requirement is to ensure that participants have positive attitudes toward the course, then Level 1 evaluation is sufficient. But, if your goal is to determine whether your diversity course is having a positive effect on job performance, then you will have to perform a Level 3 evaluation. This also means you will also have to conduct Level 1 and 2 evaluations to assess the learning performance applications and job impact at Level 3 (called the DROI Chain of Impact). They provide the basis for determining whether participants demonstrated that they learned by putting these skills and attitudes to use (verified by a Level 3 evaluation).

So the question is not “Can diversity learning be strategically linked to ROI performance.” Instead it is “How is diversity learning strategically linked to ROI performance?”

Where Do You Begin?

Your first step in evaluating diversity learning and performance is to determine your major evaluation questions or objectives based upon a needs assessment or cultural audit conducted at the outset. The second step is to plan and conduct the appropriate diversity learning and performance evaluation to generate data to enhance your decision-making. The following decisions are examples made possible through utilizing Diversity ROI evaluation:

• How satisfied are the participants with the course? What are their planned actions (intention to use the information)?

• Do the participants believe they learned the values and skills that the course was intended to teach?

• Can the participants demonstrate the values, knowledge and skills taught in the course?

• Do the participants report that they are using their diversity values, knowledge and skills back on the job?

• What business impact measures are affected by putting this learning into practice?

• What are the benefits derived from this learning initiative’s implementation? What are the costs?

• How soon will the learning investment be paid back?

• What is the diversity ROI percent generated from this intervention?

• What other intangible benefits and outcomes can be cited as a result of implementing this learning initiative?

The Learning and Evaluation-Focused Organization

Learning involves a constant interaction between people and their environment through experimentation, exploration and questioning. An environment that is exciting, and one in which people have fun, leads to considerable learning and growth. Building a learning organization means encouraging people to be themselves, to question and explore their working environment and to be able to influence what goes on around them. For this to happen changes have to take place in what I will call the conventional rule-based organization, where supervision is concerned with getting people to toe the line rather than learn and grow. To learn, people have to open their minds to new ideas and suggestions, and learn to effectively work across cultures, differences, functions, etc., in a way that includes and values others. Then take the time to evaluate the impact of this learning application in driving organizational performance. This process and approach is encouraged and viewed as a requirement in a learning and evaluation-focused organization.

In the learning and evaluation-focused organization, diversity learning and performance interventions are not separate from day-to-day activities; it is an inherent part of the business and part of the normal operating mode of the business. When a person needs to know something, or wants to learn something, the information and the support systems to learn should be immediately available. Sometimes this can be done while work activities continue. Sometimes a short break may need to be taken. Where it is not possible for work activities to be interrupted, employees should be able to access competency development training as soon as they can. Employees should be encouraged to take the time and make the effort to learn. This encouragement should come from colleagues, supervisors and management alike.

The learning and evaluation-focused organization is always willing to learn from diverse customers, suppliers, competitors, the marketplace and its workforce. In this way, change is not only accepted, it is eagerly sought out and the challenge it brings is welcomed. This reduces negative effects and impact related to the change, as well as strengthens the organization’s ability to be flexible.

A learning and evaluation-focused culture grows from practice and example. When senior management acts in this way, it shows employees who work for them that they embrace and value diversity and inclusion. It reflects that they are willing to listen and learn. As a result, employees will tend to model their own attitudes accordingly. It helps demonstrate that senior management believes in constant and continuous attention to the learning needs of others. There is no way that a new approach can be announced with the expectation that it will be completely successful on its own. It has to be modeled and integrated into fabric of the organization. This change is often introduced slowly and modeled carefully, starting with the chief executive and other critical staff, and then cascaded throughout the organization.

Investing in the Present and the Future

If full utilization of a diverse workforce is to be a reality in our lifetime, we must use every tool or resource available to fully monitor and communicate the effectiveness of this effort. When we start to show management exactly how much value diversity learning and performance interventions have contributed to the process of driving ROI performance, then diversity learning initiatives will become a strategic requirement valued by the C-suite. A true commitment to diversity takes effort, time and money, none of which can afford to be wasted in a competitive marketplace. Our internal standards as professionals must compel us to measure our results without having to be asked.

By doing so, it provides management with a clear line of sight to the value of diversity learning and performance as a worthwhile investment. It helps convince everyone that diversity and inclusion training interventions are valuable investments in people, profits and performance!