What’s It Worth?

Picture yourself in a conference room with your team, excitedly filling a whiteboard with the designs of your next great training program. It is going to be the most valuable thing the organization has ever seen, you think to yourself.

Now imagine down the hall there is another conference room filled with people equally buzzing on the best way to limit new ideas. You know there will be a day when the thinking of both rooms will collide. You’ll be faced with the inquiry of “Is it worth it?”

As part of the process, add a game plan for proving worth before you launch.  Draw at least two or three “rings of defense” on your whiteboard.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Return Ring: Proving worth by the numbers is certainly an attractive and fashionable approach. These are the return on investment calculations that yield quantifiable benefits. Unfortunately, not all learning can easily produce tangible results, such as sales gained or productivity increased, based on the isolated input of training. I’ve seen the ROI approach stretched beyond its credible limits in some cases. If your chief financial officer won’t buy it, don’t try it. 

Impact Ring: While not meeting the quant hurdle, finding indicators of impact does show a business bottom-line mindset. Discovering good impact stories is a challenge, so don’t go it alone. Set up a learning scheme where participants feel equal ownership for application and validating value.  

Too often we cut out application planning time for the sake of stuffing as much content in the program as possible. Consider dedicating 70 percent of the program time to content and reserve 30 percent to work application, includingrealistic simulations and practice sessions. The key is to set anupfront expectation of application and partnership in creating the “worth” of the program. Then follow with rigor and accountability to document business outcomes.

Strategy Enabler Ring: Linking the learning effort to an important business objective seems fundamental to our work, yet we sometimes fail to make a clear and credible case. Good examples of learning as central to strategyinclude sales-skills training to drive new product introductions, next-generation media marketing development for new customer insights and proven lean productivity and execution tool mastery.  

Make sure it’s a real contribution and not some vague training sideshow to the main stage of running the business. Be an active student of the strategy formulation process in your organization so you can identify the mission-critical opportunities for learning.

Sponsor Ring: Perhaps the best approach is to have some of the folks in the other room join your cause. Convert a skeptic to a champion by drafting supporters in one of three ways.

First, recruit for an engaged and credible senior sponsor. Support from above does make a difference. Still, know it’s a hard sell sometimes. Their resistance is because they’re quite distracted because of overcommitted calendars with competing demands on their time and attention. But they also have sincere interest in contributing to worthwhile endeavors — if it makes sense to them. Your job is to understand his or her business agenda and how the talent or learning program fits.

Second, nothing beats the firsthand experience of leaders in the classroom being part of the teaching. I’ve seen over the years the enthusiasm of senior leaders for learning programs as they become part of the event. By serving as faculty or guest speakers, they see and experience the energy of a motivated room of learners.

Third, the immediate manager of the training participant should be considered a sponsor.  In most cases, the immediate manager will be in the best position to see the worth of the learning and should be a beneficiary of employee improvement.

Why not make the effort to bring him or her along as a value partner?  Some of the most productive ways include briefing managers in advance on the learning objectives and content, and how they can reinforce the learning after the program. 

Ultimately, the way to win the “worth challenge” is to plan ways to capture value before youcreate the program. Think of it as creating rings of value that draw in the skeptics.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.