How to better demonstrate training ROI and get closer to speaking the C-level language

“When you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.”
Lord Kelvin

Over the last several years, the pressure on training and development managers has increased dramatically. As competition gets tougher, board members need training and development systems that demonstrate quantifiable increases in productivity, that help people learn and change more quickly than ever before, and that increase engagement while creating an emotional connection and sense of belonging.

The demand to prove results initially caused confusion in the HR community, whose members believed that their activities should primarily involve their right brain, rather than their analytical left brain. HR managers could previously walk into board meetings without being able to prove how and why money was spent or what results were produced. They just demanded bigger budgets and often blamed their poor results on external factors and lack of sufficient resources.

Now, the emphasis is generally placed on the value generated for the company rather than on the specific activities necessary to increase performance. Training and development managers are faced with the task of proving the results of their work. They must shift focus from spending their budgets to demonstrating return on investment (ROI), increasing their accountability, and learning new skills to measure and demonstrate results.

Despite its importance, training measurement is little understood in many organizations, and training and development managers often fail to develop a measurable and realistic methodology.

Some common mistakes in measurement:

1. Using unrealistic numbers
Not long ago we had a meeting with an HR director who stated that the ROI on training exceeded 600%. This happened during the 2009 crisis when the same company was struggling with their return on equity (ROE) dipping below 9%. The other board members laughed and one of them sarcastically remarked that the company should shift from its main business to providing training. Needless to say, the HR director was fired soon after.

2. Failing to make a distinction between data and information
Another common mistake is trying to over-measure, then overloading other managers with tons of indicators without describing their business impact. Instead, the measurement should answer important and relevant business questions.

3. Measuring activity and not productivity
According to our recent global survey (at the end of 2010), less than 8% of companies have a training ROI measurement system that is linked with business value and balanced scorecard (known also as Kirkpatrick’s Level 4 of evaluation). The remaining 92% of the companies barely even measure such things as a number of participants, their perception of the event, and what new information they learned.

Training costs money, but then again so does ignorance.

Company objectives

Learning strategies

Learning solutions

Sample measures

What do the top managers want to achieve? How can the training department help? What specific means will be used? How will success be measured?
Sustainable growth
Increased profitability
Engaged employees
Loyal customers
Effective leaders
Sales growth
Create a common vision
Manage change effectively
Improve communication
Optimize processes
Better manage projects
Retain customers
Improve teamwork and alignment
Empower employees
Retain talent
Create standards for performance appraisal
Create better leaders
Improve planning
On-the-job training
Classroom training
Executive retreats
Training transfer tools
Conferences and seminars
Measurement tools
Corporate universities
Training share
Unit share
Average price per learner
Hours of training per employee
% of jobs filled from within

Where are you?
According to Silega’s World Learning Overview (WLO), there was a clear distinction between low- and high-performing companies*

Sample measure


Low-performing companies

High-performing companies

Training share % of employees that are part of a regular and standardized learning program 18% 64%
Training hours per new employee Training hours per year 24 136
Training hours per experienced employee Training hours per year 16 86
Loyalty How willing are employees to leave and under what circumstances (1 – actively looking for opportunities, 10 – would resist a very attractive offer from competitors) 4.3 7.9
Satisfaction % of satisfied employees from current training programs who are willing to participate in future initiatives 38% 91%
Average investment per learner The average cost of training an employee per year (USD) 320 USD 2720 USD
Capacity utilization Average training attendance in % 46% 82%
Program measurement % of learning programs measured at some of Kirkpatrick’s levels 12% 94%
Internal talent pool % of jobs filled from within 39% 63%
Alignment % of employees who understand how their job contributes to the company’s mission 31% 78%
Turnover % of total headcount per year 33% 18%

* based on average annual growth over the last 5 years.