Business alignment is an imperative if you are interested in driving a positive return on your organization's training investment. As described in an earlier blog, Positioning Your Programs for Success in 2010, the process of achieving alignment includes four steps:

1. Clarify stakeholder needs
2. Develop SMART objectives
3. Communicate program objectives
4. Evaluate success, including the ROI when appropriate

Clarying the ultimate need, or the payoff need, sets the stage for identifying a correct solution. But it is the business need that defines specific measures that must improve in order to take advantage of the payoff opportunity. These business needs represents the business measures that will ultimately be converted to monetary value and compared to the program costs, used in the ROI calculation. But what happens when business measures are not so clear? How do you align a program to the business when participants come to the program armed with their own specific business needs? When these situations occur, try using action plans.

What is an action plan?

In Chapter 8 of the upcoming ASTD Handbook of Measuring and Evaluating Training (coming soon!), Holly Burkett describes action plans in detail. But in a nutshell, an action plan is a tool by which participants identify specific actions they will take using content presented in your program to achieve some end. That 'end' is often the improvement in key business measures. Below is an example of an action plan intended to align planned actions with improvement in a business measure and calculate the ROI.

How does action planning work?

To ensure a successful action planning process, the following steps should be followed at their designated time frames.

Before the Program

Prior to the program, set the stage for action planning.

  • Communicate the action plan requirement.
  • As part of pre-work, have participants identify the business measure(s) that need to improve (and that can improve) through the successful application of knowledge, skill, and/or information presented in the program.

During the Program

During the program participants learn more about action planning.

  • Describe the action planning process at the beginning of the program.
  • Teach the action planning process, explaining how the document should be completed.
  • Allow time to develop the action plan.
  • Have the facilitator approve the action plan.
  • Require participants to assign monetary value to their business measures and provide the basis for this value (see Items A, B, C on the right side of the action plan).
  • If time allows, have participants present their action plans to the group.
  • Explain the follow-up process.

After the Program

Post-program activities serve as the follow-up evaluation.

  • Require participants to provide improvement data (Item D on the right side of the action plan).
  • Ask participants to isolate the effects of the program (Item E on the right side of the action plan).
  • Ask participants to provide their confidence level in their estimates (Item F on the right side of the action plan).
  • Collect action plans at a pre-determined follow-up time.
  • Summarize the data and calculate the ROI.

* * * *

The action planning process takes effort, but can be a powerful tool for collecting business impact data. In addition, data collected through the action planning process are used to calculate the ROI.

For an example of action planning in action, watch the webcast, Measuring the ROI in Performance Improvement Training The webcast was conducted on behalf of Learn.com.