An effective way to show the value of a training initiative
is through return on expectations (ROE). When done properly, it
Nearly every goal-setting philosophy begins with a clear vision of
the desired end result. While this principle is quite simple and
easy to understand, examples of people ignoring it abound. In the
world of training and development, many workplace learning
professionals with the best of intentions embark on designing,
developing, and delivering training programs without a clear vision
of what is expected as a result of the program.
There also is lack of clarity about what qualifies as a result of a
training program. To achieve maximum organizational impact, the
result should lie at the strategic level for the entire company.
Examples include increased sales or profitability in a for-profit
company and accomplishment of the organizations mission for a
government or not-for-profit organization. Organizational missions
can range from saving lives and protecting citizens to keeping the
water supply clean.
Tying a training initiative to the organizational mission means
that training is only one of myriad tactics that affect results.
This makes it costly and mathematically impossible to isolate the
impact of the training program alone on the organizational results
The most practical and effective way to show the value of an
initiative is through return on expectations (ROE). ROE is what a
successful training initiative delivers to key business
stakeholders to demonstrate the degree to which their expectations
have been satisfied. When done properly, it cannot fail. This is
because it is built on a platform of business partnership and
agreement from start to finish.
The steps to achieving ROE are based on the Kirkpatrick Model for
evaluating training programs (see sidebar on page 64), with the
four levels used in reverse:
Focus on the organizational mission
The first step to showing the value of a training program is to
create a program that has organizational value. This is where the
simple principle that the end is the beginning comes into practice.
All training professionals should understand enough about their
business and organization to know the highest-level mission and
Discovering the highest-level goal of any organization is fairly
simple: check the companys website for the mission and vision
statements (if they exist), as well as a statement of what the
company ultimately delivers to its customers.
Identify leading indicators
Many departments and professionals define their highest results as
measures such as employee retention, customer service, and product
quality. While all of these measures are important, they are not
highest-level results. Rather, they are leading indicators that
establish whether the organization is on track to accomplish its
highest-level mission. Leading indicators are short-term
observations and measurements that suggest that critical behaviors
are on track to create a positive impact on desired results.
When a training professional receives a request for training, the
first step is to schedule additional conversations with the
requestor or targeted department heads to discuss the situation.
Often the impetus is a leading indicator falling below target.
Leading indicators occupy the gap between the critical behaviors
that should be performed on the job and the highest-level
organizational results. They are metrics that personalize Level 4
results for departments and individuals, helping them to see how
they contribute to the whole.
Leading indicators identified in these initial conversations may be
modified after an initiative is under way because they serve as a
tracking system to ensure that efforts are producing the desired
results. This story of a window coverings manufacturing company
illustrates this concept.
Lori (sales manager): Wendy, we would like to have you do some
prospecting training at our upcoming sales meeting.
Wendy (training manager): Sure. Whats the problem?
Lori: Our salespeople arent bringing on enough new customers. In
fact, we are losing customers faster than we are finding new ones.
The sales team must not know how to prospect. Can you share some
ideas with them?
This is a common way that needs are communicated. Lori has
identified what she believes is the missing behavior and
predetermined that training is the answer. She has even identified
what type of training is needed.
Wendy did acquire one important piece of information, though: the
company needs more new customers to maintain or grow the business.
Because this is a window coverings manufacturer, its highest-level
goal is profitable sales. The leading indicator the company wishes
to improve is new customer acquisition. If Wendy had taken the
request at face value and simply developed prospecting training, it
would have been a tremendous waste of time and resources.
Define critical behaviors
Instead of proceeding with developing the requested training, Wendy
sent a brief survey to all salespeople with questions about their
current prospecting habits, level of expertise, and any related
issues or barriers.
Although 100 percent of the comments about the concept or idea of
prospecting were positive, the survey results revealed that 70
percent of the reps believe they do not have enough time to
prospect to meet company expectations. Respondents indicated these
key barriers to prospecting and new account acquisition:
Based on the survey results, it was clear that spending three hours
teaching prospecting techniques would not be helpful to the
majority of the reps, nor would it likely increase the number of
new customers or support corporate objectives.
Therefore, Wendy requested a conference call with Lori and a few
reps to discuss the identified barriers to success. During that
call, Wendy discovered that the manufacturing and customer service
facility had recently moved, resulting in approximately 90 percent
employee turnoverand, subsequently, many shipping, quality, and
service problems. The sales reps had been thrown into reaction
mode, trying to manage all of those issues and maintain good
relations with their customerswhich did not leave much time for
The sales reps admitted to avoiding prospecting even when there was
time because they did not feel confident in the product. Additional
customers to satisfy would only increase the current problems.
These issues clearly needed to be addressed before the reps would
be receptive to any type of training.
Gathering this information was an important step in defining what
critical behaviors would be required. Here are the three behaviors
the group agreed on during the conference call:
- Spend less time on routine tasks and more on key objectives.
- Use prospecting techniques.
- Document new customer acquisition goals and timeline.
Determine required drivers
Required drivers are processes and systems that reinforce, monitor,
encourage, and reward performance of critical behaviors on the job.
With clarity surrounding what the sales reps needed to be doing on
the job, Wendy and Lori discussed what drivers would be put in
place to make sure the behaviors happened. Here are the drivers
- Reps will submit their goals and action plans a week after the
- Wendy will build a dashboard into which Lori will enter the new
customer acquisition goals for each rep (monitor and reinforce).
- Sales reps will report on customer acquisition in their
existing weekly sales reports; Lori will populate the dashboard
with the data (monitor and reinforce).
- The dashboard will be shared during each weekly meeting
(monitor and reinforce).
- Successes will be recognized each week (reward).
- Successful reps will provide ideas and feedback to the group to
help everyone meet their individual goals (encouragement).
- A new category will be added to the annual achievement
awardsnew customer acquisition (reward).
Lori did not attach a specific monetary reward to meeting the new
customer acquisition goal because she felt that reps who
accomplished their goals would inherently have higher salesand the
compensation plan already rewarded sales increases.
At this point, the learning content and other appropriate solutions
could be addressed. Had previous steps been skipped, Wendy would
have developed a prospecting course that benefited only 5 percent
or less of the sales reps. This solution would not have delivered
the expected result of an increase in new customers, leading to an
increase in overall sales and profitability. Such a course wastes
company resources and creates a negative impression of the value of
With properly determined critical behaviors, the course objectives
can be written quickly, often with just a few grammatical changes.
For example, by the end of this session reps will be able to
- identify specific ways to spend less time on routine tasks and
more on key objectives
- explain how to use prospecting techniques
- document new customer acquisition goals and timeline.
Two important issues remained unaddressed at this time: quality and
service problems. The company decided to dedicate the first 30
minutes of the training time to company executives to explain the
steps being taken to resolve the problems. An open forum for
questions and comments also was held. The remaining time was
dedicated to accomplishing the learning objectives and explaining
the follow-up plan.
Monitor and adjust
Learning creates a strong foundation for success. However, without
execution on the job, it does not create ROE. A strong focus on
Levels 3 and 4 is required to translate training investments into
organizational results. Monitoring the required drivers, critical
behaviors, and leading indicators acts as an early warning
detection system. Metrics falling below the established standard
must be analyzed, and targeted solutions must be made to improve
them. While planning is critical for successful initiatives,
ongoing monitoring may reveal points at which the plan should be
modified to keep it on track for accomplishing maximum
After the training, Wendy checked back with Lori to see how things
were going. Lori reported that she had to follow up with a few reps
who had not submitted their customer acquisition goals, but within
three weeks she had all goals documented. The team already was good
about submitting weekly sales reports, so obtaining the data to
populate the dashboard went smoothly.
Lori said that talking about prospecting during the weekly meetings
was making a difference. Eighteen of the 25 reps were meeting their
plan after three months; the rest were getting good ideas and
One unexpected occurrence required them to make some changes. When
quarterly sales reports were released two months after the training
program, unfortunately, a few sales reps who had been meeting their
customer acquisition goals previously had slightly decreased sales
volumes. Lori realized that this meant there would be no monetary
reward for reaching their goal and worried that reps may change
their behaviors for the worse. Thus, she quickly worked with the
CFO to adjust the compensation plan to equally reward overall sales
and new customer acquisition.
Return on expectations
After six months, Wendy checked back with Lori, who was pleased to
report that 22 of the 25 reps had met their new customer
acquisition goals, and company sales were up 5 percent overall.
Lori said that reps were more upbeat and positive in weekly
meetings and that customer retention also had improved.
Could Lori isolate the training program or customer acquisition
techniques as the only reason for the sales increase? No. But what
mattered was that she accomplished all of her highest-level goals
with the overall effort, and could see the incremental improvements
related to the performance of critical behaviors. The company
executives were pleased as well, and called the initiative a