A recent article, Using Action Plans for Measurement, Holly
Burkett, April 2004 issue of ASTD Links, discussed using action
plans to measure ROI and offered excellent tips on helping
participants write meaningful objectives and action plans. But, as
simplistic as it sounds, action plans only produce results when
they are effectively put into action. Or, as Peter Drucker said,
"Unless objectives are converted into action, they are not
objectives; they are dreams." And, unless you are Carl Jung, the
ROI on dreams is not very high.
More and more of our clients are being asked by management to
produce what Jack Phillips has called Level 5 measurement, ROI
evidence of the effectiveness of their programs. We strongly
support the move to greater accountability for results, which in
the end will strengthen the training profession.
We are concerned, however, that in the rush to measure ROI, some
steps are being missed, especially in the area of follow-through
management. Following through on goals and action plans is
necessary to ensure the behavioral change (Level 3) and business
results (Level 4)) that are needed to produce the much-desired
Level 5 (ROI).
Follow-through is the missing link between what happens in the
classroom and getting results on the job.
We training and development professionals have worked to master the
design and delivery of courses. We routinely attempt to generate
excellent Level 1 (impact) and Level 2 (learning) results. We speed
our learners along six-lane superhighways of elegant coursework
right up to the edge of application. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. The Knowing - Doing/ Course - Job
But then there is a chasm. On the other side of this chasm are the
opportunities to apply learning in ways that yield improved
personal and business results. Pfeffer and Sutton aptly named the
chasm the "knowing - doing gap." It is the gulf that separates
input and output, course and job, understanding and action,
academic and business results, and, perhaps most important to our
clients' Level 2 and the higher levels of outcome.
The bridge over this chasm can be called Transfer. Too
often it is not much more than a rickety foot bridge leading to a
poorly maintained Application trail, with few if any rest
stops or service areas.
The key to getting better ROI lies in having a much more explicit,
intentional and disciplined approach to the transfer and
application process after a course.
We have identified six disciplines, as outlined in Figure 2, which
together maximize the conversion of learning into business results.
These factors work together; the most effective programs are strong
in all six. In this article we will focus on perhaps the most
neglected, D4: driving follow-through on goals and action plans.
Because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, improving
follow-through improves the overall ROI.
Figure 2. Six disciplines that lead to
How many of you remember leaving a course feeling excited and
charged up to act on what you have learned, only to get back to the
pile of work at the office, put the book on the shelf, forget your
good intentions, and fall back into old behaviors? I have.
As a matter of fact, in our practice we've found that two weeks
after a highly-rated course, 40% of people could not remember or
even find the goals they had set. This number rose with time. So
what is involved in follow-through management that will help keep
action plans alive?
Getting results is too important to leave it to chance. Making
follow-though happen takes a disciplined and reliable process with
These five components can be accomplished manually for small
groups, although we use a Web-based tool called
Friday5s to provide a scalable process that can be used
with both small and large numbers of users.
How many of us depend on reminders to accomplish even our highest
priority goals? We use Outlook, Daytimers, Palm Pilots, sticky
notes, and other systems to help us not forget. Learning goals,
even when well-formulated, rarely are given the same level of
importance as business goals, and are quick to fall off of the
daily plate. To ensure that learning objectives are followed up,
people need to be reminded. In the Friday5s system, for example, an
email generator is programmed to deliver regular reminders with
requests to document progress.
A reminder is great, but to do what? People should be asked to
report progress on their goals, recording specific actions,
results, next steps and insights. This journaling process helps
build new habits and creates a rewarding record of progress and
results. Recent studies of leadership underscore the importance of
stopping periodically to reflect.
There is nothing like a community of learners to keep each member
moving forward on his or her goals. The challenge is keeping the
group connected. This could be done through periodic
teleconferences, online discussions or Webinars. Friday5s allows
cohorts of learners to see and comment on each others' reports,
both learning from and teaching each other. This not only extends
the learning process, but also creates a level of visible
People respect what you inspect. Check in on what the learners are
doing or not doing and let them know you are doing so. Send
managers a copy of their direct report's goals, and ask them to
review action plans and updates. In many different studies, manager
involvement has been shown to be a key to successful learning
transfer and results.
Providing some support during the early application phase pays big
dividends. Support can come in many shapes and forms, any of which
will greatly enhance follow-through and results. Managers can have
the greatest impact, but they need to be brought in early and made
part of the overall process. Coaches' external, internal or peer,
are all good and can play a huge role in follow-through. A single
response from a coach to an update doubles the likelihood of
Before we get to measuring ROI, we need to maximize Level 3 and 4
results. The missing link is follow-through, to ensure the transfer
and application of learning to the job. A disciplined process of
follow-through management, including reminders, documentation,
sharing, inspection and support, optimizes personal and business
results and maximizes the ROI for our clients from their learning
and development efforts.
Richard Flanagan is Senior Vice President of Fort Hill Company
(Wilmington, Delaware), which focuses on tools for corporate
learning, development and performance initiatives. He has developed
a proprietary, easy-to-use Web-based tool, Friday5s.
You can reach him at 302.651.9223 or by email at Flanagan@forthillcompany.com.