The fallacy of ROI in L&D?

Through the life of an L&Der, there inevitably comes the question, what’s the ROI of training? It’s an interesting question, because something which is typically about behaviours and personal development is being forced to conform to conventional measurements a business is used to. And, importantly, it’s a valid question. A business needs to know they are gaining benefit from the overhead cost that someone (or team) is paid.

But I think what’s typically put as the ‘proof’ is a fallacy. Here’s what I mean. What’s the value you put on the relationships you build at work? When most companies will encourage a collegiate work ethic, there’s no actual evidence to suggest this makes a difference. Not really. Employee engagement surveys may suggest a workforce is happy or engaged or feels listened to. But there’s little to suggest having a collegiate atmosphere is any better than having a workforce which is mercenary. As long as the job gets done, and no one dies, and environmentally things seem to be amenable to helping people do good work, isn’t that what you need?

Abdi Ltd have a robust system of working out ROI, and it’s a strict methodology you have to follow to show the true cost of training and what this means for the business. It’s certainly a useful tool and system, I just don’t think it gives a true and full picture of what needs to be considered.

So why the focus on collaboration, sharing, learning and development, and all things intangible? Because if the self-help books are anything to go by, these are the things we should be focused on, right? And in particular, the books from the successful millionaires/billionaires seem to suggest it’s the soft things in life that make the difference. You know, listening, coaching, advising, etc. Same old, same old.

The question that L&D needs to be ready to answer is what are they doing to help the business achieve its company goals. That’s how it wins. That’s where the ROI comes from. Not from the number of training courses it delivers. Not from the number of people who have attended external events. Not from the number of managers who have had training. Not even from the tens of thousands (in some cases hundreds of thousands) of pounds spent on trainers, consultants and facilitators. They’re just figures which anyone can improve.

If I can’t tell you how I’m helping the company to achieve its goals then I’m not giving ROI. What that means is I have to be so explicitly a part of the business that managers know I’m a source that can help something get delivered. That may be an L&D event, it may be paying for an event, it may be facilitating a workshop. That’s where L&D makes its mark. Not through happy sheets, monthly training reports or budget reviews. Yes, they’re important. No, they don’t reflect what is actually done in any way whatsoever.

My old boss made the team fill out a set of activities which ‘measured’ what we do. This covered a range of activities we were meant to do which effectively became a list of ‘delivery’ items, and ‘non-delivery’. And every month we’d have a look at how we set our time against it. And it used to be fascinating. Most of the team would average 60%-80% delivery activity. That could sound scary for some people, and encouraging for others. Ultimately what it helped him to show the HR Director was how the team were using their time. I’m not suggesting L&D needs to be monitored via timesheets, but it does offer a better indication of the actual things done as opposed to broad figures and broad numbers.

Social Capital and what goes around

Have you ever stopped to think about why some people seem to take things in their stride? You know the kind. They seem to be jolly in most things, quite light-hearted and seem to enjoy life more than others. Yeah, them. The tree-huggers. Them and those bloody smiles. Well you can do it too! And all for free… hang on that quip didn’t quite work.

Here’s the thing. It is for free. But importantly it’s within your power to make a difference. It’s your social capital. It works for you because you make it work. If you want to get all zen about it, you could argue it’s karma. But karma is slightly more complicated than that. And if you wanted to get all universal about it, you could argue it’s the natural way of the things. But the universe is definitely more complicated than that.

At a more understandable level, it’s to do with what you choose to do on your way home. When you go home this evening, or go about your business this evening, what are you doing with your interactions with other people? Are you creating experiences which will serve you well in the future? Are you making a concerted effort to help someone else? Are you genuinely being involved in someone else’s life for the better?

Your social capital that you develop is only down to you. Those people in the first paragraph, they’ve worked at building their social capital. Not because they’re conceited or opportunists. But because they see the value in it. They see the value in being genuine, positive and helpful in society. Ah, yes, in society. Social capital goes beyond just individual interactions. It’s about how you interact with society.

And how does it come back to you? You think differently about the opportunities presented to you. About the circumstances you’re faced with. About the people you meet. About the life you lead. About your friends. About your family. About your life partner. About your work place. About your commute. About the train service. It all changes. Not because they’ve changed. But because you see other possibilities.

So, how’s your social capital?

My words

It’s Tuesday 9th August 2011 and the UK is in its fourth night of riots. I have honestly never felt more scared or sad about the events unfolding in this country. More so, my London is being attacked by thugs and like-minded youths. I have written before about my love for London. And now I am watching it burn and be vandalised in horrific ways.

I have a few things to say about this. First, I’m removed from everything by living in the sticks. This is no bad thing and gives a strong sense of safety. But I’m scared for all the people I love and cherish who live near those areas affected. Additionally though this means I’m left feeling seriously helpless. As I’m on jury service I’m also travelling away from the affected areas. So I have no way of actually being part of any help.

Second, I am heartened immensely to read on Twitter tonight that Sikhs around the UK have been rallying together and protecting their gurdwaras and in some instances the community. On Sky channel 847 Sangat TV have had a roving reporter with a live TV feed of action in Birmingham.

Third, I have been thinking about being there and helping my fellow Sikhs to protect the gurdwaras. And this is where I come unstuck. I am not a well built guy, very slim in fact. I don’t know how to fight. And I don’t condone violence in any way. My brother-in-law visited this evening and he is rather hot-headed and he wanted to go to our local gurdwara. I would not have let him go alone. But I do not want to fight. Because I don’t know how to.

One of my good friends is serving in the army and has been out to Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what fear is, what aggression is and what violence is. He also knows what defence actually is. I respect this. But I have none of that to fall on. The worst scuffle I’ve had is games of bulldog at school.

Which is why I decided to go into psychology. And from there to a career in L&D. Because I can help people develop and improve their lives. But this is a very small thing I do. I have a life I lead through Twitter and see I can help spread messages to an audience. So my written word has become my chosen weapon of choice.

It’s what I can do. The police officers who went to arrest Mark Duggan seem to have made an error which has had unforeseen circumstances. The government has not acted strongly enough or given assurances which give peace of mind or sense of security. Yet through it all, the public service being carried out by the police forces, and emergency services are all remarkable. I wish them nothing but good luck in their endeavours against these trouble makers.

My words, then, are I hope of use. I hope the fever that these rioters seem to have picked up goes quickly and our country can go back to being the wonderful place I enjoy it to be. To those who read this, I wish you all well. To those who can help, I hope you can. To those who get arrested for the troubles you have caused, I hope you receive swift and severe punishments. To my family, I love you.

Assume Innocence

Some weeks back I wrote about seeking to understand where someone is coming from before making yourself understood. In essence it was a post about empathy, but I was also talking about brooching taboo topics.

There is another side to this. If we are to seek to first understand we must also listen to what someone has to say. Mel Buckenham wrote a post not long ago about how we listen. To build on that, there is something about the message we are hearing and the assumption we’re making about our audience.

Working with someone recently on their understanding of how to think of an audience they remarked “oh yes, we should always assume our audience is stupid.” This wasn’t meant in a rude or derogatory way, but I don’t like the phrase. You’re immediately taking the power away from the person you’re talking with, and that just doesn’t bode well. It may not be harmful but it certainly won’t be positive or encouraging a relationship.

Instead, I think we should start from a point of assuming innocence. It’s a simple turn of phrase that gives new direction and focus for the person we’re speaking with. There does seem to be far too many who will assume cynicism and indeed stupidity with no hesitation. I understand it, but certainly done abide it.

Assuming innocence sits nicely with the Intelligent Behaviours theory I’ve spoken about before. If we think about the other person as being innocent it allows so much more interactivity and flow of discussion. It also allows you to ask questions and point out flaws without seeming negative. It involves actively changing your thinking so that the language you use becomes more collegiate and constructive. You share the power of the conversation because you haven’t already taken it away with your own assumptions.

Permission Management

Some years back a very clever Marketing guy, called Seth Godin, helped us to understand ‘permission marketing’. A fascinating piece of insight that gave marketers something very tangible to hold on to and develop as a concept and idea. It’s one of the key reasons Facebook is so damned valuable. Users give permission to be advertised to through their use of the product.

And in recent times, something has been stirring in my mind. A manager in any business, has the primary role of doing what it says on the tin – to manage. Additionally, they have to recognise opportunities for development and enable this to happen. Direct reports are then made to feel valued and motivated to do more as their efforts are being recognised by someone in power.

In a post last week, I spoke about how someone needs to give permission to others for them to change. And this is what I’d like to pose. An employee of a company will want to, in most cases do well and succeed. But do they have permission to do this? I’m not speaking about performance management, and formal things such as promotions, etc. I’m talking about the culture promoted by the manager. Does the manager promote a culture where you have permission to do what you want?

In days gone by, this was called empowerment. It’s also called coaching and mentoring. So take any of those terms, and any of those theories, and it’s no stretch to consider what permission management can encompass. As a manager you give permission for your staff to do what they need to in order to succeed. They understand the parameters, the expectations, the goals and all that jazz.

And here’s the thing, what your staff are doing is their job. Because they’ve been given permission to do it. That is they have permission to do what they’re already expected to do. And because you, as the manager, have provided the attitude, environment, atmosphere, whatever you want to call it, you end up managing (hopefully) the ambitions of the team. That is, the other things are happening in accordance with such a positive set of planning and management that the team are just looking forward to doing their job.

Or I could be talking a load of crap and making a tenuous link between one model and another. Either way, the post was enjoyable enough to write 🙂

Invisible Barriers

Often, at work there’s a way to do something. There’s the unspoken rules. The unwritten policy. The unofficial way of working. It reminds me of the story of the monkeys as an analogy for organisational policy design*

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

And that’s how company policy begins …

So what happens when you give permission for people to change? Let’s say we took away the spray, and encouraged the monkeys to reach for the bananas by placing them within easy reach independent of the stairs? They still won’t do it. A set of established rules and way of working has already been accepted. To change it is folly. Even when permission has been granted.

And let’s replace one of those monkeys with another new monkey. What would happen when the new monkey – who is blissfully unaware of repercussions just as the others had been – tries to reach for the bananas? He’ll get beaten down. A sad case of events.

That’s why it often takes someone external to the situation to be able to come in and say – why aren’t you acting differently? Why aren’t you doing what is within your control and power? And the responses of “I didn’t know I was allowed to”, “but we’ve always done it that way”, “that’s their responsibility not mine” suddenly all become myths that quickly unravel. All it takes is someone to say – you have permission to change.

*I unashamedly quoted this story from the businessballs.com site