People working within learning and development functions are not confident in either their ability to deliver ROI or to talk effectively with the C-suite, according to a report by learning consultants KnowledgePool.
The Learning Curve is based on a poll of L&D and HR leaders from more than 200 companies. It found that less than one-quarter (23%) are confident that their programmes have a direct impact on their companies’ bottom line.
Just under half (49%) of respondents are confident of demonstrating to the board that their learning programmes either meet business goals or fill skills shortages.
Innovation is another area in which L&D functions are unsure of themselves. Only one-quarter describe themselves as “very confident” that their programmes are innovative enough to deliver value.
KnowledgePool MD Al Bird told HR magazine the challenge for many L&D functions is to convert practices into something meaningful to senior business leaders and stakeholders. He added that analysts within L&D may get too bogged down with presenting an academic and detailed case for ROI, which “is missing the point”.
“In a commercial setting the point is to create a convincing story so that you can give confidence to the stakeholders that you can deliver,” he said. “Confidence breeds confidence. It’s less about perfect academic proofs and more about knowing what’s important to stakeholders.”
Ovo Energy chief people officer Kim Atherton told HR magazine the challenges of demonstrating ROI in some companies “can be frustrating” for L&D professionals. “Sometimes teams do things like start a project without looking at the baseline measure,” she said.
Atherton added that having an HR director as an ally in the boardroom is the key to success for L&D functions. “Just having an HRD on the board in the first place is so important,” she said. “It can be really tricky if L&D doesn’t have that voice at the table.”
Despite some pessimism among L&D professionals themselves, another section of the report suggests board members are more confident about the function’s ability to deliver value.
More than half (57%) of board members polled believe L&D programmes can meet business goals, while 54% have faith in their ability to impact the bottom line. However, there appear to be some gaps in the way the positive impact of learning programmes on business is monitored.
Fewer than half (46%) of respondents measure the impact on staff retention and 45% keep track on the effect it has on staff productivity. On the impact of the bottom line itself, something that is at the forefront of L&D strategy, the figure is as low as 31%.
But Macildowie director of HR recruitment James Lawson is seeing an increased interest in L&D from all parties as a tool to drive growth. “In the current economic climate, we are seeing our clients increasingly talking about growth and our candidates continuing to talk about their development,” he said.
“L&D is critical not only in the progression of talent, but also in their retention. Perhaps a measure of staff retention and engagement would be the best indicators of ROI from L&D to present to a board.”
Bird sees the increased interest in learning, as well as the changing demands and behaviours of the younger generation in the workplace, as an opportunity for the function. “While this doesn’t come without its challenges, it does present an opportunity for the L&D professional to unleash their potential, prove their worth and show the business.”