This post has been a long time coming and will be a little ranty. I am ok with that as this is something I feel really passionately about.
Here are my three biggest issues (yes I do have more than three and these are the biggest):
1) RoI is subjective. You may want to ‘talk numbers’ and if you do, you are making them up as it is impossible to isolate the value of learning to a bottom line figure.
2) RoI means different things to different people. Yes, everyone may say that those letters (in an acronym and in a learning/organisational content) stands for Return On Investment and that is noticeably different from it meaning the same thing to many people.
3) RoI is the biggest issue facing learning and organisational development (L&OD) practitioners right now as it is a crock of shit that we insist of following, supporting and flocking around.
To cover point 1 above I will link you off to a post I wrote on the DPG blog a while ago as that gives the detail. The summary; If you want to isolate the learning contribution you need to make some judgements about how much of £x learning added. That is a subjective judgement, everything that follows is flawed. Pointless.
So to point 2, what does RoI mean. As L&OD people we are so busy being scared about having our credibility challenged that as a defence mechanism we revert to to RoI shield to protect us… ‘If I can demonstrate that we *insert saved, added, created, brought in* this many pounds we will be safe’. Sorry, that shield will not protect you. Why? Because it has no meaning to others and more truthfully, apart from you, nobody cares.
Think about this for a moment.
What are passed through history?
What touch you, emotionally and then affects your decision making?
What inspires you, makes you laugh, gives you hope?
Yet when we want to demonstrate RoI we play the numbers card. Wrong card, sorry.
To give a current and real example. I attended a positive psychology seminar with Sukh Pabial on August 17th 2012. Today, on June 30th 2014 (682 days later) I talked to someone I was coaching about #3goodthings and the benefit I and others get from it. They left the conversation committed to do that too that is what we want. When Sukh hears that he says ‘that’s value right there. That is what we need to hear and what never gets said (and I’ll add) as (we have a limiting assumption that) it doesn’t count.
One of my favourite quotes of all time (that has been attributed to Albert Einstein) is:
Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts
Have you ever (and yes I mean ever) actually sat down with that business person and:
– Got them to clearly share what they will be using to assess the return on investment
*chances are you’ve rarely got an actual numerical measurement in response and if you did, did you go on and ..*
– asked, if realistically they think it will be possible or feasible or even practical to solely accredit (insert predefined change) to the leaning thing that happened.
*chances are you at worst got ‘won’t you do that for me’ and at best ‘no’.
– asked, whether their assessment of value will be helped by getting a number (or all) of the people who have taken part in the learning to come and tell you what they’ve done, how they feel about it, the impact it’s had on them and how they’ve changed as a result and what they see as the impact on their (insert people, customers, clients or other group).
*chances are you’ve never asked and when I have, they’ve said yes*
What you think RoI means isn’t what others do, check it out and agree it, please.
Finally, let’s get to point 3, the crock of shit. Wrapped up in this by the way is the (again limiting) assumption that learning grows the business in an upward way. Actually, it may not. As the wonderful David D’Souza and I discussed, what it may do is negate or counter balance the downward trend to keep the company on a level playing field. Is that value? Hell yes, the issue is that it doesn’t fit our pre-determined definition of Return on Investment so we may then see our activity as a failure, which is blatantly isn’t, without it, we’d all be out of a job.
We have to stop worshipping at the RoI temple. It is a poisoned chalice,
Instead, let us begin talking about value and what can be done to show it, in a credible way to those that matter. What I can guarantee you, is they won’t expect you to be able to show, in pounds, shillings and pence the return. What they want is the well informed belief that what you (we) have done has made a difference and that difference has helped people and the organisation.
If we want to show the value of the stuff we do step away from the croc of shit and get to what matters, value.
Thanks Sukh for tonight, loved it!