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Proving the Business Impact of Training: Practical Strategies for Measuring and Presenting the ROI of Corporate Learning

Business Impact of Training

Practical strategies for measuring and presenting the ROI of corporate learning to help you:

  • Redefine what you consider a training success
  • Run learning initiatives with measurable impact in mind
  • Own the business impact that learning has on the organisation
  • Get managers involved to ensure learning is used on the job
  • Present solid results to your senior leadership
  • Secure the budget that you need to drive your organisation forward

Learning professionals know that proving the value of L&D is essential to keeping and increasing the resources at their disposal. According to our survey of L&D departments in the U.K., one of the key differentiators of top performing departments, regardless of industry or size, is their close relationship with senior executives and their commitment to measuring the ROI of corporate learning.

Unsurprisingly, these departments were most likely to hold more days of training per employee and consider their departments more competitive than their industry peers. At its heart, proving the business impact of learning is essential to ensure investment in your people: every organisation’s most valuable and appreciable resource. At BPS World, an international recruitment company and finalist for the HR Excellence Awards’ Best L&D Strategy in 2017, employee learning is fuelled on an underlying belief that, “People can be more,” says Jo Rapley, People and Culture Manager.

Your senior executives may believe this in theory, but at BPS World, a close alignment between the executive and L&D team make it a reality. If your organisation doesn’t demonstrably act on a belief that employee development is a catalyst to keep your organisation competitive, it is essential to make an airtight business case for learning. If you don’t advocate for employee learning by proving positive business impact, executives will think learning is a necessary evil instead of a business driver, according to Jack Phillips, Ph.D, and Chairman of the ROI Institute, an organisation which helps the L&D community demonstrate the value of learning.

“When times get tough, executives are going to cut [the L&D budget]. They just say we can’t afford to do this. If they see the connection, we can make the case that we can’t afford not to do this,” says Phillips.

Redefine what you consider a training success

If your departmental objectives revolve around participation in training, or positive learner evaluations, proving ROI in financial terms verges on the impossible. The added value that learning provides to business can only be solidly proven in the application of knowledge, skills or re-engagement on the job.

“We have to redefine learning success. Success doesn’t occur in the classroom or a keyboard or on your mobile phone. Success occurs when you actually use what you’ve learned and had an impact in the organisation – with your work, with the customer, with the people around you.

That’s the business connection. Until you have a business impact, you’re not successful,” says Phillips. BPS World credits the appreciation of its senior leadership as a result of understanding how developing employees directly affects its business’ bottom line and clearly impacts how the business can reach its objectives.

Run learning initiatives with measurable impact and learning objectives in mind 

If you are looking to prove ROI, move beyond your learning objectives and envision how your organisation would be a better place because of the training. What behaviours would your learners adopt with their new knowledge and skills and what are some business outcomes that could result from those changes?

Ensure your trainers and learners understand the ultimate goal of your programme is to help staff perform at a higher level and that the training only becomes valuable when they have used it in their role. “If you want results from L&D, design for it. Let’s make sure that we plan for it so that when we go measure it, it’s there,” says Phillips.

ZSL London Zoo, which was highly commended for its development strategy in the 2017 HR Excellence Awards, produces an annual report for directors and the Council of Trustees that delves into the value of training. “We identify measures of success for each project or programme of work at the start and are sure to capture data throughout the year to demonstrate these”, says Emma Brown, Head of Training and Organisational Development.

“Uncertainty is the time to have more investment in learning, not less.” — Jack Phillips, PhD, ROI Institute

Own your results in terms of business impact 

Accept that whether or not employees apply learning on the job: it’s ultimately your
responsibility. If you want to be able to champion the successes of your initiatives, you have to take ownership of failure as well. “We have this philosophy that we can’t control what employees do with learning so if they don’t ever use it, it’s not our fault. Well, that may be true, but it’s the organisation’s budget that you’re spending. You better be concerned about it because it’s ultimately your budget that’s going to be cut if your top executives don’t see that connection,” says Phillips.

Taking ownership of the results is what will empower you to prove positive impact and hold a strong position in securing future or continued investment in employee learning. At BPS, “when we have had a successful quarter there will be a number of people/factors that try to ‘own’ that success. We therefore set clear qualitative and quantitative objectives at the start of any programme. Participants are asked to keep a learning log of how that learning has had an impact on their job, team, or business and it’s collated when calculating ROI,” says Rapley.

Get managers involved to ensure learning is used on the job

What’s a solid strategy for making sure that training is used by employees? Phillips advises working with the managers of learners. “They’ve got to be a part of the process. Because the number one influence of the person using learning on the job is their immediate supervisor,” says Phillips.

Bringing senior managers into the training process not only helps you ensure business impact after the training, it helps you calibrate training to better serve the employees who need it.

“L&D should adopt a consultative approach with senior managers whereby they seek to understand their L&D needs. It is paramount that there is open and honest communication, gaining feedback, and acting on it, in pursuit of continuous improvement,”
says Rapley.

It has the added benefit of helping to “identify subject matter experts in the business – who can deliver relevant training – can help engage managers in creating a learning culture,” says Rapley.

Present solid results to your senior leadership

Phillips recommends working closely with the CFO of your organisation because they are most adept at understanding how investments convert into returns and commonly work with other departments to synthesise this information into a presentation that the executive team will find credible.

“[The] decision to invest in L&D is made when one of the executives sees [learning] as an investment rather than a cost because you’ve just shown a ROI in the same way that a Chief Financial Officer was going to show them,” says Phillips.

At BPS world, one ROI case reported a higher retention rate after training a team struggling with turnover. They intervened with a leadership development programme focusing on coaching and motivation.

“The financial return came from increased revenues generated by the team due to an increase in their motivation. Additionally, there were cost savings in the recruitment of new team members as the retention rate had increased,” says Rapley.

Although proving ROI may involve more quantitative measures than you already collect, Phillips recommends including intangibles in your report, which can include powerful stories from employees and departments who were impacted by your training.

By aligning your definition of success with senior leadership, working with business impact objectives throughout your programmes, and presenting your results credibly, you can reinvigorate your L&D budget. More than that, you can become a key player in helping your organisation overcome the fear and uncertainty that will stunt its long-term growth.

This is especially important for businesses trying to navigate and prepare for the uncertain post-Brexit world. With the U.K. economy projected to slow in 2018, now is not the time to shy away from learning. Now is the time to report its tangible benefits and make them grow. As Phillips explains: “Uncertainty is the time to have more investment in learning, not less.” But without the data to demonstrate this, L&D departments will face a turbulent road.

This article is part of the U.K. L&D Report 2018: Benchmark Your Workplace Learning Strategy. 

Download the full report below:

L&D report

What's included?

  • The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organisations in 2018.

  • Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, get the most from the apprenticeship levy and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.

  • How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!

U.K. L&D Report: 2018
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This article is sponsored by the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing.

About the Author

Abby works as the Communications Team Lead for with a mission of connecting learning leaders with the data and information they need to provide the best training possible for their people.

Originally from Indianapolis in the U.S., Abby studied her bachelor’s at Hanover College in Business and Literature and has worked for findcourses since 2015. She is passionate about corporate learning and works internally to help organise Learning at Work Week within's company of 165 team members, and provide and source external training in content creation as an in-house expert.

Abby is also the creator and editor of the UK L&D Report which interviews and surveys L&D leaders from top UK companies to help uncover data-driven best practice and easy-to-implement advice.

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Last updated: 10 Jul 2019

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