The New Normal

As we prepare to weather a recession for the remainder of 2020 and into next year, budget reviews will force organizations to cut many projects or programs or, worse, eliminate them. As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we must be able to show the value of our programs, projects and initiatives to prevent these cuts from further disrupting our business. The pressures and challenges we now face are vivid and real and can be condensed into these important realities:

There Is Increased Pressure to Curtail or Eliminate Projects and Programs

Executives are asking about the value of projects and programs, and in most executives’ minds, their value is the impact they have on the organization. For expensive projects, executives may ask to see how that value translates into monetary benefits compared to the cost of the project — in other words, the return on investment (ROI), a key metric for decision-makers.

Organizations Have to Do More With Less

With limited budgets and fewer resources, but greater expectations, organizations must be efficient and effective with processes to make sure that they can deliver value with minimum investment.

There Is Increased Pressure to Connect Major Projects to the Business

Key funders, sponsors and supporters expect major programs to be relevant and drive important business measures. Whether in government or business, there are always business measures, often key performance indicators (KPIs) for the top of the organization as well as throughout the organization. Major projects and programs must connect to those important measures credibly and efficiently.

“Soft” Projects Are More at Risk

The so-called “hard projects” — those connected directly to production, quality, sales, logistics and information technology (IT) — are at less risk, because the value is sometimes obvious and the benefits are easily recognized. “Soft” projects, on the other hand, are in a more precarious position. Projects involving culture, change management, leadership, communications, empowerment, customer service and branding may be at risk, because their value is not as clear to executives, and the owners of those projects have not taken the necessary steps to clearly demonstrate their business value.

Forecasting Return on Investment (ROI) Before Implementation Is Becoming Common

The best way to obtain approval for a new project is to provide a ROI forecast, comparing the expected monetary benefits with the projected costs. The challenge is making sure that this analysis is credible and conservative. Ideally, the ROI forecast is less than the actual ROI calculated in a follow-up evaluation.

The Journey to Business Results Includes the Entire Team

An organization cannot measure its way to success. Measurement and evaluation uncover weaknesses in programs and processes, which means that the organization must make changes. These changes often spread throughout the program cycle and across different roles and responsibilities. It is difficult for the evaluation team to facilitate those changes. Therefore, it is best to design for the results you want and share the challenge and responsibility to deliver those results with the entire team. A team effort is required to deliver the full value of your function.

Effective Virtual Learning Is Essential

With so many programs now shifting to virtual delivery, we need to ensure that they are working, particularly at levels 3 (application), 4 (impact) and 5 (ROI) of the Kirkpatrick Model. Unfortunately, many virtual programs break down at levels 3 and 4 — they don’t deliver application and impact.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Virtual programs can deliver impact and ROI, but they must be designed intentionally to deliver at these levels.

Future Programs Must Be Designed to Deliver Results

Important new programs should start with the “why,” and that “why” should be a business measure. And, the proposed program must be the right solution. There should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) goals, not only for reaction and learning but for application and impact as well. This approach will provides the focus needed to deliver results.

Action Is Required

This situation requires recalibration and reevaluation of how organizations deliver solutions and measure results. That process involves all key roles and responsibilities, and it includes the latest benchmarking, technology and know-how to make it work. More specifically, organizations need a new evaluation strategy that includes these actions:

    • Using a standard instrument, assess the current status of delivering results to use as a
    • Set specific goals for delivering and measuring results that involve the entire team. Indicate the percent of programs evaluated at each level each year.
    • Assign tasks to each team member, identifying what he or she must do to deliver impact.
    • Build the capability of the team to make evaluation feasible, effective and
    • Develop simple, yet usable, guidelines, tools and templates to make the process efficient, consistent and repeatable.
    • Use technology intelligently to make the process more efficient and
    • Adopt preferred practices in planning, data collection, analysis and reporting.
    • Report the results of the evaluation to all
    • Brief, and involve, the management team, emphasizing what they must do to make the process
    • Measure progress, and make adjustments.

Building blocks for evaluation

The best way to drive these actions is for the functional team leaders (the owners of the different projects and programs) to adopt an evaluation system that they can implement to deliver, measure and report value. Next, the team should meet to discuss each of the 10 actions listed above and to make decisions about each of them. The objective of this meeting is to provide a roadmap to success. Afterward, participants will:

    • Understand that the new strategy is important to the success of their work.
    • Be able to describe the challenges facing the organization today and the need to connect to the business value desired by top executives.
    • Be able to identify the steps to develop, deliver and evaluate programs at the impact and ROI levels.
    • Decide on specific actions needed for an evaluation strategy.
    • Create and document an evaluation strategy plan.
    • Internalize the evaluation strategy plan and be prepared to make it successful.
    • Communicate the plan to others.
    • Execute the strategy and monitor successes.

The evaluation strategy plan document is a living document that should be reviewed periodically and adjusted as necessary. It will help an L&D team deliver — and measure — business results for all of your major programs. This approach maintains team members’ focus on results throughout program cycles and ensures that when they take measurements, they can demonstrate business results, overcoming one of the biggest fears of measurement: negative outcomes.