There’s little debate that calculating the business impact of training programs is a difficult task. Only 35 percent of the 199 talent development professionals the Association for Talent Development surveyed for its 2016 “Evaluating Learning: Getting to Measurements That Matter” report said their organizations evaluated the business results of learning programs to any extent. The literature on the topic suggests that training professionals have difficulty communicating the business impact of training due to two factors: inconsistency in the structure and organization of the training function and the limits of the current methodologies used to provide evidence of business impact.
Josh Bersin captured the spirit of the latter shortcoming in a 2010 study on modern measurement, which concluded that training measurement initiatives needed to expand. Jonathon Brotherton, a research assistant at Appalachian State University, researched the topic and took the sentiment a step further: Senior training executives told Brotherton that they believed the training industry lacked a measurement methodology tying financial outcomes to learning engagements.
Regardless of the reason, failure to demonstrate or articulate the business impact of training has implications. Jack and Patti Phillips of the ROI Institute argue that training organizations that don’t have an extensive measurement and evaluation system are likely to see a reduction or elimination of their budget. Knowledgepool surveyed over 200 learning and HR professionals and concluded that training budgets are reduced when the individuals responsible for the function fail to demonstrate the business value that their programs provide to the larger organization.
What is not debated by business executives is the impact that loyalty has on an organization. Loyalty is widely acknowledged as the greatest driver of long-term organizational success. Its relationship with and importance to business success are perhaps best articulated by the researcher Munyaradzi Nyadzayo, a professor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, who referred to loyalty as a primary measure of organizational success. Spyridon Arvanitis of Geniki Bank-Societe Generale Group, Hellas, refers to loyalty as a business metric accepted by executives. When employees are loyal to a company, they are more productive. When customers are loyal to a company, they repurchase the product or service from that organization whenever possible.
Research on the relationship between training and loyalty is limited. The studies that do exist indicate a positive correlation between the presence of learning programs and increased levels of loyalty. Loyalty is also a metric that can be easily measured and reported using net promoter score (NPS). NPS is a popular approach for measuring customer loyalty that requires respondents to only answer one question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you recommend this product or service to a friend?” Responses are then segmented into three groups: promoters, passives or detractors. Individuals who respond between 0 and 6 are considered detractors, who are not likely to recommend a product or service to a friend or colleague. Individuals who respond with a 7 or 8 are considered passives, who are neither likely nor unlikely to recommend a product or service. Promoters are the individuals who respond with a 9 or 10. These individuals are highly likely to recommend a product or service to a friend or colleague. The overall NPS score is calculated by subtracting the number of promoters from the number of detractors.
Training managers can assess how programs impact loyalty to a company using a modified version of NPS asking this question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is ‘extremely less loyal’ and 10 is ‘extremely more loyal,’ how did this class make you feel about the company?” Trainers can then calculate the impact on loyalty using the traditional NPS approach and subtracting promoters from detractors. This approach would provide both business leaders and training managers with an objective measure of the impact that training had on loyalty.
Perhaps now is the time for training professionals to borrow a saying from Steve Jobs and “think different” about how they communicate their business value by measuring and reporting on the impact that their programs have on loyalty.