Can Training and Professional Development Drive Bottom Line Results?

A great deal of training and professional development does not even purport to affect bottom-line results. Many corporate education efforts have been focused primarily on culture with the goal of giving employees a common language or approach. They are focused on touching as many people as possible, usually on a very superficial basis.

Participants then provide level-one feedback, and as long as the reviews are at a 4.0 level (on a 5-point scale), the learning and development plan is satisfied. The goal is merely to paint them blue – or red, or brown or whatever the corporate color is. Although this phenomenon has existed for some time, only the most wide-eyed and optimistic leadership development consultant believes this can continue to be seen as a strong value-add in a post-meltdown economic environment.

Why Hasn’t Training Driven the Bottom Line?

Before addressing HOW training can drive results, the question arises, “WHY hasn’t training historically driven results?” Based on our experience creating business simulations and other executive leadership training programs with dozens of Global 100 companies, we offer the following hypotheses:

  • Management hasn’t asked it to. The goals and expectations of senior management have been too low relative to leadership development’s potential. “Painting them blue” has been seen as a sufficient output,
  • Even the best leadership training people don’t know how to. Many learning and development professionals were recruited and attracted to the training function because we are good with people, and not necessarily good at the business,
  • The methodology of hard-wiring corporate leadership training to bottom-line results has been insufficiently developed. There are many, many business transformation methodologies, and most are helpful. The problem is the lack of an integrated approach that combines methodologies into an overarching architecture that drives bottom line results, and
  • Learning and development consultants don’t want to take the (perceived and/or actual) risk. We are afraid that if our efforts are measured on an ROI basis we will be found significantly lacking.

How to Create Professional Development Training Programs that Drive the Bottom Line

1. Start with an audacious goal. Create a goal for your leadership and management training program that is measurable, important and, frankly, quite scary. Even more frightening, make the goal public! Achieving your stretch goal, or even coming remotely close, makes the leadership development team internal heroes AND you have a benchmark for improvement toward even higher future results.

2. Design from the back forward. As Stephen Covey would say, “Begin with the end in mind.” Define precisely what you want to achieve, THEN start to think about how to achieve it. Don’t be worried by the fact that you don’t know the solution before you create the goal. If you DO already know a solution that accomplishes the goal, then the goal probably isn’t large enough!

3. Be committed to measurement. If you don’t measure it, you won’t achieve it. Measure ROI, behavior, knowledge, and reaction. Examine failures and successes equally, as failures will often teach you much more than successes. Treat this as a process and know that the first attempt is just a start. In an R&D or manufacturing process, perfection from the beginning is not expected .

4. Make continuous improvement. The Japanese used the principles of Kaizen (Total Quality) to become a dominant player in the automobile market. These same principles are as applicable to learning and development training as they are to manufacturing. Constantly look for ways to improve, test improvements, and then roll them out as they become proven. This process never ends.

5. Use all levers at your disposal. Coaches, leaders, 360 degree instruments and other tools can prove invaluable. The challenge is to deploy them toward a different, and more significant, goal. There is not a single silver bullet or new and improved tool that will unilaterally accomplish the task.

6. Find success stories and learn from them. Find companies that have successfully tied effective leadership training to the bottom line, benchmark and build from what you learn. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you can leverage others’ experiences.

7. Approach this process as a science, not an art. Learn what works, document it, create a process and replicate. Driving bottom-line results is not dependent on a single great facilitator – it is a knowable, replicable process.

Making the transition to a results-driven mindset will not only transform your company’s leadership and development training function, it will transform your own business life. Professional development shifts from a “cost center” (begrudgingly funded) to a recognized seat at the table.

Mike Vaughan

Author Mike Vaughan

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