Measured Response

Despite fervent debate about whether companies should measure the ROI of their training-and-development programs, most proceed (or not) on gut instinct.

In the end, it may come down to a CFO’s inherent orientation. “My sense is that those who believe training is a good investment don’t need a lot of data to reinforce that belief,” Boswell says. “And for those who don’t believe it, no amount of data will convince them otherwise.”

David McCann is senior editor for human capital & careers at CFO.

Different Strokes

Even if a company does want to measure the bottom-line benefit of learning programs, it may first have to ask, “What do we consider to be learning?” Sometimes, there are unexpected answers.

At Educational Testing Service, the definition includes assembling cross-functional teams of high-potential employees to solve business problems. “It’s training in the sense of learning how to work together toward a common goal and understanding the implications of various courses of action before you take them,” says Frank Gatti, the just-retired CFO of ETS. “Those are important things that I believe are missing from the higher-education system.”

For example, one project undertaken through the company’s Learning for Business Results program revamped and streamlined the process for responding to requests for proposal. ETS was easily able to identify a subsequent tripling of its RFP win rate and a sharp drop in resources used in the process.

IBM creates a variety of limited-term measurement experiments for what it considers forms of learning that lie beyond the traditional definition of training. In one example, a couple of years ago it began to use its own business-intelligence software, augmented by an advanced text-recognition feature, to analyze the learning quality of employee interactions via e-mail, messaging, and social media (the employees who participated agreed to waive their privacy rights). IBM uses the same technology to assess the content of periodic “jams” in which company employees brainstorm via an IBM intranet. They contribute and discuss ideas on various topics, allowing them to learn from one another — and the company to learn from them. — D.M.

Still No App for That

With a low-end smart phone packing more computing power than the giant machines that directed a spaceship to the moon in 1969, you might expect mobile devices to be a hot new platform for training and development. But the pace of adoption has been slower than analysts expected. Bersin & Associates, a corporate-learning consultancy, says that in 2010, about 20% of U.S.-based organizations provided mobile learning, up from 9% in 2007. That’s a healthy jump, but hardly the sea change one might expect given the ubiquity of mobile devices today.

Why the modest growth? Some say it’s because mobile devices don’t offer a quality learning experience. Screens are too small to hold an employee’s attention for more than a few minutes, says Norbert Büning, a managing director at Accenture. Tablet computers might address that in part, but another wrinkle concerns not so much the devices themselves as where they are typically used: while employees are in transit, which is rarely a good time to dive into a training session.

To address that, some companies are packaging training modules into four- or five-minute segments. Health-care provider Sta-Home Health and Hospice uses that approach with its on-the-go nurse practitioners. That helps personalize the learning process, says Sta-Home information-technology manager Glenn Wood, as employees can proceed at their own pace. But breaking content into bite-size chunks may do little to alleviate other problems of the truly mobile worker, such as the ambient noise on a train or plane ride.

Companies may also remain hesitant about mobile learning because other computer-based training programs have not worked well. “CFOs have spent a lot of money on e-learning and haven’t seen the results,” Büning says. — Marielle Segarra

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