This is a subject I have touched on during the discussions around the recent Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations (CLTI2007) conference.
My mail at the office today included the December issue of inside learning technologies, which I gather is not yet available on line (have you signed up for the LT2008 exhibition and/or conference, yet?). The lead article by Donald H Taylor addresses the issue of the value of learning and ROI.
My gut feel on the subject of ROI is that it is just too difficult to quantify. There are just too many other variables that may impact the situation - the learner may read a book in his leisure time that profoundly influences his behaviour, or he might attend a life enrichment seminar , or hear a powerful sermon at church. He might meet a new love interest, or become a parent. All these things happen outside the workplace, but have the potential to impact profoundly on his workplace performance.
And the move towards performance support will do nothing to firm up those blurred lines, as we see learning becoming more and more seamlessly integrated with the day job.
To use an expression I have probably already turned into a cliche: how do you know where to position your ROI chisel so that you can hit it with the budget hammer?
Donald's article draws this rather wonderful comparison:
Does the IT manager ever feel obliged to justify their department through a ROI analysis of the value of each PC and the time spent maintaining it? Of course not.As I keep saying: you either believe in the value of L&D for your staff or you don't. End of. Either way, you'll find a way to make the numbers support your argument.
The message from IT is simple: "If you want to run the business, you have to invest in IT. No IT, no infrastructure, no business. Of course, we can discuss costs and other details, but the role of the department is non-negotiable."