Return On Investment

Over the last century, we have discovered more about learning than ever before, but our challenges have also become more complex. The need to convert new knowledge into bottom line performance has never been greater. Organizations have to graduate from a reactive or traditional learning model to a truly proactive learning model/strategy.

Traditional Reactive Approach: Training as an Event

Often when confronted with a human-performance issue, the standard reactive “solution” is to send everyone to a training event. While well designed training can be an important part of performance improvement, training alone does not dramatically increase performance. In fact, studies of training impact show that the knowledge gained at a workshop or seminar deteriorates dramatically within a few days after the course. The problem does not lie in the training itself, but in the context in which the training occurs. The following graph (Figure 1) illustrates this dynamic:

The bottom line shows the level of performance, and is the critical line in this graph. Knowledge (the top line) is important, by the real question is, “How much knowledge has been converted into improved performance?” Improvement is this “bottom line” drives improvement in the financial bottom lines of organizations.

In the traditional approach, nothing happens before training, so the knowledge and performance lines stay the same. During training, individuals are exposed to new knowledge, and the knowledge line takes a significant leap higher on the graph. The critical issue, however, is what happens after training.

Note: after training the performance line on the bottom dips. This occurs as individuals attempt to apply new knowledge to their old work environments. In a non-supportive environment, the resistance people encounter will often drive them back their old ways of working, and performance returns to the original level. Since the new knowledge has not been applied, it is quickly forgotten. No performance improvement has occurred. Time and money have been wasted.

The Power of a Process

As illustrated in the Figure 2, the curve changes shape dramatically when a training workshop is part of an effective proactive process of preparation, participation and performance support, and is carried out in an environment of measurement and accountability.

In such a model, both the knowledge and performance lines begin to move even before participation in the workshop. But the real impact is seen afterward as the participants’ performance is actively supported through effective tools, follow-up events, coaching and other assistance. As people bring new knowledge to their jobs and successfully create new results, they gain new insights into the knowledge they have applied. As a result, the knowledge and performance lines both continue to rise after the workshop experience. It is at this point where the return on investment is high.

The Proactive Learning Model (PLM)

Real performance improvement requires that we spend the appropriate amount of time and energy in each stage of the process. The PLM helps us understand the process and to organize our efforts to ensure that performance improves.

The PLM occurs in three stages: Prepare, Participate and Perform. The Measure bar runs along the bottom to provide a place for identifying the key measurement activities in each stage.


During the Prepare stage, we focus our efforts on helping participants increase their ability to effectively receive, and later apply, their new knowledge. Effective preparation created a compelling context so individuals see an upcoming learning experience, such as a workshop, as a resource they can use to further their performance objectives. They perceive a clear linkage between what they will be learning and the performance objectives of the organization. As a result, they become active participants in the workshop experience, not just “attendees.”

Preparation activities may include the following:

  • Computer Based Training (CBT)
  • Virtual Classroom
  • Self-assessment (pre-exercise survey)
  • Personal study and pre-work
  • Establishing learning and performance objectives
  • Identifying helpful resources and support mechanisms
  • Linking course content to organization performance initiatives


Participation in a workshop, or other focused development process, can be a tremendous catalyst for change. Such an experience provides:

  • Focused concentration and immersion in a learning experience
  • A shared context among participants that facilitates implementation and performance improvement
  • The creation of ongoing learning relationships among participants
  • A safe place to experiment and practice new behaviours
  • Exposure to other perspectives and active dialogue
  • Inspiration, motivation, and vision to change behaviour

Learning is an inherently social activity. This is especially true with skills such as effective communication, teamwork and leadership. When people are brought together in a focused environment, new levels of knowledge and energy emerge that could not have been created otherwise.

In addition, such experiences lay a critical foundation for spreading knowledge throughout the organization. Organizational learning begins when individuals share their knowledge with others. A focused learning experience, such as a workshop, can help establish the relationships required for this critical communication. At the same time, workshops alone do not increase performance. Performance improves when people return to work-when new capabilities are successfully integrated into their habit patterns. This highlights the critical nature of the Perform stage of ELM.


The Perform stage focuses on the return to the work environment and the effective implementation of knowledge and skills. In a sense, this is not a stage at all, since performance is what organizations are all about. The Perform stage represents the ongoing work of translating new knowledge and skills into results. Clearly a variety of factors influence the degree to which an environment supports high performance. An organization’s information systems, work processes, decision-making processes, reward systems, and so forth, all greatly impact the performance of individuals.

Performance support is the key to an organization’s return on its learning investment, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Tools used to support the Perform stage:

  • Web-based CBT self-paced modules
  • Personal coaching
  • Mentoring programs
  • Additional exercises
  • Virtual Classroom-Elluminate
  • Continuous ERP Awareness


Organizations invest in learning because it affects performance and bottom-line results. A well-constructed measurement system can greatly enhance performance impact. Measurement is important for three reasons:

  1. Measurement encourages performance
  2. Measurement helps us validate performance improvement
  3. Measurement helps us identify and adjust specific activities and effectiveness can be increased

This approach focuses on five measurement levels in three categories, as illustrated in the Table below and Figure 5:

ERMC has a variety of tools and services that support the PLM. For example, the standard products and services are shown in relation to the PLM below in Figure 6:

Each of these PLMs can serve as preparation for or as partner to, additional improvement efforts. By sequencing multiple processes in well crafted development paths, organizations can build an integrated and continuous process of learning and performance improvement.