Wright, N. (2004) ‘Added Value Equation’, Learning Magazine, November, p5.
‘Are we the best way to do this?’ I posed this question to Tearfund’s Training & Development Team three years ago now during a review of added value. ‘Could Tearfund’s investment in our salaries be better used to achieve its learning goals?’ Responses were mixed, ranging from playful curiosity to painful anxiety.
The question of return on investment is an important one for a Christian charity. The problem was that we didn’t really know how to answer it. What follows below is an account of our subsequent progress in this arena, focusing on impact evaluation, customer relationship and distinctive expertise, drawn together in our own model, as an experiential contribution to this debate.
Demonstrating the net impact of training and development on organisational effectiveness is infamously fraught with difficulty. Some suggest that the inverse equation is helpful: what would be lost if the training and development function, including its team, was to disappear? Still others argue that the very notion of impact evaluation in the field of learning is so problematic as to be completely futile.
We decided to contract a specialist consultant-trainer to help us think this through and are now using Kirkpatrick’s model as a basic evaluation framework. Customer satisfaction scores are collated for all events, trainers are being trained to conduct in-course evaluation of learning and external consultants are being contracted to conduct post-course evaluation of learning impact on policy, strategy and practice.
In order to enhance organisational learning and expertise in this area, the team also meets bi-monthly for 90 minutes with representatives of Tearfund’s volunteer development, partner development and knowledge management teams as an internal community of practice to develop good practice guidelines in this field.
We also became conscious that measuring the effects of our current intervention strategy is not the same as questioning whether the strategy itself is fundamentally sound. We agreed, therefore, that two members of the team, as part of their masters degree studies, would research the learning needs of the organisation and the relative value of our team’s contribution towards fulfilling them.
The results of both research assignments indicated that leaders and staff particularly valued the team’s ability to ‘bring perspective’ and ‘help think things through’. This was consistent with our own intuitive evaluation of our work and trends outside of Tearfund where internal learning consultancy is supplanting the more traditional role of pure training service provider.
We have, therefore, renamed the team Learning & Development and publicly re-launched its customer relationship strategy. We also provide training for the team in internal consulting skills and meet for 90 minutes per month as a team-based action learning group to share, learn from and problem-solve actual consulting experiences.
Our final area of interest arose as we considered the impacts on the team itself of moving to this new role configuration. What was the nature of the expertise that others could reasonably expect to encounter in and through us? Would we be good enough to match raised expectations? We tackled this question by considering what the team represents and how, as a team, we can share learning and experience between us.
We have so far listed as our principal assets: practical experience, post-graduate studies in individual and organisation development, professional linkages through membership of our respective institutes, knowledge of good practice standards, cross-organisational relationships, external networks/benchmarks and access to a range of information resources. We now prioritise each of these areas for on-going development of the Learning & Development Team.