ROI vs. ROE

Working on a chemical plant in Saudi’s Eastern Region has been educational, especially in the time I’ve been granted to consider things. And bearing in mind the plant contains all sorts of nasty chemicals, which could wipe out entire towns if it were ever to go bang, the effectiveness of the training being given is one of those things worth considering.

Anyone in training must be familiar with Return on Investment. It’s that notoriously difficult to pin down figure that training managers use to justify the existence of their departments to the management. It’s difficult to pin down because it is not always possible to show the effectiveness of a training program in terms of business efficiency. It’s also folly to link gains or losses to a training when there are a thousand other factors that might influence how the business is running – new competitors in the marketplace, or increased cost of raw materials for instance.

Finally, returning to the plant, and safety issues, the ROI in training is hopefully an absence of significant accidents. The cost of even one such event could be staggering. But how to quantify the value of something not happening?  

The ‘Safety Culture’ places great value on ‘Near Miss’ incidents – where lessons can be learned from events that didn’t have any major consequences, but could have done. When they happen, investigations take place and systems and processes are modified. But even this approach relies on incidents in the first place to use as test cases. So what do we look at when we are aiming for total prevention?

This is where Expectations come in.

Let’s take proper use of gloves as an example. The training expectations are that once they have done this training, employees not only know how to use the right gloves, but from that point forward will always use the gloves as intended. Spot checks at monthly intervals might be needed to confirm this. And, assuming the spot checks check out, we can confirm the ROE for the training has been met. There is no obvious cost implication to this success, but no-one has been hurt in the evaluation of this training. 

We can follow the path back to the training, too. It makes sense to define the outputs before we start. Kirkpatricks’ model helps – the output we want is a level 3 – Behaviour. The level 4 goal, having no injuries in the organization is linked, but will follow from that level 3.

Knowing this, the Instructional Designer has a clear job. There’s the information level of the training, which gloves are needed for what. A tactile exercise would be nice, trying them on and performing tasks. You may drive the message home with pictures of hand injuries that resulted from bad choices. You could have classroom activities with pictures of work situations and everyone holds up the right glove. That’s half the story covered.

Of course, outside the classroom, there are things that contribute too. Making sure everyone has a proper set, that fits, personalized with their own name, and somewhere to keep them where they are available. Finally, notices in areas warning employees of penalties for being glove-free may, in the end, have more effect than anything. This last part is arguably the most important because it brings the knowledge out of the training and into the daily grind.

It’s a culture change that’s needed. In the right circumstances, culture change can be deceptively fast.  

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