Can executive learning produce a positive ROI?

Written by
VanDyck Silveira

08 Sep 2016

08 Sep 2016 • by VanDyck Silveira

To uncover European business attitudes toward investment in people – and to better understand the opinions of senior executives on the ways learning can have an impact in their businesses – we created the Corporate Learning Pulse survey.

We conducted this independent survey among 600 HR and learning and development leaders, C-suite executives and senior managers in medium and large organisations who have led or participated in executive development programmes in the past five years. They were based in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Our findings offer insights into how corporate learning is viewed, whether it is perceived as a credible investment and what impact it can have on business outcomes.


L&D more important than hiring new talent

Viewing employees as a tool to implement strategy and deliver business goals is central to the rationale behind investing in learning and development. From our research, companies believe that investing in the development of their executives is more important than hiring new talent when it comes to driving change, stimulating innovation and improving corporate financial prospects. In fact, 57% of those we surveyed see corporate learning as the top investment their organisation can make to improve its business outcomes.

However, just under half those leaders we surveyed struggle to accurately measure how their investment in corporate learning has impacted on the bottom line of their business in the past. This fundamental disconnect between expectations and reality must be closed if organisations wish to realise the potential that an investment in learning can have. 

Corporate learning a top priority for senior execs

For the C-suite, corporate learning is a top priority in 2016. Challenges they expect to face in three years focus on innovation, market growth, and strategy development and execution. These challenges highlight the need to make the right decisions to positively impact the future of their organisation. A majority (59%) of senior learning and development professionals surveyed also believe that investing in employees drives organisational change and innovation.

Though the potential and perceived value of corporate learning is a shared sentiment, measurement and impact reveals an interesting divide between business leaders working at different levels. C-suite, presidents and managing directors believe that corporate learning has had a positive impact on their organisation and that past investments have been valuable to their organisation in terms of improvements to customer service and profitability.

Senior learning and development professionals, who perhaps are more removed from the boardroom and more focused on day-to-day operations within their organisations, think differently. These executives are seeking learning programmes that will help them deliver their specific learning and development goals, setting their sights less on measurable outcomes for the total business.  

I believe that corporate learning in the past has failed to prioritise the translation of learning programmes into strategy and the delivery of specific business goals for an organisation. There has been a disproportionate focus on basic tools, and this must be adjusted so that organisational needs can be better supported. Understanding the long-term, overarching vision of an organisation is intrinsic to supporting senior managers who will ultimately implement it – when they are under increasing pressure and expectations to deliver business goals.

Ultimately, business leaders should expect their investment in corporate learning to prove its value, and ensure the investment is managed as a strategic rather than purely tactical function.