What CEOs want (and it’s not what you think)

May 29, 2013

WomanCEOWay back in April of 2010, I wrote this post about taking learning to business, where I basically posted that business doesn’t value learning, it values performance. I recently saw a wonderful presentation by ROI guru Jack Phillips that provided data to support that assumption. The bad news? Businesses really don’t value learning. The good news? Once we understand what business does value, we can take steps to provide it.

See, businesses don’t value learning any more than the driver of a car values gasoline. The driver of a car has a goal; he wants to get somewhere. He has a resource for getting there, the car. And in order for the car to take him where he wants to go, he puts gasoline in it. Having a full tank of gas is not a goal; getting somewhere is the goal, and the gasoline is the fuel that makes the car go, and allows the driver to get where he’s going.

So, too, do businesses want to get somewhere. And skills and knowledge are the fuel that power the people of the business and allow them to take the business where it needs to go. So it’s not too surprising that businesses don’t measure learning; they measure results.

Jack Phillips did a wonderful analysis. He asked the CEOs of dozens of big organizations (Fortune 500 and similarly-sized privately-held organizations), and asked a simple question: what are the metrics that matter to you around learning? Jack wrote a detailed article about it in CLO Magazine, so I won’t replicate all his findings here.

So what’s the net-net? Well, you might not be too surprised to learn:
  • Most of the things learning organizations typically measure aren’t very important to top executives. For example, 63% of organizations reported they measured employee satisfaction with training, but CEOs rated that measure as last on their priority list.
  • Only 4% reported measuring ROI on training, although 74% thought they should be measuring ROI. Most interestingly, ROI was not listed as a top priority. So what was?
  • The number one priority for CEOs was this statement: “Our programs are driving our top five business measures in the organization.” Only 8% said they currently measure it. A whopping 96% said they should be.

What can we take away from all of this? Simply this: business values activity that brings them closer to their established goals. And, we might infer, is willing to invest money in activities that bring them closer to their goals.

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