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With a squeezing of budgets, I looked at my team’s offer… My thinking was to work out what we could do, not what we would need to cut.

It’s a real challenge to demonstrate the value that your L&D interventions are creating. There’s a number of reasons for this, including: the ‘conspiracy of convenience’ that many L&D practitioners work with; the metrics we’ve painted ourselves into a corner with; and the difficulty in proving Return on Investment (ROI) to senior management. One of the difficulties in developing learning budgets is that a simple cost v benefit ratio isn’t of use.

For example, you decide to run a course on widgets. At the tea break, one participant talks to another about how they rotate the widget by a quarter turn before despatching it. The second participant goes back to their workplace and implements this quarter turn. It’s a revelation! It speeds up the quantity and quality of widgets and becomes a work-changing enhancement. This is an example of ‘opportunity’ value. The interaction that you fund might create value outside of the content that the training delivers. Opportunity value is generally cheaper and may be exponentially more effective. What value do you create when you connect people in different parts of the organisation? If people who have met purely because of the opportunity, can L&D claim that improvement as part of learning and development’s ROI? As you can see, measuring ROI can get quite tricky…

The budget challenges in local government are congruent with the challenges facing the third sector. Being expected to do more, work more efficiently, all with a budget that may be half of what it was a few years ago has made me consider what learning budgets could be used for. With a squeezing of budgets, I looked at my team’s offer to see how we could still support the needs of the organisation, teams and individuals. My thinking was to work out what we could do, not what we would need to cut.

I’ve worked for a range of different organisations and the cash budget for L&D activity has ranged between anything from 2% to 6% of staff budget. This is consistent with the CIPD’s research in 2013. For a UK employee earning the median gross salary, this equates to between £518 and £1,558 per year that could be allocated as training spend. In the world of L&D, you might get two x one day training courses for that. For the purposes of my work at, I assume a rate of 2.5%.

For an employee working a 35 hour week, 2.5% of their time equates to 52 minutes. So, instead of cash value, what about developing a learning value based on time? At a monthly review, the staff member and manager would agree how the 52 minute learning spend could be allocated for the next month. This could be any activity that will support the employees learning. Activities could be things like:

  • Sitting in on a meeting not normally attended, to understand the dynamics of a different management group
  • Completing an eLearning module
  • Completing a case study
  • Creating an exercise for a team meeting
  • Sitting with a colleague to learn a system issue
  • Watching three TED videos

The list above isn’t definitive and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what someone could learn in 52 minutes. At the next one to one, the staff member and manager meet to discuss the effect, impact, and benefits of the interventions. The pair then agree a further range of activities and the cycle continues.

The 52 minutes doesn’t have to be split into four weekly parts – if the staff member needs to create a 104 minute space, it rolls over two weeks. By asking managers and staff to think about time, we start allocating a different value to learning; we regularly hear how time poor we are and prioritising learning time elevates it above the usual linear interventions L&D specialists are asked to create.

There’s a substantial benefit in working with Subject Matter Experts (SME) too. It enables you to set a clear expectation that the SME has a MAXIMUM budget of 52 minutes – so the most an instructional element, exercise, test and evaluation can be is 52 minutes. Forcing your SME to be more efficient also creates opportunities to develop innovative solutions – what can be learnt in 26 minutes? How much more value can you create with 13 minute activities? What would a suite of eight or so six or seven minute activities look like? If you want to invest more in your staff development, 3% of a 35 hour week works out at 60 minutes and is a number more people are comfortable with.


Andrew Jacobs profileAbout the author: Andrew Jacobs is the Learning and Development Manager at London Borough of Lambeth. With Lambeth’s drive to become a co-operative council, he’s working on a number of organisational development activities that combine traditional learning with technological solutions. He’s worked in L&D for almost 20 years in a range of industries in both the public and private sectors, including retail, the Fire Service and retail banking. His work has been recognised for its innovative and creative thinking.