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It is widely accepted that the economics of the 21st century are driven by knowledge. It is the age of the knowledge-driven economy, which, according to the United Kingdom Department of Trade and Industry (1998), is “. . . one in which the generation and exploitation of knowledge play the predominant part in the creation of wealth.” Competitive advantage is led by the capacity to gain knowledge and skill. Well-being, security, growth, and livelihoods are becoming more dependent on the talents and services of the knowledge worker. In short, people and, therefore, workplace learning and performance (WLP) matter more than ever before.

Our leaders recognize this fact. Industry studies (Sugrue, 2003) show that whether economic times are good or slow, many companies continue to increase spending on training as a percentage of their payroll. Top executives put their money on the recognition that the knowledge and productivity of their people equal the organization’s success, but along with this recognition and spending comes increased responsibility.

Executives in all organizations—whether large or small, publicly or privately held, nonprofit, governmental, or academic—are the stewards of their people and the servants of their customers. The money available to their organizations is always finite, and in today’s economic conditions there is nothing to spare. Funds must be spent in the wisest, most productive way possible.

Every day, executives must choose whether to allocate money to research, to technology, to infrastructure, to the refinancing of debt, to outside services, or to the development of their people. The more money that is spent in one area, the less there is to develop another. Every day is a balancing act. It is expected, even demanded, by governments, boards of directors, shareholders, and the people of the organization itself that executives be held accountable for their investments. For many executives, this accountability is stewardship. Stewardship is a call to courage and responsibility. Stewardship creates meaning and purpose in their lives. Money is the measure of their accountability. The language of their responsibility is finance.

As the stewards of their organizations, executives know that the performance of their people is of utmost importance, so they continue to spend on training. Yet every day, executives face the frustration of only being able to hope that their WLP solutions are creating significant financial value. As responsible servants, executives must allocate resources to where it is obvious that those resources can do the most good for all. If the value of WLP is not obvious to them, then these executives are honor-bound to uphold their duty and allocate more resources to those whose value they can understand. Even though people are becoming ever more critical to an organization’s success, and some organizations do indeed continue to spend on learning and performance, the resources for WLP always seem to be on the edge of being reduced, shifted, or cut entirely.

To WLP professionals, people have always mattered. Many years of dedicated research, honed by hundreds of thousands of practitioners, have created a whole language around the improvement of human performance in organizations. There is a rich, deep body of knowledge of what works to improve knowledge, skill, productivity, and job satisfaction for workers around the world in an endless number of professions. This ability to improve the lives of others calls to the soul of the WLP professional. It creates meaning and a deep purpose in life. WLP professionals also carry the honor of accountability and responsibility. Evaluations are the measure of their accountability. The language of their responsibility is performance metrics.

WLP professionals do not spend their time hoping that their solutions will be effective. They can state with confidence, pride, and honor that they use their profession’s vast knowledge of what works to meet the greatest call of all: service to others. Yet, every day WLP professionals face the frustration of being unable to communicate value in terms that others accept and understand. They can only hope that the value of what they bring to the table is obvious, but to their sorrow and sometimes deep personal loss, they discover that hope is simply not good enough. For their own well-being and for the well-being of those whom they serve, they must move beyond hope. In the fast-paced times of the knowledge economy, WLP professionals will be successful not only because of the quality of their solutions, but because of their ability to communicate their value in terms that executives understand.

The emergence of the knowledge economy has moved human talent and performance directly into the boardroom. Therefore, if investments in workplace learning and performance are to continue to increase, executives must understand—quickly, clearly, and decisively—the financial value they are receiving for those investments.

As a WLP professional, I’ve interacted daily with executives, colleagues, peers, and staff members. Early on, I struggled with and eventually became more adept at translating the impact of performance into the impact on finance. I also learned to translate the issues in finance into opportunities for performance. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that this was not easy for me or for anyone else including executives, colleagues, peers, or staff members. Nevertheless, as the knowledge economy gains overwhelming strength, the need to make this communication easier and more transparent is getting more urgent.

This book helps clarify the connections between performance metrics and finance and helps WLP professionals and executives communicate with each other about the objectives for, the value of, and the results from WLP and human performance improvement programs.

Clarifying these connections is critically important. Great programs can get more support. More support can lead to even greater impact. Resources can be redirected for better service to the organization. Connecting performance metrics to finance can teach organizations what they do well and how to become even better at it. Connecting finance to performance can help an organization be more profitable or otherwise serve its customers, people, sponsors, and community more efficiently. Connecting performance to finance serves to make the resources available to improve performance and to help the organization fulfill its mission of service that all organizations ultimately have.

The primary purpose for this book is to move beyond hope when communicating the value of WLP solutions to executives; you, as a WLP professional, must be able to communicate the value of WLP solutions in a real and tangible way. But, there is another purpose for this book. Chances are that if you are a WLP professional, you didn’t get into the field of learning and performance for the numbers. You got into WLP for the people. Telling a story of results and performance to the people who did the work is just as important as telling that story to the executives who manage them. People crave feedback. They need to know when they have done well. They need to know what they can do even better.

A story without numbers may be good, but a story with numbers can be incredibly powerful. Telling a group of people their own story, especially if it is a great achievement, can change their lives forever. Too often people really don’t know what they’ve accomplished or how good they are. Putting their story into financial terms opens their eyes and gives them a reason to stand straighter, walk taller, and find meaning in their own lives. This knowledge ripples into their relationships and their marriages, into the examples they set for their children, and into their life ambitions.

I have seen the power of honest, believable numbers to transform a person’s entire self-concept. Having the opportunity to tell a great story is like the privilege of playing Santa Claus for children when they are very young. The surprise, the excitement, the overwhelming feeling of wonder, pride, and joy that I see when people realize what they’ve accomplished creates deep satisfaction and a desire to give again.

I am always amazed at the power of understanding another’s point of view and the power that numbers bring to the realization that a job has been well done. For me, understanding will forever be one of the greatest gifts that one can leave behind. May this book lead you to greater knowledge, greater compassion, greater communication, greater understanding, and greater service as stewards, leaders, and educators of people. If it has done so for even one, then I will be forever grateful for the gift of a life well spent in the service of another.

No book is possible without the support and guidance of many other people. First, I thank Cliff Lawley and Steven Wagner-Davis for their teamwork in the original presentation that became the genesis of this book. I gratefully acknowledge the work of Toni Hodges, the lead reviewer of this book and offer my thanks to Randall, the Deborahs, Bernice, Mitch, the Bills, Gary, Susan, Suzanne, Jim, Pauline, Dave, Sabine, John, Sarah, Lynne, Rick, Lane, Darnell, Marcela, and many more who have been very enthusiastic about these concepts and were willing to suggest, review, and apply. I thank my inspiring co-workers at TLSA: Mary Ann Seagraves, Andrea Moore, and Marita Peak. I thank my children, Kelly and Kevin, and, most of all, my wonderful husband, Bill.

Finally, I acknowledge the Divine Spirit who guides us all. Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I can’t count how many times I wondered why I was living forward through something and yet when I look back, I think, “Of course! What else would have shaped me for how I needed to serve next?” I’m divinely cared for. How can one ever say thank you enough?

Theresa Seagraves

April 2004

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