Return on investment in action learning

Commissioners of action learning often ask us whether action learning provides a good return on investment and whether this can be measured.

Measurement of outcomes is an important element of all the programmes we deliver, and is our focus at the beginning, when devising our programmes – what is it you want to achieve? And at the end, during our thorough evaluation stage – to what extent have you achieved your goals?

These measurements and checks are conducted at an individual and organisational level. We also check in during our programmes, to ensure participants are aligned to the process, and that it is delivering on their expectations.


Clients use action learning for many different reasons, and their objectives for the learning are varied. Often outcomes are different than expected, and participants benefit in ways they hadn’t considered at the start of the process.

What’s key though is that the training is centred around the needs of the organisation and individuals within it, it is focused on very specific real life issues.

So, our methods of measurement are to score where people are at the beginning of the process vs where they feel they are at the end. This might be against many different criteria, for example

  • I am a better leader
  • I am more confident at making decisions
  • I trust my team more
  • I feel less isolated
  • I now understand what value of my team members contribute
  • I have new strategies for coping with stress
  • I am no longer ‘stuck’, I feel ready to take action
  • I feel better equipped to support others

The evaluation stage allows us to reinforce the learning – what have participants gained from it, and where do they see the real shifts in personal development have taken place. Time for reflection is very important here to augment the learning and to measure progress against KPI’s.

Benefits are felt at many different levels, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary. Here are 2 recent examples that demonstrate both:

1) A real return on investment – an additional income stream for the NSPCC

We have recently been involved in a couple of projects for the NSPCC.

One was to train 3 cohorts of Consultant Social Workers (CSWs) so they could go on to conduct action learning sets within the Society. They understood and valued the role of reflective practice to their staff and were keen to develop a sustainable learning offer within the organisation. Ultimately they reported being conscious that overall, it would be the service users of the charity, the children, that would benefit.

Part of the CSW’s role is to also offer action learning to Local Authorities. In addition they have recently advertised in The Guardian for participants from other organisations to come forward for action learning training.

Their article states: ‘The NSPCC’s experience is that the action learning approach can offer new solutions for busy professionals and organsiations. They have found it can be motivating and encouraging in supporting professionals, and helpful in their decision making and action planning’.

This is a great endorsement of action learning and an important stage of the programme for the charity, as they are now able to reap continuing returns on their initial investment, in terms of additional income. In addition, action learning set participants within the charity now feel far better equipped to fulfil often challenging and complex roles.

An article by our senior associate Mandy Hetherton, Growing action learning at the NSPCC explains more about the initial programme, and includes powerful impact statements from some of the participants.

2) Teamwork as an objective

I was involved in working with one client that was specifically concerned about team work in their organisation. Their main objective was to improve collaboration and reduce silo working.

Through running a series of action learning sets, participants were able to share their ideas of what makes a good team, and support one another to achieve specific project goals assigned to them for the duration of their 7 month action learning programme.

The results

In summary, the participants felt that they had made real progress towards working together as a team.

Action learning achieving effective teamwork

The programme commissioner was able to sum up the results in this statement “It has united a professional team and encouraged them to work together to share group objectives”.

Did they experience a return on investment? The answer is evidently yes.

If you could place a monetary value on the following outcomes of promoting team collaboration what would it be?

  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Improved motivation
  • Shared knowledge, experience and support
  • Better talent retention
  • Improved problem solving
  • Better quality of work
  • A happier workplace

The list goes on.

You can read more about the details of this programme in my article entitled Objectives vs Outcomes – how far can action learning take your people?

What are your challenges?

Whatever your challenges, action learning provides an effective and powerful way of helping your people to explore, support and share issues, and perhaps most importantly, take action.

Since Action Learning founder Reg Revans pioneered the technique at the National Coal Board in the 1940’s, where he managed to increase productivity for this very large employer at the time by 30%, it has been used to great effect to help people develop. As he said in his own words: “There can be no learning without action and there can be no action without learning”.

For details of in-house courses for organisational development, see our website, and for leadership development, take a look here. All in-house courses are devised with your objectives in mind, so if you would like to talk to us to explore how action learning might help, please call 0207 407 1971 or email

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