Renewed emphasis on accountability has prompted you to demonstrate the value of your programs and projects—specifically, a program that attracted senior management interest. To do this, you collected six types of data: reaction, learning, application, impact, ROI, and intangibles. These data sets, and the process through which they were collected, form the basis of a complete evaluation study profile.
The study is now complete, and there is a need to communicate the data to several audiences, including the senior management team.
A face-to-face briefing is ideal for presenting results to key stakeholders, as there are many issues to explore and discuss. The good news is that most executives will typically show up—some who support the program and others who are curious, as they may not have seen this level of analysis connected to specific ROI data for this program.
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This meeting may be the only opportunity to explain the methodology and assumptions used to measure the impact of this program. This meeting provides an opportunity to explain the conservative approach and the credibility of the overall process. If the executives do not buy into the process, they will not buy into the data.
Now is an excellent time to gain support for measurement and evaluation and convince the executives that this activity is critical for setting priorities and improving and managing the function correctly. This meeting is also an opportunity to get buy-in for the data and support for the conclusions drawn from it. Ultimately, these meetings enable team members to build respect for other team members’ projects and programs and the value these add to the organization.
Finally, this meeting provides an opportunity to secure commitment for action to make changes based on the recommendations from the study. Almost every study will have issues and problems and will necessitate adjustments. This meeting can build the support necessary for these changes.
Now for the bad news: This briefing may not be easy. Great content and skills are needed to be successful. The executives may resist the meeting for the most part: They are busy, and your program may not always be their top priority. However, on a positive note, they are curious about the new methodology being presented and may devote the time to attend.
The Ground Rules
These ground rules are essential for success:
- Do not distribute the final study report until the end of the meeting. If executives receive an advance copy, they will almost always skim the data and go straight to the ROI figure. If the number is high, they will not believe it—leading them to ask pointed questions. If the ROI is negative, they will bombard you with questions about what went wrong. Either way, you could quickly lose control of the meeting before you even get started.
- Be precise. Now is not the time for small talk, unrelated stories, or unnecessary anecdotes. Be organized and focused throughout the presentation.
- Avoid jargon. Executives get turned off by overly used terminology. Keep to the business language at hand. Executives may be unimpressed with terms such as “value proposition,” “return on people,” and other words that may be unknown to others in the group.
- Spend less time on lower levels of data. Executives care very little about reactive-type or anecdotal data. Although they realize the value of qualitative data, they are more interested in the quantitative data that focus on impact and ROI.
- Present the data with a strategy in mind. The presentation must be planned with a specific strategy in mind.
The presentation should involve 12 data sets that must be presented effectively and efficiently. Some will require no more than one or two minutes, while others will require more detail:
- Describe the program and explain why it is being evaluated. Describe the program’s scope, magnitude, costs, and overall importance. Explain why the program should deliver value and why it is a candidate for this type of analysis.
- Present the methodology process. Executives should quickly see that you used a step-by-step, logical process to collect, process, and report the data. Explain the standards or assumptions—they form the basis for the credibility of the data.
- Present reaction and learning data. Show the reaction to the program, using data items such as importance, relevance, and usefulness. Only a brief explanation of learning data is needed, showing the extent to which employees have acquired or enhanced skills.
- Present the application data. Show how team members are utilizing the program as planned. This shows the progress made with implementation.
- List the barriers and enablers to success. Explain any issues that prevented the program from being more successful. The message: If removed or minimized, additional results could have been obtained. The opposite of the barriers, enablers have contributed to the documented success. The message: If more attention is placed on the enablers, more success will occur.
- Address the business impact. This is part of the presentation that executives want to see. Describe the business measures that have been influenced by the program, including how much they changed over time. Describe the technique used to isolate the effects of the program on the data. Executives will quickly see that this program is only one of several factors driving this success. Show the conversion to monetary value.
- Show the costs. At this point, present the fully-loaded costs—both direct and indirect costs. Ideally, the finance and accounting person in the group should be asked to comment on the cost categories. Previous involvement of the accounting function is critical. At a minimum, the accounting and finance staff should agree on the cost guidelines to show what is included in the report.
- Present the ROI. This is what your audience has been waiting for! Show the ROI calculation and the data included in the formula. Executives are reminded that this calculation is essentially the same as other investments—earnings divided by investment. If the numbers are enormous, all the previous data points and the conservative approach will help bring credibility to this value.
- Show the intangibles. All the intangible benefits are presented. These measures have been excluded from the conversion to monetary value. They are only listed if they are linked to the program in some credible way. Intangibles are important. If the ROI is extremely positive, the intangibles provide a sense of value-added. Also, the intangibles may help overcome the impact of a negative ROI.
- Review the credibility of the data. List the most critical points, mainly from the assumptions, and reiterate why the study is credible. This review of key issues helps validate the process with the executives.
- Summarize the conclusions. Provide a quick summary of the data, including a one-page overview handed out immediately following the presentation. Executives are reminded that this one-page format is what they will receive for other programs in the future. They need to understand the data sets and what they mean.
- Present the recommendations. Every evaluation study leads to changes or improvements. Offer specific suggestions, ranging from a few minor adjustments to the elimination of the entire program.
After the presentation, distribute the complete report, including the appendices, raw data, data collection instruments, and other items necessary to describe the process and results. Some executives will examine this report in more detail or may hand it off to someone else on the team to review. The information should remind executives of the resources required to produce the study, so they will be more selective in utilizing this level of analysis in the future.
Call to Action
Three important conclusions must be drawn from the meeting. The first is that executives need to approve the recommendations from the study and implement the necessary changes. Second, future use of impact and ROI analysis should be discussed. Executive input is needed to determine which programs are appropriate for this type of analysis. Executives often have concerns about specific programs and will provide input on which programs need evaluation at this level. Lastly, ask for additional support for your programs. Explain what the executives can do to make the programs successful. This discussion may lead to exciting changes in perceptions and stimulate more involvement.
The evaluation study presentation is a critical meeting that should be approached with care. Try to rehearse the presentation with colleagues, others from your team, or a professional network. Plan the meeting with a specific agenda and strategy for success. Remember, the success of this meeting will have repercussions for the program being evaluated and for the status and future of your other programs and projects.
Written by: Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., Chairman, ROI Institute, Inc.