ROI (Return On Investment) has become the tool which HR increasingly use to show that they are adding value to the company’s bottom line. And rightly so. HR has the potential to create a lot of value to a company – also Shareholder Value. And this value should be shown and highlighted.
ROI is a very simple tool. Too simple in many ways. The calculations is: (return-investment)/investment. The return is the monetary gain from a HR activity and the investment is the full all-inclusive cost of the activity.
Despite the obvious problems in actually measuring the financial benefits of say a leadership development program, the ROI calculation is something in itself to be careful about.
When I worked as a financial analyst, we didn’t use ROI that much. We used more ‘sophisticated’ metrics such as Enterprise Value metrics, ROIC (Return On Invested Capital), RoOFCF (Return on Operating Free Cash Flow), CRONCI (Cash Return On Net Capital Invested). What is common about all these ratios is that they recognise that ‘return’ and ‘investment’ is something quite complex.
When I still believe that ROI has a lot offer for HR executives it is because that when used right, it has a lot to offer.
The advantages with ROI are:
- Easy to understand
- Focuses on input and output of an HR activity
- Show the bottom-line effect
- Gives HR a language to talk to top management (and CFO in particular)
- Makes it possible to make better HR investment decisions
- Connects well with HR Balance Score Card
- Potentially show the important assumptions behind the activity
The weaknesses of ROI are:
- It is very sensitive to a few assumptions (in particular about productivity gains)
- Reduces complex things such as people and leadership skills to simple causal relationship and a single number
- Difficult to see the most important assumptions behind the calculation
So when you use ROI to show the financial value of your HR activities please remember that it is a very simple tool which should be used very careful. When I help HR executives to use ROI in their business I always emphasize the importance of process, structure, explicit assumptions and base line data.