Purpose This paper outlines important lessons for HR professionals who seek to ensure that investment in learning delivers strategic value to the organisation. Methodology / approach Making use of data from semi-structured interviews, the article explores the extent to which perceptions of the strategic value of learning held by senior HR professionals are aligned with those of senior operational managers. Findings The data indicate what executives expect learning to deliver at an organisational level; the challenges of aligning learning to strategic priorities and the ways that HR professionals are measuring and reporting on the value of learning. A trend away from ‘return on investment’ approaches to ‘return on expectation’ assessments of the value of learning is identified. Research implications In addition to the views of senior managers, further research into the value expectations of line manager and other stakeholder groups is now required. Practical implications The article highlights the importance of identifying and communicating the alignment of learning strategy with organisational priorities; the need for proactive dialogue between HR professionals and senior decision makers to develop management trust in the learning value contribution and the development of a balanced range of value measures and assessments that are significant for the organisation in its specific context. Originality and value Traditional measures of training effectiveness have focused on the functional interests of learners and trainers. This research shifts attention to expectations at a strategic level and the consequences of this for measuring and reporting on the value of learning.