$75 billion wasted on training… but what’s in a number?

“How many Poppa Johns high is this mountain?”

Little Si

We were halfway up Little Si, just outside Seattle, when my daughter broke the silence of our trek with that very profound question. She could have simply asked how high the mountain is, but 1,550 feet high doesn’t mean that much to an 8-year-old. Frame it in terms of how many times her (very tall) grandfather would need to be stacked on top of himself, and it suddenly made a lot more sense to her.

In case you’re wondering, we would have had to stack Poppa John on top of himself 246 times to reach the top of Little Si.

It was a reminder that numbers aren’t very impactful until they’re anchored in something more familiar to us. Keep this in mind the next time you need to deliver a presentation with data or metrics.

Here’s a specific example: According to a 2010 McKinsey study, $100 billion was spent worldwide on training efforts and only 25% of that money led to measured outcomes. $75 billion wasted! That sounds like a big number… but really how big is that wasted expenditure? Instead of wasting $75 billion on training, corporations could have:

  • Paid for a year’s worth of the U.S. government’s budget for foreign aid and still have had enough left over to purchase every last crown jewel in the Tower of London.
  • Or it could have bought 10,000 tons of marijuana (you know, in order to get it out of the hands of the drug dealers and off the streets).
  • Another way to look at it is that $75 billion is roughly the GDP of Cuba.
  • Or it could have bought 10 billion quarter pounder value meals at McDonald’s (that’s 10 billion Royale with Cheese meals for my friends on the metric system)

The point here is that for your audience to care about your numbers, they need to be able to relate to those numbers.

Out of curiosity, how would the $75 billion figure be more relatable to you? Let’s hear it in the comment section.

Know someone who could benefit by remembering to make their numbers more meaningful to their audience? Pass this post along!

8 thoughts on “$75 billion wasted on training… but what’s in a number?

    • Jackie – Yeah, I definitely realized there was room for confusion (not everyone knows who our Poppa John is!).

      In case you’re wondering – assuming a standard Papa John’s pizza box is about 3 inches high, we’d be looking down on a stack of 6,200 Papa John’s pizzas when we reached the summit of Little Si!

  1. This could fun over 15 years worth of funding for the National Cancer Institute.
    NCI’s budget for FY 2013 was approximately $4.8 billion. Overall, NCI’s budget has been relatively flat in recent years. During the period from 2005 through 2013, the NCI budget averaged $4.9 billion per year. NCI is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that form the National Institutes of Health (NIH).NCI investigates the causes, prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer through various research projects and clinical trials.

      • Paul – to some extent, that’s the point. Suddenly a number like $75 billion in wasted money is no longer an abstract concept. When presenters toss around numbers, they need to be relatable.

        Hope you’re not *too* down… come back on Thursday. My post will focus on how learning professionals can better measure outcomes.

  2. I’d be interested in what the 75% led to… The link points to a nice article on how to make training stick. I think it’s evident that most organizations don’t do a good job of relating training to workforce results, of evaluating outputs, rather than inputs. To me, it’s sufficient to say that well over 3 in 4 organizations don’t measure training effectiveness in a meaningful way. The millions spent are too hard to fathom in today’s sea of money.

    • Hi Paul – I think you’ve articulated the point of the article. Nobody knows what that other 75% of expenditures led to because organizations aren’t doing an effective job of measuring outcomes. Sometimes end-of-training evaluations (on a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with the statement: “The presenter was knowledgeable about the content.”) are the fullest extent of training measurement… sometimes not even that is done.

      There’s a prevailing mindset that organizations can leave training in the hands of HR or the training department (or maybe the manager)… or organizations can bring in outside vendors or send people away to a training and there’s an assumption that there will be some sort of impact.

      Without an engaged manager or a strategic manner in which organizations determine the impact of their investment, it’s possible that the billions (with a “b”) spent on training could easily be spent on other things (like McDonalds happy meals) and result in the same impact.

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