Hmmmm… What to measure?

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed last week and shrieked in horror when I noticed that a friend of mine was spreading this nonsense:

Nonprofit Overhead

I understand that sharing things like this comes from a good place, but just because things have numbers in them doesn’t mean those numbers mean anything. In this particular case, these numbers are simply made up (don’t get me started on the topic of “overhead” and nonprofit funding). In many other cases, especially in the world of learning and development, the numbers may not be made up, but they need to be combined with a few more data points to be useful.

Let’s take a big one, ripped straight from ATD’s 2016 State of the Industry Report: Employees averaged 33.5 hours of training. Is this a good number? It is up from 32.4 hours the previous year. It does represent an increase in organization’s investments in L&D.

Of course, the answer is: this could be a good thing. If employees are doing something with this training – if they’re growing more efficient in what they do, if they’re reducing the number of workplace accidents, if they’re increasing the diversity of their workforce, if they’re reducing behaviors that lead to hostile work environments, if they’re increasing sales.

If they’re not doing any of these things, it’s actually a problem. 33.5 hours times the average hourly wage at your organization times the total number of employees can be a big waste.

I was talking about this with my colleague, Todd Hudson, from the Maverick Institute recently. Todd applies lean principles to learning and development problems. He shared this spreadsheet with me (download the Excel file here).

Training Burden

Anyone who has spent time in the learning and development space knows that you’ll never get a direct ROI on every training program. New Employee Orientation, for example, may not lead directly to an increase in sales, but if it’s effective it may help other metrics including employee engagement which can in turn impact retention, which could allow for a pipeline of strong, tenured sales staff. The point here is that Level 0 metrics (the “butts-in-seats” metric, such as the number of attendees or the number of hours spent in training per employee per year) need some other data points.

I like Todd’s “Training Burden Estimate” worksheet because it’s a useful template to gauge the cost of training – for individual training programs, organization-wide learning initiatives, by format (elearning, instructor-led) – at your organization on an annual basis. The only two columns I might add to this worksheet are:

  • What is “success” for this training program?
  • What has been done as a result of this investment?

Without multiple data points, and certainly without a definition of “success” to provide context and justification of the investment in training, all we have are meaningless numbers.

Would you use this “Training Burden” worksheet? What would you add or change to make it useful for your own training program analysis?


8 thoughts on “Hmmmm… What to measure?

  1. This made for an interesting read! Training is definitely an investment and there should be a measurable return.

    Often times, a company will “test” participants at the end of a training session to determine whether the trainer and teaching methods were effective. The real proof of training effectiveness should be reflected in the metrics used to measure performance in areas that the training was intended to target or address.

    I once read that “The proof of wisdom is in the results”. Training is great but unless that new knowledge translates into actionable changes in performance, it is far from “wisdom”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Brian. The numbers get VERY BIG and people are frequently shocked to see how small courses add up quickly. Given how thinly organizations are staffed, time away from the job must be a serious consideration for training professionals. It’s not about training hours or butts in seats; the focus must be on outcomes and results.

    Regarding your suggestions, I totally agree and, in fact, have another worksheet that focuses on metrics.


      • Permissions on the spreadsheet have been set as View Only, so we cannot expand the column to see the title or add the columns that your blog post suggests. We can ask permission to edit the document but that seems like it might be an administrative issue on your end, Brian. By the way, the only tab that has no content is the Total Training Burden one.

        That said, I really like using something like this to discourage some lame “training” that happens at my current workplace.

  3. Hi! this is interesting – is there away to adjust the cells on the worksheet so that we can see what the burden is measuring – the words are all cut off on the burden tabs. Also the second tab doesn’t seem to have anything on it.


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