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ATD Blog

Are You Measuring Impact or Fulfillment of Purpose?

Monday, September 26, 2022

I have been thinking about the word impact. More specifically, I have been thinking about how the learning and development (L&D) community uses the word.

I am afraid that impact is quickly becoming a buzzword. I totally get the idea of using the word as a broad descriptor for outcomes, but what is an outcome for training and learning? Is it consumption; utilization; learning survey results; a change in behavior, action, or performance; or a result for a key performance indicator?

For me, impact is intentional, targeted, and specific. That means purpose is baked into our training and learning solutions, and it means that purpose is defined before anything is designed, launched, or consumed. Do not measure impact. Measure fulfillment of purpose instead.

Why do we struggle with impact?

My more than 20 years in the training, learning, and talent development industry have made clear why we continue to struggle with impact. Simply put, we struggle because impact is an afterthought. With no clearly defined intention, we often build and design solutions, release them out into the wild, and cross our fingers that something positive happens.

Far too many times in my career, I have seen training and learning organizations search for an impact story where there is none. It is like saying, “Let’s build a rocket ship,” getting a group of rocket ship designers together to build the rocket, launching it, and then asking, “What is the impact?” after it flies off into the heavens. Impact is an afterthought. If the rocket flies for five hours before running out of fuel, did it make an impact? If it reaches Saturn in three days, did it make an impact?

Purpose and outcome must be proactively defined. Learning solutions that do not have a predefined purpose in advance of design, launch, and consumption are difficult to measure for impact.

What is fulfillment of purpose?

All learning solutions are not created equal. The list of purposes might include compliance, consumption, utilization, information, goodwill, reference, awareness, and knowledge transfer; it might be influencing behavior, actions, or performance. Or purpose could be tied to a specific business goal. For whatever reason a solution is created, it is appropriate for it to be measured in terms of fulfillment of its own unique purpose.


In the context of training and learning, impact is often ambiguous and left up to self-interpretation. Fulfillment of purpose, on the other hand, is specific, intentional, and targeted.

How do you measure fulfillment of purpose?

Before I go any further, I want to clarify a point. You might be saying to yourself, “Impact versus fulfillment of purpose, isn’t that just semantics?” And to that I would say no, absolutely not! Words matter.

Our words inspire our actions. Purpose is driven by intention, so the word purpose drives the action for designing training and learning solutions with the intention of producing specific results and outcomes. It is not just semantics, and the difference between measuring impact versus fulfillment of purpose is the difference between having a successful plan for measuring real, attainable results and not.

There is a scale of difficulty for measuring fulfillment of purpose, and I want to be clear in saying that difficult does not mean impossible. It just means you will have to use a little extra brainpower and elbow grease to find the answer as you move along the spectrum. If purpose is predefined and the plan for measurement is agreed upon before the training or learning solution is designed and launched, measuring results is less difficult.

The following examples illustrate the range of purpose for training and learning solutions:

  • A manufacturer is mandated by a local government agency to provide safety-in-the-workplace training every year to its employees. The purpose of the training is compliance with the mandate. Fulfillment of purpose for the training will be measured by 100 percent completion of a workplace safety e-learning course.
  • A healthcare company is using a new method to administer a medication. They want to reduce the cost of administering the medication; it currently requires two devices, whereas the new process requires one. The training will show staff how to use one device. Fulfillment of purpose will be measured by reducing the cost of the medical devices used to administer the medication.
  • A law firm is seeing an increase in resignations. Exit interviews and employee engagement results show employees do not feel supported with career growth by their managers. A series of classes, self-paced learning, and coaching for people leaders are offered to support managers in having career-focused conversations with their teams. Fulfillment of purpose will be measured by exit interviews, employee engagement scores, and focus groups. The training solutions should be part of a comprehensive strategy for reducing attrition because training alone will not solve the problem.
  • A professional services firm purchased an e-learning library with courses on how to be productive while working at home: managing remote and virtual teams, resolving conflict in the virtual workplace, effective virtual meetings, and building relationships in remote workplaces. The purpose is to provide learning and performance support resources to employees while working at home due to COVID-19. Fulfillment of purpose for these e-learning courses will be measured by consumption, utilization, and a survey that captures employee opinion.

As you move from left to right on the fulfillment of purpose measurement scale, the level of difficulty increases. Even when measurement is difficult, it is no less possible.

What is training and learning’s highest purpose?

I believe that training and learning fulfill the highest purpose when they drive measurable activation of performance, behavior, actions, and business goals. Consumption and utilization have a place in the spectrum of purpose. Employee opinion and sentiment have a place in the spectrum of purpose. But for me, the highest purpose will always be fulfilled when training and learning measurably influence performance.

If the highest purpose is influencing performance, then we must describe it that way. It matters when we use language that describes fulfillment of purpose versus impact. Measuring fulfillment of purpose evaluates a solution’s success in doing what it was intended to do. Measuring impact in the training, learning, and development industry is often a post-mortem approach with no predefined direction, intention, and targets and is reactive rather than proactive, making impact difficult to prove.

My greatest, most sincere hope for the global L&D community is that we stop chasing after the ever-allusive impact of training and learning and instead seek out fulfillment of purpose. When we measure fulfillment of purpose, we are grounded in specific, targeted, realistic expectations for predefined outcomes—not only for ourselves and our business partners and stakeholders but also for the training or learning solution itself.

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

About the Author

Kevin M. Yates is a learning and development detective-just like Sherlock Holmes, he solves mysteries. The mystery he solves is, "Did training work?" He uses facts, evidence, and data to show training and learning's impact on behavior, performance, and goals. His work is global and multi-industry. He's served in a variety of roles across training, learning, and talent development, which guides and informs his perspective and actions.

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