Archives for March 2015

Is Visibility the Wrong Goal for Workforce Learning?

Many learning executives are concerned about visibility. They lament that they are not included early and sufficiently in the strategic work of the organization. Many seek appreciation and recognition for the learning enterprise, their learning enterprise.

This long-standing concern has well-worn answers. I’ve offered some myself:

  • Align vigorously with the strategic purposes of the organization
  • Measure the learning enterprise against the metrics that matter most to the organization and leaders
  • Communicate with leadership through dashboards and stories riveted to high value metrics
  • Use data to continuously improve experiences and outcomes
  • Listen hungrily to the line and to customers

There is nothing to argue with there. But hold the applause. The problem lingers. While the advice is good, it isn’t sufficient.

Perhaps it would help if learning leaders marketed more aggressively? I don’t think that’s it.

Why don’t we instead think about it differently?

What if visibility is the wrong goal?

What if the goal should be more integration into the line, more seamless partnership with the other functions in the organization? What if it is less about us and a whole lot more about them?

Think of it as you would your body. When one part hurts, say your ankle or your tooth, you have a big problem. What you want is feet and choppers that help you ambulate and masticate without drawing attention to themselves. What you want is a purposeful, smooth and unobtrusive system. That’s what the C level wants.

Nobody likes a squeaky learning organization.

I chatted with Rob Lauber, Chief Learning Officer at McDonald’s. Only six months into his job, Rob is tasked, as many Rob Laubernew executives are, with reinventing his unit. What he is promising is to delight the line with training and related services that are more authentic and efficient– and far less bureaucratic. For him, it’s all about directing the attention of the learning enterprise towards the realities of the stores, not achieving more visibility for his unit. It comes of devotion to business outcomes.

Is Lauber opposed to instructional design methods? Not at all. In fact, he’s a fan. But he wants instructional design to inspire fresher, speedier decisions and services, not the burdensome requirements and hurdles often associated with ID.

The best learning units are quietly influential.

How might we be more influential?

  • Establish relationships and trust. Let them see us sweat to enable their work. The perception of effort increases willingness to trust.
  • Embed more learning and performance professionals in the line and bring savvy line people closer to the learning enterprise through temporary assignments, advisory councils, data capture, and online networks and mentoring.
  • Question how well the unit is doing in light of emergent opportunities.
  • Look to Robert Cialdini’s work on influence:
    1) Give something if you want to get something. Don’t just ask or expect. Provide a positive experience or valuable briefing, then ask for participation.
    2) Help people make decisions based on a social context. Others are doing it, don’t you also want to ___ ? Join us online to hear how colleagues are ____
    3) People like to be consistent, especially when they themselves have made a commitment. Link requests to ways that their efforts are congruent with prior commitments.
    4) Explain how your organization has tapped familiar and well-liked colleagues as data sources.
    5) Make sure that your programs have a sturdy foundation that comes from authoritative sources.
    6) Make it clear that your programs are special, scarce. Intensity come with concern about missing out and lack of availability.

More visibility? A campaign to assure more attention? Not as a priority.

It is far better to be one of an effective team that is collaborating to get things done.

A few years ago, I worked on a project that investigated evaluation in a global consulting firm. I was surprised that few executives sought data about the effectiveness of their learning organization. Evaluation for program improvement, yes. Evaluation to prove worth, hardly at all.

L&D collected data, just in case somebody requested it. But leadership did not actively look for it. How could that be? In this organization, what I heard was along these lines, “They know what we contribute. They see that what their people can do. They know how much our people rely on us.”

Sounds about right to me. No squeaky learning organization there. Less turned out to be quite a bit more. They were quietly influential.

About the Author:

Dr. Allison Rossett, long time professor of educational technology at San Diego State University, is also a consultant in training and technology-based performance. Allison is a member of the Training magazine HRD Hall of Fame and serves on the Board for the Elearning Guild and Chief Learning Officer magazine. She was selected as a Distinguished Fellow of the Naval Education and Training Learning Strategies Consortium and served on a White House Committee for learning and technology within the US Army. For more information, visit Allison’s website

Blended Learning Research Says We’re Not There Yet

You’re doing it wrong. Okay, not all of you, but about 40% of you. Whatever you think blended learning means, it’s very likely your company is doing it wrong, at least according to Brandon Hall Group’s recent research.

It reminds me of the scene in the Blues Brothers when Elwood asks the bartender what kind of music they usually have. “We got both kinds, we got Country and Western.” We ask companies all the time what their blended learning strategy entails, and I can just hear the bartender’s voice: “We got both kinds of learnin’, we got Classroom and eLearnin’.”

In other words, there really isn’t much blending going on. The typical strategy our blended learning research uncovered has a huge focus on classrooms and course modules, with a smattering of asynchronous or file-sharing tools here and there. These strategies fail to consider the 70:20:10 framework. This model says that about 70% of development comes from on-the-job-experience, 20% comes from feedback and examples, and 10% comes from courses and reading.

The model has been a point of discussion for nearly 20 years, yet most organizations are still focused on that 10%, or formal learning.

In our 70:20:10 Learning Framework survey, Brandon Hall Group found that only 20% of companies have formally adopted this model into their learning strategy, while 41% have done so informally. Prior to implementing the model, companies are typically spending 43% of their time with formal learning.

Seems like an awful lot of time, money and effort focused on what experts say is the smallest piece of the puzzle.

The idea behind blended learning research and practices is to have a robust set of tools at your disposal along with the knowledge and skill needed to apply those tools in the appropriate amounts at the appropriate time. Mixing and matching these strategies allows you to tailor the learning initiative to meet both the needs of the learners, and the needs of the content.

Unfortunately, many organizations are saddled with legacy programs, processes and platforms that are geared to deliver course-based elearning and classroom instruction, with no consideration for the multitude of modalities currently available. In today’s business environment, the course cannot exist in a vacuum.

Learners need the ability to not only learn the material, but discuss it with each other, learn from experts, see examples and learn by doing.  The learning strategy must be reengineered to meet the 90% of learning needs that seem to go unserved. Otherwise, you’ll be talking about your learning efforts like Brian Fantana from the movie Anchorman: “10% of the time, it works every time.”

In their daily lives, people’s knowledge and opinions are an amalgamation of things they’ve picked up from a variety of sources. Learning within an organization should be similar. We’ve extolled the benefits of all the various learning modalities that exist: classroom, online, workshops, coaching, collaboration, rich media, etc.

According to the blended learning research, it would be almost counterproductive to deliver a learning initiative without incorporating at least some of these various strategies where appropriate for your organization.

About the Author:

David Wentworth is a senior learning analyst at the Brandon Hall Group, a preeminent research and analyst firm. The company has provided world-class research, data and expertise for more than 20 years in Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources.


Sears Employees Find Value in Private Health Exchange

As many as 90,000 Sears employees are finding it easier to shop for health care, are savvier about their coverage choices and finally understand the meaning of value since the 129-year-old retailer switched to a private health insurance exchange three years ago.

Dean Carter, the company’s chief HRO, revealed these and other details during a recent summit about the future of health care in Washington, D.C. The event, which drew more than 500 business leaders, was hosted by the Advisory Board Company.

“When we were considering what to do when we first went on the exchange, we could have continued to manage our plan aggressively just like we’d done for many years,” he explained, addressing a concern about the political instability around public health care policy slowing the private HIX adoption rate.

“But the ACA was coming and looming,” he continued, “and we decided to go ahead and move. Now we didn’t need the ACA to implement the private exchange is what we discovered, but the ACA was the disrupter that caused us to think differently about [how] maybe we could reinvent the way we looked at how we provide health care to our associates.”

Sears wasn’t able to start bending the cost curve until its employees learned to become smarter consumers of their health care, according to Carter.

To arrive at that point, he said they needed to be able to choose their own carrier, which 90% of Sears employees say they appreciate being able to do. He said there also needs to be transparency around the price of health care and how those costs vary even on a regional basis, health plan participants need to be held accountable for their choices and the process of choosing carriers and setting prices needs to be accelerated from three-year contracts under the traditional fully insured model to annual RFPs.

With all these pieces in place, Carter believes the result “could be a very compelling future for consumer behavior in health care.” Sears already decreased its health care costs by 10%, or $38 million, in just the first year of the private HIX. The retail giant is one of three initial clients that Aon Hewitt signed up for its fully insured private exchange for 2013, the other two being the consulting firm itself and Darden Restaurants.

Carter referenced the retail industry’s cost pressures in 2011 at the time leading up to Sears deciding on the private HIX model when employee cost-sharing expenses were moved or squeezed as much as they could have been.

“If this were just an expense issue, we could just eliminate health care, completely,” he said, “but it’s not just an expense issue. It’s an attraction issue. We do this to be competitive in the market so that we can get great talent.”

Annual employee surveys found that in the first year of the private HIX, Sears employees were most interested in knowing how the new model compared with the old one and that nearly one-fourth thought they had too many choices, Carter noted. In the second year, their focus was on the lowest-cost provider and less than 10% thought they had too many choices, which shifted in the third year to the plan with the best possible value for their family and less than 5% thought they had too many choices.

Carter quipped about how employees now attend their annual benefits fair more concerned about knowing why certain carrier rates have increased than walking away with Frisbees and stuffed Snoopy dolls. He also recalled the first time in 20 years as an HR professional that an employee asked him how they could achieve better transparency from carriers with the lowest rates that might not have negotiated the best deals with the providers that they prefer.

“I’m finding that they’re requesting a higher degree of transparency from us,” he added, also noting how Sears employees are salting away dollars in health savings accounts and appear motivated to become better consumers of their health care services.

In addition, Sears employees are gravitating toward internal social media as a powerful decision-support tool that’s usually buzzing during open enrollment. “People believe their buddies and their friends at work more than sometimes the stuff they read in other places,” Carter suggested.

Asked by an attendee whether Sears employees are healthier today than they were before the private HIX was offered, Carter noted that each carrier manages its own wellness program, and while he cannot say with certainty whether the outcomes are better, employees appear more interested in their health than in the past.

“I see more people wearing Fitbits and Jawbones and Nike Fuels, and I see competitive networks that are arising,” he said. “And because we’re giving people choice and now they’re responsible for their health care, they’re doing it because they’ve accepted a level of risk. I do see employee behavior changing and taking more responsibility.”

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

Lessons Learned in Social Media Recruiting

For many business leaders, the nadir of a recession is hardly time for creative experimentation. But as the economy sputtered in 2009, James Molloy, a recruitment manager at software firm VMware Inc., decided to take a chance.

With buzz around the value of social media in recruiting gaining steam — led by the growing popularity of professional networking website LinkedIn and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter — Molloy wanted to see if using these channels in talent acquisition was worthy of further attention.

“We wanted to either prove that what people were saying and writing about social media recruiting was true,” said Molloy, now the Palo Alto, California-based firm’s senior manager of candidate development, “or that perhaps it was appropriate for marketing and other teams but not HR.”

So Molloy and his staffing team at the cloud and virtualization software firm’s Cork, Ireland, office created a Facebook page and started to post jobs. He also had staff members post the openings to their own personal Facebook profiles.

“It was a grassroots experiment with little cost and commitment,” Molloy said. “We didn’t want to invest or formalize anything before we had a sense of what was going on.”

As it turned out, a lot was going on. Almost immediately after creating the Facebook page, Molloy said the activity started humming. People were sharing, “liking” and replying to the job postings, and these were people who hadn’t previously interacted with VMware’s recruiters.

The social activity spurred by the post caught the attention of VMware’s senior executives, and since then, the company has formulated a well-crafted social recruiting strategy that it says has bolstered its visibility in a crowded talent market and yielded successful hires.

Nevertheless, building a formal social recruiting strategy meant dealing with a lot of unknowns — like how to properly convey the VMware employee experience through storytelling on different social channels, as well as figuring out how to manage the firm’s brand online.

Now nearly five years in, company executives say the lessons learned since taking a chance on that first Facebook post has redefined its approach to recruiting.

“We’ve created communities,” Molloy said. “We’ve empowered our staffing employees to leverage a new tool, get their voices heard on the Web, and we’re reaching top talent we didn’t before.”

“That little experiment changed our recruiting strategy.”

Increasingly Social

Americans spend more time on social media than any other Internet activity, including email, according to a 2014 report by BIIntelligence, a research unit of business news service Business Insider. What’s more, about 60 percent of social media time is spent on smartphones or tablets, not desktop or laptop computers, the report said.

By roughly 2009, as the proliferation of these platforms continued to grow, recruiters began using the medium to push job content, with the idea that the engagement through social media would raise companies’ profiles among active and passive job seekers alike.

When VMware’s senior management heard the news of the initial Facebook success, they decided to formalize the process and have Molloy work with staffing professionals in the company’s Austin, Texas, office.

As a first step in 2010, VMware brought on Will Staney, previously the director of recruiting and strategic programs at business technology company SAP, as a social media administrator.

“We got to brainstorming around what it would take to come in and build a Web marketing strategy, a social recruiting strategy,” said Staney, now the head of talent acquisition at telecommunications firm Twilio Inc. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we built an online marketing strategy tied to strategic recruiting initiatives that showed what it’s really like inside the company and expand the employer brand online?’”

In the beginning, video was central to VMware’s social recruiting push, thanks largely to its ability to provide a compelling experience for online users. “With social media, you’re telling the human side of the company,” Staney said. “Ultimately, you get better-fitting candidates when you can get all the details of who the company really is.”

In late 2009 and early 2010, staffing team members were given cameras and asked to create videos for specific vacant roles. Staffing professionals would interview individuals currently in those roles or members of those teams. But the team found the shelf life of those videos was too short — once the position was filled, the video was useless.

To solve this problem, the company hired a videographer to create videos that would share what it’s like to work at VMware. It also hired Price Peacock in 2011 as a social recruiting community manager to manage the company’s online employer branding efforts.

With a videographer on hand, VMware’s social recruiting strategy changed. The company began creating videos not based on available jobs but on social recruiting campaigns, created in collaboration with the staffing, social recruiting and employment branding team. It also made sure videos illustrated VMware’s office culture.

However, finding the right way to portray VMware’s unique culture through video wasn’t easy at first.

“Not everything worked right away,” Staney said. “At first, they told me not to talk about things like our beer bash, but those were the details that were widely successful to the community. I eventually showed them this was worth talking about by proving social engagement ROI with metrics towards the results in engagement and brand awareness.”

Such videos outlining VMware’s social culture have become common practice. During the 2014 holiday season, for example, adepartment with several job openings had a gingerbread house decorating competition. The videographer shot coverage from the event and linked it with any job opening in that department. The videographer then posted the video on social media channels.

Similarly, video coverage was recently adapted for what the company calls VMware vForum events — industry events on cloud computing, virtualization and mobile technologies. Peacock’s team recently added captioning to the VMware “Fun Facts” video and localized the content after staffing members in the Asia-Pacific region requested it so the video would resonate with people whoattended the events there.

“Social isn’t just about pushing job content,” Molloy said. “We’re sharing our story and creating relationships.”

Sorting It Out

With a social recruiting team in place and video production underway, it was now time to create multiple social media channels. The team also needed to develop a process for how the employment branding and HR teams would work together.

The team decided that job postings would be written in partnership between recruiters and hiring managers. The employment branding team is responsible for blasting those positions on social media. Additionally, Peacock routinely speaks with the company’s heads of HR to make sure her team is meeting their needs.

“We might have a call with James’ team, and they’ll tell us there’s a sales push,” Peacock said. “We’ll determine what roles they want to highlight, what office sites they’re hiring for, what social channels are relevant for the audience they want to engage.”

“I’ll work with our marketing team to create any necessary supporting materials,” she added. “I’ll get our graphic designer in on projects to create additional Web elements. My job is to make sure we’ve got a consistent global strategy but one that meets our local goals.”

For instance, Peacock said she recently worked with Molloy to create an “Architects of What’s Next” campaign.

“That campaign really revolves around the idea that our people at VMware are working together to architect what’s next for information technology and also themselves professionally and individually,” Peacock said. “We infuse the Architects of What’s Next campaign messaging, look and feel into our social recruiting efforts, whether that be through the videos we push out on YouTube, the visual marketing collateral, and infuse some of the campaign messaging into text when we’re highlighting job opportunities in the social space.”

Peacock, meanwhile, is also working closely with individuals like Anu Datta, head ofhuman resources for VMware’s Asia-Pacific region to make sure the company’s employment branding needs are met globally.

Datta said social media for the Asia-Pacific region has evolved over the past few years, and that the strategy is a bit different than the rest of the world. Countries such as China and Japan, for instance, use different social media platforms, such as WeChat and Sina Weibo. is a popular job board site in India.

“Social media is a platform for us to brand and broadcast our hiring needs, but we need to regularly evaluate our platforms to make sure we’re resonating and connecting with our target audience,” Datta said.

Through this strategy his team has started seeing some new benefits. “Through some of these social media platforms we are seeing an increase in our employee referral program,” Datta said, “as we have candidates approaching our employees for career opportunities.”

Molloy’s team has also seen referrals go up, primarily because of a practice herecently put into place. He manages a team of 30 individuals in Austin, and every week, each member of his team shares an open position with the team, who post it to their own social media profiles. A team member aggregates everyone’s posts and shares so everyone on the team is aware of what’s being pushed out and can also post the content if they wish.

Most of this information is also on Social Cast, an internal social network that allows Molloy’s team to share this information with each other and with the employment branding team. “If you follow relevant people and share relevant content, just by the nature of how social networks work, you’re sharing relevant information to relevant people you didn’t touch before,” Molloy said. “That gives you a ripple effect that lets you spread your content farther and wider than ever before.”

To make sure his staff was following and sharing with relevant accounts, Molloy first trained his team in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and then the U.S. on the importance of sharing to those outside of personal connections.

“It’s no good to share a VMware job to your friends and family unless all of your friends and family are currently searching for or in relevant jobs we’re currently hiring for,” Molloy said. “Our strategy is to curate information, push it to the right networks and share the right details to those networks to get the right eyeballs on our information. Teaching our staff how to do that took time. There’s a danger with social recruiting. It can be all push, push, push. But if you push to the same people and no one is engaging, what good is that?”

Molloy said another training nuance came in working with Peacock’s team to figure out when to post to which social network and how to communicate with candidates that reach out to his team on those channels.

For example, videos hosted on YouTube are primarily shared on Facebook and Google Plus, while links to job postings are primarily shared on Twitter and LinkedIn. Visual elements are broadcasted from all channels, but mostly Pinterest and Instagram.

“Each channel has to have a designated purpose,” Peacock said. “For example, our Facebook page is an opportunity to showcase our culture. We highlight our speaker events, photos from our corporate parties, videos showcasing our latest happenings. We post job postings there every once in a while, but that’s not the page’s primary focus. It’s about illustrating our culture.”

This strategic thinking extends to local and global channels. For example, WeChat is a platform used in the company’s Asia-Pacific region and nowhere else.

“Social media is a platform for us to brand and broadcast our hiring needs,” Datta said, “but we also regularly evaluate our platforms to make sure we’re resonating and connecting with our target audience. In all cases, we look at adopting a more personable and proactive approach when connecting with the external talent community.”

Knowing what channels candidates around the world prefer has helped Molloy get in touch with candidates more successfully.

“People’s preferred methods of communication are changing,” Molloy said. “The holy grail of recruiting used to be having a candidate’s telephone number, but now that’s not how they want to be reached, and it’s not the only way to be reached. You might find a candidate on LinkedIn, but you can cross-reference that person and find their Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and so on. Why not reach them where they want to talk?”

Most recently, Molloy has been getting in touch with many candidates on Google Plus Hangouts and Facebook Messenger.

“In today’s world, people are bombarded with emails, news and other information on a daily basis, and as such, have their mobile devices on them and are serving the Web,” Peacock said. “James’ team wants to connect with candidates in spaces that allow them to easily and conveniently respond back to discuss a particular opportunity further.”

‘Liking’ the Future

As VMware pushes ahead with recruiting in 2015, the company says it is continuing to look for ways to expand and improve the way it uses social media for talent acquisition.

This is the case even as some companies remain skittish. Roughly 30 percent of human resources professionals in a 2014 survey by Human Capital Media Advisory Group, the research arm of Talent Management magazine, said their companies still don’t use social media for talent acquisition.

While VMware declined to share specific numbers regarding cost savings or number of hires from social recruiting, Peacock and Molloy said they have seen numerous benefits from the effort. Both say the number of candidates citing a social media channel as their vehicle to finding open positions at VMware is growing.

“We know that in the past three months, 35 percent of our new hires engaged with our LinkedIn company page before being hired,” Peacock said. “We also know our@VMwareJobs Twitter account has received close to 150,000 clicks. Statistics like this help us target our strategy and share meaningful content in the most appropriate socialspaces.”

For VMware to take social recruiting to the next level, Peacock said the company is focusing on three areas. First, it is focused on enhancing the mobile application experience for candidates.  “We know that 3 in 5 job seekers use a mobile device to search for jobs,” Peacock said. “Therefore, enhancing our mobile solution in our application process as well as our social recruiting strategy is a priority for us.”

Second, Peacock’s team will be providing the VMware talent acquisition team with the resources and tools to leverage social mobile apps, so that it can optimally connect with talent on candidates’ preferred method of communication. Lastly, the team will work to encourage VMware employees to become brand advocates by asking them to use their social networks to promote the company.

“The VMware Employment Brand team is always open to trying new things in the social recruiting space and we’re not afraid to take risks,” Peacock said. “I’m excited to worktogether with our global talent acquisition team and see how our latest socialrecruiting strategies come to life in 2015.”

How Much Does it Cost to Produce E-Learning Video?

Video. Do you love it? Do you hate it? It doesn’t matter. As developers or designers of eLearning, video is an increasing part of the work we create. You already know that. Usually you get a budget, one that you know is too small to work with. You do what you have to do to make your budgets work.

Making video in the eLearning space might have the same parts as a Hollywood production, but it’s not the same on many levels. In eLearning, we have to work harder and smarter to make our productions make sense to our learning audience.

Truly, the hardest question to answer when we get an idea (or are told to get an idea) for a video is, “How much will it really cost to make?”

Will it be the video of your dreams or your nightmares? A storytelling video is a very different project than an actor or subject matter expert (SME) talking to a camera, whether it’s made with the camera in the lid of a laptop or in a studio. Even if it seems simple, there are a lot of moving parts to keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out how much to budget for your video production.

Here are ideas that can guide you so you can “Make it work!”

What’s Involved in Video Production

Creating video is a process. Your cost for video production will be different from my cost of video production. It comes down to where you are and what’s involved in your particular production; for example, how much equipment to rent or buy? How many actors?

The list of needs can be almost endless. Everything you do costs your department, company, or yourself money and time. When it comes to video production spending, you need to spend those hard-to-come-by production dollars wisely, with as much of the expense showing on the screen as possible. Since there are so many factors to consider when you’re calculating how to develop your video and cost it out, I’ll probably miss a few, but here’s my list.

DIY or Outsource?

When you get a script or idea, the first thing to consider is this: are you going to make it yourself or are you going to hire a company or individual to make the video? In the past, video production companies have mostly quoted the “price” of a video by the cost per finished minute. The production company would look at the script and figure out how much to charge including their markup. Changes are extra. If a script has several locations away from your office, there are transportation, set-up, and equipment charges along with other costs over and above your own costs.

If you’re lucky and you work at a corporate campus, it’s a little easier as there are lots of free locations to select. You still have to allow time to move the equipment to your location(s), unpack, set it up, light the set, and block your actors (establish where they are on the set and where they move). Even with a script, sometimes there’s still too much speculation in figuring the costs exactly. With some knowledge of how to think about production process and costs, you’ll be getting more and more accurate as you are involved in more video productions.


This is the most important part of any video production. Let me give you a few words about pre-production decisions before I lay out the actual steps. Most of the decisions you make in pre-production will show up in your finished product. Here are some of the questions to think about and decisions you will be making as you do your pre-production planning.

  • What is the first major decision after you have your script?
    • Did you get your script from an SME?
    • Is it already a video script?
    • Do you have to rewrite it to make the words make sense and transform it into a video script?
    • Is someone else going to write it?
  • Are you going to shoot “on-location”?
    • Is the location in the office or outside the office?
    • If it’s away from your office, do you have to pay for the venue?
    • If it’s in the office space, will you have to record after hours—or can you get it done during normal business hours?
  • Do you need actors?
    • Do you have on-camera actors (assuming that you need them at all)?
    • Are they internal actors in your own company or do you have to audition and hire them?
  • What equipment are you going to use? Do you need to purchase or rent anything? Will you need more than one camera (a multi-camera shoot)?
  • How many days will it take to shoot the project?

And perhaps the most important question of all: do you already have an approved budget, or do you have to submit a budget? If you’ve already got a budget approved, you still have to do the budget part below. The budget is more than numbers. It’s a roadmap to how you’ll spend your money so you make the most of it on the screen.

The steps in pre-production are:

  1. Figure out what you’re going to be doing. Stand-up talking head? Tell a story? Sounds simple, right? It’s not! (See the sidebar below, “4K Video?” in case you are thinking you need “hi-fi” state-of-the-art video.)
  2. Get a script. Get an SME to write it. Then study it and figure out what kind of video you really need to make. Get your ideas down on paper: at least make notes in the borders of the script pages as you study the script, or whatever works for you—notepad, sketchpad, Moleskine or other handy notebook, even the occasional back of an envelope. Or use your smartphone or tablet: Evernote, Noteshelf, GoodNotes, or any other cross-platform software that saves your notes in an easy-to-share format.
  3. Start your storyboard. No, not an instructional design storyboard! People who work in the moving picture business have been using visual storyboards since before 1900. It’s a representation of what scenes you want to make and what you want to see. It only has to speak to you, so it doesn’t have to be a work of art or a masterpiece of drawing.
  4. Start a spreadsheet. On the spreadsheet, make the first column your expense items; i.e. camera and lens rental, other equipment, actors, crew, etc. Everything that comes out of your “pocket.” The next column should be a cost per day, with a notation for items that have no separate cost per day. To the right, columns for each day of shooting and a final column of totals for each item. You must total the expenses totaled and foot them at the bottom of the spreadsheet.
  5. Figure out your costs—the spreadsheet you just started will also be your template for other productions. I can’t know what things cost in your market unless I’ve worked there, but you need to plan for everything that will have to be paid out of pocket, charged, or billed. This includes lunch for the crew, replacements for burned out lamps, and batteries for different equipment.
    Some of these things are or should be part of your production kit, but you’ve got to charge for them even if you call it miscellaneous or overhead. You have to make allowances for everything you can possibly think of and there will still be a surprise or two.
  6. Scope out your locations, hire your actors and other production crew. Make sure you’ve scheduled everything and give yourself and your crew enough production time to finish the job.

A lot of the production I do doesn’t involve actors. It certainly makes my life easier. As a director who has worked with many actors, both professional and “regular” people (as in non-actor), I usually prefer to make non-actors comfortable in front of the camera and let them be themselves. It can be way more fun and it’s far less expensive. Whether you’re using actors or not, you have to think about how you will set things up and that’s not just your physical set.


This is the most important part of any video production. The day dawns bright and clear, or rainy or snowy as the case may be. The night before the shoot, you’ve checked all your gear:

  • Batteries are all charged. You have plenty of spare batteries for the non-rechargeable devices.
  • Plenty of fasteners—like clips, little bungee cords, duct tape—are all on hand.
  • Spare bulbs for all your lights (unless you’re using LEDs).
  • All equipment is ready to rock and roll.

You have all your equipment checked out and ready to go, so now all you have to do is go to the location. Maybe your office? Maybe somewhere else? Wherever, get there early. It always takes longer than you think to set up the first time in any location. But since this is about costs, let’s get into the costs of production and where they can bite you.

Production costs and potential budget-buster points:

  1. Camera equipment rental—if you don’t have the right camera(s) and lenses, then you will have to rent even more equipment. Worse would be if you own a camera and lenses (or a camera with a built in lens), and you don’t have the right equipment for your shoot … that would be bad pre-production … but just so you know, at the high end, a Red Epic-X “kit” is about $900 a day. That can add up fast. Did you get the right tripod, dolly or slider, fluid head, or other support for your camera? A whole tripod “kit” can cost you about $150 a day over and above your camera. Do you need a monitor to look at your work? That’s another $50 – $70 a day. You can see how this can add up. And if you don’t have the right equipment, then you have to wait for the right equipment and that means extra time and of course, time-equals-money. Always.
  2. Lights—same as the camera(s), but at least a bit less expensive. Different cameras take different light because their sensors react differently to the light that’s there. As an example, if you’re using a phone camera and you’re shooting outside and it’s a sunny day, you’ll need lots of lights balanced for daylight or tons of reflectors. Phone cameras can take beautiful pictures, but they need very “quiet” light, which simply means it needs to be flat without shadows. Or if you’re using a DSLR or a real video camera, you’ll still need at least five lights to set it up properly. Lights can cost about $10 – 20 a day to rent.
  3. Microphones—did you rent the best microphone? Do you have enough and the right kinds of mics? If you have a cast of more than one, do you need to put lavalieres on them? Or will it sound better with a shotgun mic? Or are they sitting at a table and need table mics? You need to answer these kinds of questions before you walk onto your set. Microphones can cost up to $50 a day to rent. And you still need cables and batteries. It’s all à la carte.
  4. Cast—do you have your cast all lined up? Are they expecting to be paid? Do you have all the roles filled? Do you need people to populate the office? These bodies are called extras and you might need to pay for them, especially if you didn’t line them up before your production.
  5. Crew—having enough people to operate the equipment is important. Are you going to use a boom mic? Then you need a boom operator. Do you have several microphones? Then you need a sound person to make sure the recordings sound correct. Lots of lights? Then you need a gaffer (the electrical person who attends to the lights, etc.). The list goes on. If you’re sure you can do all this yourself, more power to you.
  6. Cables—one of two items that’s out there as a big “hangin’ gotcha” because if you need a mic cable or an extension cord or whatever carries electrons, and you don’t have it, you’ll have to get it and that means time and money.
  7. Batteries—do you have enough “juice” to power your cameras, lights, mics, etc.? If you don’t, and your camera uses a proprietary battery, you’d better have at least one spare. If you run out of juice, you can’t just run to the drugstore any more. This can get very expensive if you have to run to Best Buy and get a few of those proprietary batteries for your camera.
  8. Fasteners—do you have enough clips, tape, and other things that keep objects out of the way of the camera and out of the frame. If you don’t have enough (and you never have enough!) then you’ll possibly have to stop the production and go out and get what you need.

If you’ve done your preproduction homework, then your production set will play out easily and smoothly—except there’s always something that will go wrong. Any and all of the costs you came up with in your pre-production scheduling and budgeting can go awry if you haven’t thought about them. Video rarely goes according to plan all the time and you do have a contingency plan, correct?


This is the most important part of any video production. (Sorry to keep repeating myself.) Post-production (post) takes the most hours. You won’t even get to this point unless you’ve done the first two parts well. Post is tough to figure. There are a few rules of thumb, however. I generally plan about 10 hours of editing and working on things in After Effects, etc. for every hour I spend in production. Your results may vary.

However, if you’re shooting characters or talking heads and not scenes, you’ll probably be closer to three-to-five post-time hours per production hour. It all depends on how creative you’re going to be or can be because of time constraints in post. The minimum I recommend for budgeting post is a 6:1 ratio of post-production to production. If you know you’re going to do many things in post, then figure 10:1 and you’ll be safe.

If you’re going to hire a post house to edit your work, you might want to get them involved as early in the process as possible. If you’re shooting a production with actors over several days, deliver the video or the memory cards to them every day. What you see at the end of the day happens in post, no two ways about it.

Conclusion (and an apology)

You might have noticed that I wrote that each section is the most important part of a video production. And indeed, they all are. You plan your video in pre-production; you shoot it during production, and bring it to life in post-production. The only place you might be able to slide a bit is in pre-production. And then, only if you’re shooting in a studio with known talent and doing a talking head.

If you were thinking when you started this article that you’d be able to exactly cost out your video, I’m sorry to disabuse you of that thought. There is no secret formula. There are no such things as exact costs. Every market has different prevailing prices for outside talent and every company has different ways of costing internally.

With careful planning, using your unique costs, there is a way to get your production costs in line so the next time your boss asks you “How much?” you can give an educated estimate.

P.S.: It never hurts to pad 10 percent or so into your costs. That can give you a leg up on the unforeseen and you know there will be things that pop up all the time. It’s the nature of making video.

Sidebar: 4K Video?

I don’t know anyone in the eLearning space who needs to shoot or play back video at 4K resolutions. Right now, 4K or UHD (Ultra HD) is a marketing buzzword that TV set and camera manufacturers are using to sell new or upgraded products to a mostly stagnant market. While there are now many different cameras and TV screens that can record or view 4K, nobody is using 4K to stream or display video. Not the TV or Cable networks. Not the Internet companies. Nobody. (Well, a few claim they do, but try to find it!)

And do you really want to know what IT thinks about something they will see as yet another bandwidth hog, although H.265 neatly takes care of that issue? 4K doesn’t or shouldn’t enter the pricing equation for video-content creation. So let’s take 4K out of the mix. The hidden added costs are its really long render times even using today’s workstations. And face it, we really can’t afford a render farm. Even a tiny little two- or three-machine render farm.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

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