Who doesn’t enjoy getting out of the office for a couple of days at the company’s expense to a previously unvisited city -- usually in a warm climate -- for a conference where you’re promised big-name speakers and networking opportunities?
Count me in.
But also count the cost – travel, lost productivity, possible loss of the employee to a competitor she networked with.
But don’t count the return on that cost because rarely does anyone else in the company benefit since the company-sponsored attendee is not required to share the supposedly new knowledge with co-workers.
So, okay, let’s call it what it is and isn’t: a perk not an investment.
Now, think about this investment as a supplement to the conference perk. Organize a series of half-day, in-house seminars that leverage company experts, encourage inter-department networking, costs only a day of lost wages, and generates significant returns in employee productivity and organizational learning.
BEFORE THE EVENT
- Detail for those who will attend what they will learn and how they might apply it afterward to their work and professional development.
- Distribute the preliminary agenda and ask participants if it meets their interests and needs, and especially if it seems relevant to their work. With their input, customize the event as much as possible to those who will attend.
- Require those who attend to spend an hour reading materials beforehand that cover the background and basics of the course. This will allow the event to focus on specific issues and problem-solving.
DURING THE EVENT
- Give people plenty of time to practice what they are learning. Make the content a microcosm of the workplace by creating exercises in which participants apply what they learn to company-specific challenges.
- Make participants leave with an action plan that they can apply immediately to their work, share with colleagues, and use to measure how much of their learning turns into business results. Enthusiasm and good intentions at the end of a rewarding event are not the same as a workable action plan.
AFTER THE EVENT
- Deliver a document to each participant’s supervisor that explains what was covered in the seminar, what the individual was expected to learn, how the information could be applied to the job, and how that knowledge could be shared with others in the group.
- Encourage participants to integrate their learning into their individual and department performance plans.
- Provide a web page through which additional learning recommendations can be communicated and attendees can offer further insights.
Finally, if you’re compelled to incentivize attendees, you might give them a small gift, serve an unusual meal after the seminar, and even introduce a spot-bonus program to reward those who creatively applied what they learned to the workplace.