Measuring Results From Seminars Attended By Your Staff: How Do You Know It Was Worth It?

Author(s):

Michael J. Moyer, C.P.M.
Michael J. Moyer, C.P.M., President, M2 & Associates, Inc., Austin, TX, 78717, 512/388-9425, m2associates@prodigy.net

86th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2001 

Abstract: You are the Supply Manager for the XYZ corporation, and you have been requested by a staff member to attend a specific seminar, or you are about to notify a staff member that you are sending them to a specific seminar. How will you measure the seminar's success or failure, and was the seminar worth it? This presentation will demonstrate how to select specific seminars, which staff members should attend the specified seminar, and how to measure the seminar's worth, value, and results.

Measuring Results From Seminars Attended By Your Staff: How Do You Know It Was Worth It?

It is Monday morning, and you are in the office, when a member of your staff stops by your office after just returning from a seminar last Thursday and Friday. You open with a question on "How was the seminar?" The reply may set you back or may support your ego; what will it be? If the reply was something along the lines of "bad mouthing", i.e. "Why did you send me?", or "It wasn't worth the powder to blow it to kingdom come," you know you have trouble on your hands. However, if the response was along the lines of "It was great," or "I wish I had gone to it earlier in my career," you feel good. But was the seminar successful, and how do you really know?

Generally, seminars are not successful for any of or a combination of the following situations:

  1. The wrong people were sent or attended, or
  2. The material was "too generic", and wasn't geared to the individual's needs, or
  3. The material covered was not as advertised, or
  4. The instructor was inadequate, or
  5. Failure by management to follow up and determine if needs were met.

Are managers responsible for contributing to the failure of the seminar to meet the needs of the staff member attending the seminar? In each of the above situations a responsible and professional manager could have contributed to the failure of the seminar; the manager could have done some homework in identifying who should attend, a check on the material to be delivered and the instructor to deliver it, and conduct a follow up with the attendee upon their return to work.

In conducting seminars for over twenty years, I have found five major reasons why students were attending:

  1. The seminar was recommended by their manager as a result of a Performance Appraisal assessment of development needs. Attendees in this environment, more often than not, benefitted from attending the seminar, and therefore, this will lead to a successful seminar. I personally have had attendees contact me later to identify some or all of the concepts, addressed in the seminar, that they were able to implement in their work environment.
  2. Attendees were sent to meet training hours goals, or
  3. Attendees were sent by their manager, essentially, because their manager's expectations of the seminar would do for the individual what the manager would not or could not do themselves, or
  4. Attendees selected the seminar because it was located in a "fun" city, and I have found that the student's interests resided outside the seminar.
  5. Attendees were present only to obtain C.P.M. points for re-certification.

Why do managers send staff members to seminars? The purpose of seminars is to either EDUCATE or TRAIN the participants. EDUCATE is defined by Webster as "... to train, broaden, or develop knowledge, skill, mind, or charter by formal schooling or study, ...", whereas TRAIN is defined as ".... the process or experience of being trained, ..... to subject to certain action, exercises, etc. in order to bring about a desired condition, ...".

Let me work with TRAIN first, and from my perspective, it is the process of instructing an individual in how to conduct or perform a process in a prescribed manner to achieve consistent results; TRAINING is a step-by-step completion of a process, as an example, instructing people on how to complete a requisition, or to process a requisition into a purchase order in a most effective and efficient manner. TRAINING should be done locally, within the company's functional area, by experienced, senior fellow employees, or the individual's manager.

EDUCATE, on the other hand, is the process of expanding or broadening one's knowledge or experience for now or a future expected need, and this can best be achieved with on-site seminars, geared to the individual's company practices, or by taking advantage of a public seminar, i.e. "Fundamentals of Purchasing" or "Legal Aspects of Purchasing" conducted by professionals in the respective fields. This article will use EDUCATE, as described above, in addressing SEMINARS.

SEMINARS, and for this definition I like Nahabit & Associates, Inc.'s, which is "A small group of students meeting for the purpose of learning a lot about a subject in a relatively short period of time." With this as the background, the objective of SEMINARS should be to change the performance (attitude, behavior, performance, etc.) of the participants by increasing their knowledge base and / or skills in the desired direction sought by their management.

Prior to sending anyone, including ourselves, to any seminar, either on-site or public, we should take the following action steps:

First, what knowledge or skill base do our staff members lack; i.e. Is someone weak in negotiation, cost & price analysis, value analysis, legal aspects, supply-chain management, etc.?

Second, having identified weaknesses, are they best resolved thru TRAINING, using local people within their own organization, or an outside consultant, who would study the identified weakness, develop a tailor made TRAINING package for the organization, and deliver the package. Or, would EDUCATION, via a SEMINAR, be more appropriate? If the latter, should we bring the SEMINAR on-site, due to the number of employees requiring assistance, or should we send the individuals to a public SEMINAR? If a SEMINAR is appropriate, we should then search for and qualify potential SEMINARS. Using search engines we could find potential SEMINARS over the internet, ask others, both within and external to our organization, for recommendations, or solicit prospects from your local NAPM affiliate's Professional Development Chair. Having identified prospective SEMINARS we should qualify each using the same rigid factors to qualify potential SEMINARS, as we would with potential suppliers. Among the factors to be included are:

  1. What type of material is to be used?
  2. Are case studies and exercises utilized to develop application skills of the students?
  3. What experiences does the instructor bring to the seminar?
  4. What have been student evaluations of previous seminars?

Third, we should then select the staff members in most need and schedule them for the selected SEMINAR. In selecting those members we should have discussed in advance our observations of their identified weaknesses, and encourage the individuals to want to attend the suggested SEMINAR.

The fourth, and final step, should be to query the individual upon return as to their assessment of the SEMINAR; what they gained, how can it be applied in their work environment, what was liked and disliked, etc. This information could be obtained by having the individual submit a "Seminar Report" for the seminar attended. Then, the manager should map out a performance plan with the individual putting the newly acquired knowledge or skill(s) into practice, and identifying objectives to be achieved and achievement dates, with corresponding measurements. This step is extremely important to gauge the success or failure of the prescribed SEMINAR.

The above is the correct approach to identifying SEMINARS. However, I have observed the reverse situation, for it is usually the staff member who goes to management with a request to attend a given SEMINAR. And in many cases, to get the staff member off their back, or for a variety of other irrational reasons, the manager says, "Go to it.", and signs off on the request. As for following up on the SEMINAR by the manager, it is seldom done.

A word on the cost of providing seminars. All too many managers look at seminars as an expense, and not an investment. It is a known fact that it is far less expensive to properly train and educate an employee, than to replace that good employee; a good employee who leaves and goes with your competitor costs you dearly (time to interview a replacement, hire or affect a transfer from within the organization, cost and time to train that replacement on all aspects of the job, etc.). Good employees are the most important asset an organization possesses. The cost of an employee attending a good seminar is a long term investment for the organization in readying that employee for the dynamic and changing competitive environment resulting in survival for the organization; the savings that employee provides their organization goes directly to the bottom line, profit.

Stated earlier, results from the staff member attending a seminar are important. So how does one measure these results. Currently, many managers do not attempt to measure results; their attitude is, "I did my job by sending the staff member to a seminar", or "I've seen to it that all my staff members got their '40 hours' of education in for this year." Some managers just "hope" that they will see desired changes in the staff member returning from a seminar. Then there are some managers who will listen, directly or indirectly, to what the staff member has said about the seminar just attended, and maybe, they will note positive and negative remarks for future reference. A few managers will attempt to measure the seminar by the amount of praise given to the seminar by the attendee who tells their co-workers that they should attend the same seminar in the near future, or they, the manager, will measure the seminar if asked by another staff member if they can attend a future seminar on the same topic because they heard great reviews of it, either from within the organization or from a source outside the organization. But one must ask themselves as a manager, are any of these situations true measurements. Remember, a good measurement must be measured quantitatively; if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. So how should we measure the success or failure of a seminar?

If, as managers, we have evaluated needs of staff members for specific seminars based upon their displayed weaknesses, and we have discussed with the respective deficient staff members these needs, with suggestions as to how the deficiencies may be corrected, example, attending a specific seminar, then our job of measuring the seminar's success or failure is not difficult. Let me take two situations to illustrate my point of measurement.

First, you have observed one of your staff members, John Doe, is very weak in cost & price analysis; you have pointed out to John that he is not fully aware of all the costs that go into the supplier's proposed price, and that he mixes up direct expenses with indirect expenses. John admits that he is not an accountant, never took an accounting course, and he is open to any suggestions to correct this deficiency. You suggest that John attend a two day seminar coming up on cost & price. John attends the suggested seminar and returns full of confidence. Shortly upon return he reviews with you a projected cost picture that he will pitch to the current supplier in order to reduce the supplier's price; he is confident of his figures, readily identifying fixed versus variable costs and expense elements that should be omitted when allocating overhead expenses for a realistic overhead rate. You now have observed from this discussion that the seminar John attended was successful, you are witnessing the results, his increased knowledge of the subject and his immediate application to a work related situation. As a result of John's pitch to the supplier he was able to achieve a 9% reduction in price.

In this second situation, you have observed a notable lacking by a staff member, Jane Doe, in the number of situations where she initiates a negotiation with a supplier, and she is weak in planning for negotiations, and consequently, she generally does not achieve desired results in negotiating with suppliers; in fact, her record of cost reductions are far below those of her co-workers. In your informal performance review with Jane you have pointed this out to her. She asks you for some suggestions, and you recommend that she attend an upcoming seminar on "Effective Negotiations". Within two weeks of her return from the aforementioned seminar she requests that she review her next negotiation with you. During the review it is quite evident that she has done her homework and planning; she is prepared for every encounter you throw at her. The seminar was a success, you are seeing the results right before your very eyes. Upon completing the negotiations with the supplier she alerts you that the results have produced an 11% drop in the supplier's price, plus the supplier has taken under advisement several suggestions she has made to reduce their price even further, and the supplier has stated they will report back to her within the month.

Both of the above situations have quantifiable measurements, and the process I described in both situations is basically the "Management By Objective", or MBO. The same process is applicable for staff members who exhibit other deficiencies such as: attitude problems; failure to work as a team member; failure in identifying and qualifying suppliers; failure to keep abreast in changes in procurement practices, such as e-Purchase, just to name a few areas for today's buyer to be ready for tomorrow's environment. And one of the major means of bringing about change to these problems are seminars, not just any seminar, but successful ones. Within weeks of completing the seminar, the manager should be able to observe a change in the attendee's attitude, role as a team player, fewer errors or rejects from a problem supplier, or maybe displayed an eagerness to get involved with e-Purchasing. The manager will also note that the observed change is improving the performance of the function, resulting in lower procurement expenses, fewer "back door" buying situations, and a raised status of the purchasing function to a role of contributing a valued role within the organization.

References:

Richard J. Lange and Gail Conkin Vavruska, "Training: Getting the Most Out of Your Investment." APICS — The Performance Advantage, December, 1998, 36-38.


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