Magazine article Management Today

What's a Conference Worth?

Magazine article Management Today

What's a Conference Worth?

Article excerpt

Attended any good conferences lately? If so, how much benefit did the organisation reap from your day or two away from the desk? UK businesses spend an estimated [pound]600-800 million a year on conferences. Yet according to a recent survey in Conference and Incentive Travel magazine, fewer than one company in three makes any attempt to capitalise upon -- or even evaluate -- this investment.

The finding will surprise few people with detailed knowledge of the conference world. The transference of learning back into an organisation is usually poorly done, agrees Hilary Scarlett of communications management consultants Smythe Dorward Lambert. 'The event may have been worthwhile, and the manager may believe that he or she has gained much useful information, but once back at the desk he will have no mechanism for translating it back into the organisation.'

Transfer of learning to the organisation could certainly be improved at British Telecommunications, according to one unhappy manager. 'There is no formal procedure so it's up to the individual. Given human nature, usually nothing gets disseminated at all. Employee numbers are shrinking at BT -- and everyone is doing more -- so there never seems to be time. Team meetings would be a good opportunity but all the information there seems to be going one way, which is from the top down.'

There are practical difficulties about incorporating an employee's learning into an organisation, admits John Richards, head of training and development at The Boots Company. 'We have nine businesses, thousands of employees at different levels and no process which works uniformly across the organisation. Debriefing does occur, but it is obviously more difficult for a store manager than a senior manager to come back and get his ideas heard and implemented.'

Employees attend conferences for three reasons, Richards points out: to improve performance, to increase knowledge or to network. 'The greatest benefits are often to be gained simply from meeting other people and finding out what's going on. Frequently, we send staff to a conference not to learn anything new but to benchmark where we are against other companies.' But employers would do well to consider carefully before sending people to conferences. 'They don't suit everyone. It really depends on your learning style.' Chalk-and-talk conferences suit some. 'Others would only gain from a more participative situation, such as a workshop.'

There's another side to personal learning capabilities, and that's the quality of the product. Ann Tunniciliffe, in charge of operations in one of the units of Club 24, a Leeds-based retail finance company jointly owned by Kingfisher and Next, is a periodic conference-goer like most managers. …

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