Training is one of the most important investments anyone can make in their future. It can help people get promotions and command higher salaries, and make their jobs easier and less stressful. It sounds like an easy sell.
Unfortunately, for many people these huge potential benefits aren’t enough to motivate them to attend training. So courses come and go without getting filled, people cancel at short notice and every level of an organisation suffers as a result.
So why do so many people fail to attend training? In part, it’s because the benefits, however great they are, aren’t immediate. We’re all subject to an effect called ‘temporal discounting’ – a psychological bias that makes us much more sensitive to immediate rewards and costs than those in the future.
But there’s a way of fighting this bias and encouraging people to attend training. By creating costs and benefits just for attending and participating in courses, you shift people’s focus away from the hazy, distant future and into the immediate future.
Here are six proven ways to make sure you’ll have fewer empty seats in the training room.
Link course attendance to wider goals
People don’t just care about ‘improving their skills’ or ‘developing their talents’. They care about having concrete things that show they’re working towards their next big promotion or gaining recognition from their peers.
A salesperson who wants to move up to a managerial position is more likely to attend a sales-management course if they’re explicitly told that the course will help them do that. The more specific evidence you can give for this, the better – if you know that Jane from Business Development got a big promotion after attending this course, say so.
Offer tangible proof that someone has completed a course
People like to feel they’ve earned something from spending time on a training course. This can take many forms, including certificates of recognition or achievement. It can also include Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.
Even a certificate can feel like a welcome form of recognition, rather than leaving with nothing. Any good provider should have a template on file that they can adapt to your course.
Give gifts, trophies or prizes
Try easy rewards, such as gift vouchers or other prizes. But tie rewards to some determinate goal – such as achieving a certain level in an assessed skill, or attending a given number of hours of training.
You can make incentives competitive, such as with awards for best performance in a course exercise. But remember that not everyone has a competitive streak – explicitly recognising personal improvement (eg as measured by assessments) can be a better route.
Make departments pay for cancelled courses
We’ve sometimes seen team leaders forget to get people in their team to sign up for training that was sourced and paid for by L&D. When the course date draws near, it’s tempting for team leaders to just say, ‘Never mind, just cancel the course,’ rather than do the dull work of chasing people and getting the course filled.
Running training comes with costs – from initially identifying problems to finding, arranging and paying for it. Cancelling wastes much or all of that work, and this cost shouldn’t fall exclusively on L&D departments. So there need to be repercussions for the department, such as charging missed or cancelled training to the department’s budget rather than to the central training budget.
Limit the number of cancellations in a year
Individuals shouldn’t be able to cancel courses indefinitely without consequences, either. You can make it clear that they have a limited number of cancellations in a given year. After they reach the limit they simply won’t be allowed to attend any more training courses. If their line manager insists that they must attend a course all the same, you’ll still have an opportunity to discuss the individual’s problems with attending courses and seek out any potential solutions.
Be clear about your terms and conditions
Whether you’re dealing with departments, teams or individuals, be extremely clear about the training’s terms and conditions from the outset. That means you’ll have something to refer back to should any disputes arise further down the line.
These six ideas can go a long way to reducing poor attendance rates on courses. But if you’re thinking that they can’t solve the problem on their own, you’re right. Ultimately, people attend things that are relevant and targeted to their interests. It’s why you’ll never have trouble getting someone who’s a fan of a band to take free tickets to their show. And it’s also why a course that seems irrelevant to an individual’s role and interests will struggle however much you incentivise them to attend.
To learn how to solve this much wider problem, get your free copy of our guide How to fill any training course. Drawing on the latest opinions from L&D thought leaders, interviews with top L&D professionals and our own experience of running training for over 19 years, it’s the most comprehensive guide around to motivating people to attend courses.
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