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Dealing with seminar absentees

Two workers failed to attend a kaizen seminar that you conducted two weeks ago. Despite ample notice and reminders, the absentees gave excuses that are difficult to verify. Our suspicions were roused by the fact that the seminar was scheduled for Saturday, with all participants given cash allowances. How do we sustain the kaizen program and bring the two absentees up to speed so they can help us in the program? — Gray Matter.

The issue boils down to two major questions — who benefits more from a company-sponsored training program — labor or management? What’s the assurance that after attending several training programs, the employee will stay on and put their learning to good use by the company?

The answer to the first question is debatable for some people, but not to Bruce Rudy, who says in his 2022 article in Harvard Business Review that “learning and development programs are critical for the success of any organization.”

Dr. Rudy, a University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winner and associate professor of management strategy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said training programs “ensure that employees have the skills and capabilities necessary to do their jobs well, and demonstrate to those employees that their employers believe they are worth investing in — ultimately boosting company culture and fostering greater commitment to the organization.”

On the second question, there is no assurance that employees will stay after attending a management program. If you want to compel workers to stay for a certain number of years, you’ll have to require them to sign a training agreement that the organization will be investing in.

This includes sending employees to affiliate companies or suppliers in other countries to learn advanced technologies that they may be expected to bring home and train other workers in. Other factors might be the duration of a foreign training program and the quality of work performance exhibited by the employees benefiting from such a program.

A foreign-trained worker is typically expected to stay in the company between two to three years. After that, the employee becomes a “free agent” who can move elsewhere.

A similar arrangement could be required of people who have shown great potential and may be rewarded with an all-expenses paid post-graduate program at places like the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

DISCIPLINARY ACTIONHowever, if we’re talking of a one-day program, it would be onerous, if not administratively burdensome, for management to require all participants to sign a training contract. For one, the cost of many one-day programs is often negligible, even considering a $1,000 expert professional fee, renting a training venue, meals, and other logistical support.

If you’re thinking of penalizing the two workers for insubordination, then I would caution against that, unless you’re covered by a specific provision of the company’s code of conduct. If that’s the case, then go ahead and do it without delay. The example made of the two could signal to the other workers that it is not possible to simply ignore a training program.

I’ve seen this happen many times with some of my clients who hire me for management training. The potential for waste is enormous. Imagine a 25-participant seminar where 10 don’t show up. The cost of the wasted food and the failure to maximize the venue space (if rented) can add up.

Of course, I understand that your basic concern is how to bring the two absentees in line with other employees who attended the one-day program. Depending on the training methodology and the materials used by your resource person and facilitator, you can require the two absentees to duplicate what others accomplished during the seminar.

In my case, you can require the two absentees to read the accompanying workbook for the kaizen workshop. After reading the book, arrange for them to take an online test, with three attempts allowed to pass. If they pass, the next step is to require them to select a problem and solve it using my prescribed 8-step problem-solving guide.

I can make myself available online to review their presentations at no extra cost. If they fail the exam, document everything and take it up again next time when you review their work performance.

RETRAININGThe two absentees must have realized the gravity of missing the seminar. If necessary, they must be coached by their direct boss, if the boss attended the program. This is better than ignoring the two absentees. If necessary, do a bit of retraining with the help of their work colleagues.

As you can imagine, retraining is more difficult than training. But there’s always a better way of doing things with the help of the line supervisor and work colleagues. Make the direct boss responsible for the retraining process. Make it crystal clear that you expect everyone to do their share.

Let the colleagues of the two absentees understand that kaizen is a team effort. Whenever possible, require them to attend all meetings whenever they discuss certain problems. Soon enough, the two absentees will follow everyone else’s lead.

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