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William Keeley


Senior Project Director

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Creating a culture that values learning: how to avoid training cancellations


Participants cancelling their attendance at training sessions is not only inconvenient and costly, but it often points to a larger problem in the way an organisation approaches learning. Here, we look at the key issues and how to overcome them.  

Executives in your company say, ‘we must get management training going on this organisational change straight away!’, so your training department goes into overdrive to develop and schedule classroom training for your managers. 

The day before the first session, the cancellations start coming in:

  • ‘Too busy right now!’
  • “Will be away on travel”
  • “Something came up!”

You scramble to find managers to fill the vacated seats, but it’s too late. The next day, only 24 of the 30 managers originally scheduled for the session show up. 

A bigger problem than we realise?

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. I recently interviewed 44 training professionals from around the globe and the average classroom training cancellation rate in their organisations is 17%. Not too bad, you may think - but let’s put that statistic in perspective: 

  • How do you think your company’s operations/production people would view a system that is only 83% efficient?
  • How much more could your training organisation accomplish if all the seats were filled during every classroom training session?
  • How much could your company save if classroom training attendance was 100%?

The survey also indicated the following:

  • 77% of survey respondents reported that their companies track classroom training attendance/cancellation rates.
  • 73% take action when trainees cancel at the last minute or fail to show up for classroom training. 
  • 32% talk to the employee’s manager.
  • 28% talk to the employee.
  • The largest group of cancellation offenders are technical/administrative workers (non-degreed individual contributors) at 32% of the total.

For those training professionals struggling with cancellations, the good news is that all is not lost: some companies have developed effective means to minimise classroom training cancellation rates. The following are six reported by those interviewed.

1. Develop and implement a written cancellation policy

Airlines, hotels, and a host of others have written cancellation policies. Why don’t most training departments? 

By establishing expectations for attendance and deadlines for cancellations, training departments can help minimise cancellations. 

2. Contact all employees signed up for the training a week before the training to confirm attendance

This practice not only reminds employees to attend training, but allows the training programme time to fill vacated seats if any employees opt out.   

3. Calculate training cancellation rates by department and distribute the list to heads of all departments

Distributing a list of cancellation rates serves two purposes: 1) it ensures that department managers are aware of any attendance issues; and 2) it promotes healthy competition between the department managers. 

Senior managers, by their nature, are competitive people and will typically take action when the performance of their departments are compared to others.

4. Calculate the cost of training cancellations and share the numbers with your senior management team

The cost of classroom training cancellations will vary by company, but can be substantial and an attention-grabber for communication with the senior management team.  Things to consider when calculating this cost are:

  • Hours spent by the trainee, manager, and scheduler scheduling, cancelling, and rescheduling the training.
  • Number of additional training sessions required due to the system not operating at full capacity (trainer’s time, scheduler’s time, and in some instances cost of classroom space).
  • Unrecoverable travel costs for offsite training (trainers, employees, etc.).

5. Ensure the right people are attending the right training

It’s relatively easy for companies, management teams, and training departments to fall into the habit of saying, 'everyone needs to take this training' - but, do they really? 

If some employees already know the materials and have the requisite skills, why make them sit through a training class? 

You must align your training to your organisation’s strategic objectives. The vast majority of your training must become 'need to take' rather than 'nice to take'.

A business unit of one company surveyed took a deep dive into its cancellation rates for project management training and found that cancellations often involved employees who viewed the training as of the lowest priority because they already knew or thought they knew everything being taught. In response, the business unit created a full suite of challenge examinations. 

Employees had the option of challenging each and every project management course via online examination. 

If they passed an examination, they received credit for the course and did not have to sit through it. After implementation of this practice, the business unit’s project management training attendance rate for project management training improved dramatically.     

6. Consider charging a cancellation fee

Money talks. Experience shows that if the managers of employees who skipped training have to hand over to the training department even small portions of their budgets as cancellation fees, the odds are very good that the managers will reign in offending employees. In fact, 14% of training professionals participating in the survey reported that cancellation fees are used in their organisations.

7. Now for the big one: developing a work culture that values training

Admittedly, some of the previously described best practices address the symptoms of the training cancellation issue rather than the root cause.  

Hedda Bird, Founder Director of 3C, has observed a strong correlation between classroom training cancellation rates and organisations' learning cultures. 

“Organisations that value training and think it is important typically have low training cancellation rates,” she says, “whilst organisations that don't value training or believe it makes much difference typically have high cancellation rates".

How do you develop a work culture that values training? Well, that subject could fill books, but the short answer is alignment and communication. 

First you must align your training to your organisation’s strategic objectives. The vast majority of your training must become 'need to take' rather than 'nice to take'.

Second, you must communicate the return on investment (ROI) from training to your senior management team and to employees. 

Of course, the senior management team will be interested in the effect of training on organisational productivity/performance and employees on the effect on their careers and individual performance.

Is it time for you to tackle training cancellations in your organisation? 

Interested in this topic? Read Leadership: how to create a learning culture from the top down.

2 Responses

  1. Great research and post! Our
    Great research and post! Our training management software automates all of the points above including pre-course reminders.

  2. Thanks for the post William.
    Thanks for the post William. An important issue that needs good tools and a strategy to overcome, and your suggestions offer just that.

    I particularly like the idea of creating a ‘cancellations policy’ and the fee of charging other departments/teams for [consistent] no-shows.

Author Profile Picture
William Keeley

Senior Project Director

Read more from William Keeley

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