[intro]Here are a few creative approaches controllers can use to assess the ROI of paying for an employee to attend an educational industry event.[/intro]
Sending an employee to a conference is expensive. The cost of admission itself (usually a few hundred dollars) is accompanied by travel, lodging, and meal expenses, plus the indirect costs of pulling someone away from their work for a few days. Across an entire workforce, conference attendance costs add up quickly.
The value returned, meanwhile, is often hard to calculate. Conference attendees network with peers and gain useful insights, but how can you value those benefits against the cost of obtaining them?
Rather than simply trusting that the ROI is positive, there are ways to quantify the value of sending employees to industry conferences. The next time someone asks your company to foot the bill for going to such an event, see if one of these approaches makes the ROI calculation more concrete.
Compare to other L&D
Every employee heading to a conference should be expected to bring back valuable takeaways and present them to the rest of the team. This effectively brings the conference to the rest of the team, thereby scaling the impact the educational content has.
Calculate ROI by taking this presumption to its logical conclusion: divide the cost of sending one person to a conference by the number of people who will ultimately learn from its content. Compare it to the average cost of learning and development (L&D) programs or initiatives in that particular area.
Percentage of budget per person
If your company is so invested in L&D that you have a pre-set budget for employee education, consider benchmarking the cost of conference attendance by the average budget per prospective learner. Any legitimate learning experience that costs less than that has a positive ROI.
If you allocate $30,000 for a 10-person team, the budget per person is $3k. If someone proposes attending a conference that will cost under $1,000, approve it. If they request $2,500, raise the requirements; request extra documentation on the value they expect to bring back. If they propose an experience that costs more than their per-person budget, consider stricter control measures: you could inform them you’ll take it from the next quarter’s budget, or reimburse them only up to $3k.
The binary approach
In cases where attending a conference is less about learning job skills than achieving one specific goal, you can view ROI as a simple yes / no proposition.
Seeking to achieve a discrete goal at a conference is common in job functions that require educational credits (CPAs in many states will be familiar with continuing professional education requirements) or in niche industries that have a standard, must-attend gathering. Maybe a hiring manager for a crucial role wants to attend a conference where they can recruit candidates, or where someone will have a chance to connect with a particular conference participant.
For these conference attendees, consider valuing the ROI of a successful trip as equal to the cost of sending them there.
Factor into the cost of procurement
If someone in your company is in the process of looking for a solution or service, attending a conference that features a number of providers could be an efficient way for them to interface with some of the options. Therefore, you can consider attending this event as part of the total cost of procurement.
This calculation applies especially when the purchaser is looking for a service or product in an area with which they’re not familiar. For example: if you are a controller exploring your options for T&E automation, you might attend an event sponsored by Abacus and some of our competitors. You’d get to talk directly with us, see the products up close, and get a sense of the market. Conferences are great for meeting representatives directly.
Especially in technical processes requiring RFPs, etc, anything that can inform or shorten the procurement process carries a value. Judge the cost of attending against that.
Assess the cultural impact
Sending multiple employees to an event isn’t just educational; it’s team-building. If your company’s budget includes allowances for culture-oriented exercises, workshops, and the like, consider recording the cost of going to a conference in this context.
Even conferences that are not explicitly about team-building can be accounted as having a cultural impact. Consider writing into your conference policy that only dinners with all attending employees can be expensed, or that post-conference presentations must be done collaboratively.
No matter what method of calculating ROI you use, keep in mind a helpful golden rule: a little bit of ingenuity in how you send employees to conferences can go a long way in determining what they gain from the experience.