How to Overcome Conference Challenges

‘Tis that time of year again, my friends…the ATD International Conference & Expo (some call it “ICE”) is coming up soon (less than 2 weeks away as I write this!), and I am simply giddy with excitement. I’m not ashamed to admit that one reason I’m giddy is because this year’s conference is in San Diego…here in Indiana, we can’t seem to kick the winter doom-and-gloom to the curb, so the delicious SoCal sun is beckoning! I’m also giddy because every year, this conference exceeds my expectations. The speakers and sessions are terrific, and I get to spend a few days learning and geeking out with some really awesome, smart, creative people.

(Lucky me!)

Top-notch events like ICE also make me reminisce about some of the not-so-excellent conferences I’ve attended over the years. Sometimes, the content missed the mark or the speakers were sub-par. Other times, logistical issues have plagued the entire event. Occasionally, I’ve simply felt out of place or disengaged for one reason or another. Fortunately, in my experience, the “hits” far outweigh the “misses.”

So what do you do if you attend a conference, and it’s a dud? You make some lemonade out of those plastic conference buffet centerpiece lemons! Here are a few tips:

If the sessions are irrelevant, boring or otherwise underwhelming:

  • Have a backup plan. When there are multiple breakout sessions in each timeslot, I try to mark more than one that seems to be of interest. After a few minutes, if a session is not meeting my expectations or is shaping up to be different than the description indicated, I quietly slip out and make my way to my backup choice. For big conferences like ICE, it’s important to map out a game plan in advance – there are dozens of sessions from which to choose in every time slot. So a little preparation can help you with this!
  • Chat it up. Take an opportunity before the session begins, during a small group discussion segment or as the session wraps up, to say hello to someone new. Ask why they chose that session….even if the content being delivered isn’t the greatest, perhaps you’ll make a connection with someone who wants to learn the same thing and you can discuss it on your own terms.

 

If you’re an introvert and you don’t enjoy “mingling” during networking events or cocktail receptions:

  • Quality over quantity. Personally, I’d much rather have 2-3 meaningful conversations than blitzing around a room swapping business cards all night. Seek out a familiar face (or find someone who looks equally uncomfortable!) and say hello. If you’re not a master at small talk, prepare yourself with a couple of safe, open-ended questions to get a conversation started.
  • Continue a conversation from earlier. Did you start a conversation with someone earlier in the day, only to be interrupted by the next scheduled session? Wrap up by asking the person, “I’d love to learn more about that project (or whatever). Will you be at the cocktail reception later?” — then make sure to seek him/her out!

 

If you find yourself disengaged during keynotes or general sessions:

  • Viva la hashtag. Sometimes, the best conference a-ha moments aren’t delivered by a speaker at all. Follow the event hashtag on Twitter to discover fascinating people and learn interesting facts, quotes and insights. Share your own thoughts and retweet your favorites to fuel the conversation!
  • Seek out ONE USEFUL NUGGET to apply in your role/life. Even when I haven’t been completely engaged in the session itself, I make an effort to find something that I can apply somehow. Maybe it’s taking the topic back to my team to get their opinion and start a discussion. Perhaps I just really like the presenter’s slide deck design and want to try their technique. Maybe the presenter’s viewpoint is the polar opposite of my own, and I get a little fired up…don’t get me started about the time a keynote (and well-respected industry leader) was bashing on 70:20:10, and I was presenting a breakout session later that day on leveraging 70:20:10 in onboarding to engage new employees. No, he didn’t realize that, and it certainly wasn’t intentional. But man…awkward.

 

Bottom line: Even the “meh” conferences can be salvaged. At the core, all conferences are wonderful opportunities to connect with like-minded colleagues, so take advantage of these chances to learn, share and grow with others! Like most things, we reap what we sow. If you go into the event thinking it will be miserable, you will be miserable. If you look for opportunities to make the most of it, you certainly will.

Your turn: What are your strategies for making the most out of conferences? Share a comment below – your advice can help your fellow conference-goers, rookies and seasoned attendees alike!

Fortunately, ICE is sure to be a killer event. Will I see you there? Drop me a note, connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn so we can catch up!

 


 

Looking for a few other conference-related posts? Check out these oldies-but-goodies!

3 Ways to Have a Really Bad Time at a Conference

How to Combat Inspiration Overload After a Conference

 

 

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Talent Marketing Essentials: The Welcome Email

tools
In this second installment of the Talent Marketing Essentials series, we’re exploring the power of a warm welcome.

 

Regardless of your reason for the welcome, we should all be able to relate to being on the receiving end of a well-executed welcome strategy (as well as the feelings we’ve experienced as a result of a poorly-executed campaign or non-existent welcome), both in a Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) environment. When you express an interest in something – purchasing a product, enrolling for a conference, signing up to receive blog or email updates, accept a job offer – you typically have a natural curiosity about it and are eager to learn more.

 

Now let’s put this into a Talent program framework. Think of a program you lead. Maybe it’s:

 

  • Welcoming incoming new employees as part your onboarding experience upon offer acceptance
  • Introducing matched pairs in a formal mentoring program
  • Setting expectations for participating in a long-term leadership development program
  • Providing helpful information and resources after registering for a conference, retreat, instructor-led training or other event

 

Got a program in mind? Great!

 

If you read the first installment of this series, you may have accessed the free workbook and learned how to create an email sequence that focuses around a welcome series for onboarding. Be sure to check out that post for some additional inspiration! Because of that, I’m going to step outside my typical onboarding wheelhouse today (gasp!) and use a different example that could trigger a one-time welcome email campaign. Let’s dig into the opportunities to think like a marketer in this way…

 

Example: Welcome an employee who enrolled (self-enrolls or is auto-enrolled by a company leader, supervisor or administrator) in an internal leadership development program.

 

Possible challenges with this example:
  • System-generated emails, when left at default settings, are ugly and often ignored
  • Uninformative emails get lost in the shuffle or just add to inbox chaos
  • Participants really don’t understand what they’re signing up for (or what they’ve been signed up for by someone else)
Opportunities:
  • Give your program participants a reason to get excited!
  • Set clear expectations about what will take place, time commitments and content to be covered
  • Share logistics, pre-work and helpful resources
  • Invite participants to join pre-program discussion online
swipe file
Is this an example that is relevant for your organization? Add this sample email text to your swipe file!

Hi *insert participant name*!

Thanks for registering for the Leadership Academy! We’re so excited that you’ll be joining the group for our upcoming 12-month cycle – we hope you’re excited, too!

To get started, here is some helpful information:

  • The group will consist of 10-12 manager-level employees from different divisions across the organization. It will be a great opportunity for you to connect and learn from peers that you may not interact with regularly. Visit our discussion portal on the HUB (**include link**) to get acquainted with the other participants!
  • This program will meet in person on the first Tuesday of every month from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. in the ABC conference room.
  • There will be assigned reading before each session – you will be responsible for preparing for a group discussion.
  • There will also be a mentor and charitable service component to the program, as well as a self-paced curriculum that consists of online modules, short videos and curated resources. 

 Got questions? Feel free to contact us anytime at email@email.com

See you at the first meeting! 

Your friend in learning,

Michelle

 How to personalize it:

  • Use your company or program logo
  • Use your LMS or email software tools to personalize as appropriate (first name, etc)
  • Include calendar invites so people can easily save key dates to their schedule
  • Link to external content, discussion portals and other resources – make it easy for people to participate!

A thoughtfully-crafted welcome email is an easy-to-execute communication strategy to get people excited, connected and prepared, and encourage deeper participation within your program. I hope you were able to walk through that example with your own learning programs in mind, and imagine how a warm, authentic welcome could make your programs come alive!

Your turn: How do you “think like a marketer” with your learning programs? Share a comment below so others can learn from you!

New Blog Series | Talent Marketing Essentials

“If everything in your toolbox is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail.” – unknown

I don’t know who originally said this, but I heard a sales trainer quote it at least 10 years ago, and the saying has stuck with me ever since.

It’s so true…in the Business of Talent, we need to have a versatile set of tools ready to use to help us connect and engage with our various participants in training, employee engagement, employee development, onboarding, and other programs that our teams lead.

I had the privilege of spending some time in my career working for a digital/email marketing startup – I developed and delivered training for thousands of clients on six continents during my time there.

(Still, and will always be, one of the best jobs I ever had!)

That said, I am not a marketer by trade. Early in my career (nearly 20 years ago – yowza!), I cut my teeth facilitating a LOT of instructor-led training sessions. I was able to leverage those skills when I joined the startup and learn from our clients, many of which were using our software to implement some pretty sophisticated marketing strategies. I was thrilled to get a behind-the-scenes look at how these clients – from Microsoft to Coca-Cola to Spanx – were doing it.

And there, I learned enough to be dangerous.

It’s been several years since I moved on to the next step in my career, but I have kept an eye on trends in the digital marketing space….and have been utilizing modified versions of those strategies in my own talent programs. And it makes a difference!

Bottom line: It’s important for all of us, as leaders in the Business of Talent, to occasionally think like marketers and get better at communicating effectively with our program participants, leaders and stakeholders. Because, at the end of the day, that’s all it is: Communicating effectively and with a purpose.

Even if you don’t have a fancy Marketing degree.

Even if you don’t geek out over things like email open rates and click-through rates.

Even if you don’t “do” social media…or your organization blocks it.

 

My next few posts will be dedicated to sharing HR/Talent-friendly versions of a few simple marketing campaigns that you can replicate in your organizations. And you won’t need a lot of fancy software to make it happen, I promise!

To start, if you subscribe to this blog, you’ll receive a complimentary workbook all about the first strategy…How to Create a “Drip Campaign” Email Sequence to Communicate with New Employees. If you have never thought about leveraging the power of sequential, informative, helpful emails as a pre-start learning tool in your onboarding program, this handy little resource will be a game-changer for you!

If you already subscribe, you’ll be receiving an email with a copy.  If you haven’t yet subscribed to phase(two)learning, please do….I’d love connect with you, you’ll receive a copy of the workbook!

Join the phase(two)nation tribe today!

 

Setting & Communicating Vision for your Talent Development Team

*Jargon alert*

Vision. Mission. Purpose. Core Values. Strategy. Goals. Business Drivers. Competencies…….what do they mean? How are these concepts similar? How are they different? Do they matter? How do they work together to move an organization forward? What do they mean to a Talent department?

It goes without saying that Talent leaders need to find a way to cascade these organizational aspirations, often proclaimed from the highest levels of the organization, down to their teams and help them establish and maintain a connection, a “direct line of sight,” to those top-level messages. It starts with making sure we understand the vision ourselves. But that’s really not enough….

We need to translate that organizational vision into an inspiring, realistic vision for our teams.

If it all starts with a vision, how do we create and communicate it? Unfortunately, not everyone is “visionary” by nature, but it is a necessary quality for effective leaders to possess and demonstrate. If this isn’t a strength for you, don’t fret…it is a LEARNABLE skill!

For years, I’ve been saying that measuring and evaluating the success of Learning & Development programs must include a deliberate blend of quantitative and qualitative data. Simply put, we need to balance “the head and the heart” to ensure that we are truly adding value. Setting and communicating a vision takes a similar mindset.

Sure, we need to consider HOW we achieve or realize our vision (the quantitative “head”), but it all starts by getting your team to feel, embrace and yearn for the vision (the qualitative “heart”).

It’s emotion. It’s passion. It’s in your gut. It’s what kicks us out of our complacent routines and makes us remember why we do what we do.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts in the car today that really got me thinking about just how important this is. They shared an incredible quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (my high school French teacher would be so proud) that sang to me (so much that I rewound that bit of the podcast 3 times to listen to the quote again and again):

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Dang, that’s good.

How often do we get caught up in the details? The tasks? The budgets? The busy-ness? Without realizing it, that’s the message we send to our teams, which is about as UNinspiring as it gets, amiright?

We’re burning them out instead of setting them ablaze.

The podcast episode I was listening to, “4 Steps to Communicating Vision,” on the Lead to Win podcast with Michael Hyatt, went on to share these tips for creating a vision. I’ve added a few thoughts to how we, as Talent, HR and L&D leaders, can really make these come alive with our teams:

 

>>>A statement of culture

The podcast suggests that this statement (which may be more than a single sentence), answers the question, “Who are we?” For our teams, this should clarify the value we add to the greater organization.

Example:

“The Talent Development team at ABC company are professionals, serving professionals, helping all ABC employees learn, grow and succeed.”

 

>>>A description of product

Your team needs to have a really, really laser-focused understanding of what you do, and what you don’t do. If my years of experience have taught me anything, it’s that whenever there is an issue with the business, the “training team” is often on speed dial (whether or not it truly IS a training issue…can I get an “Amen”?). Start with your team, then evangelize across your organization.

Examples:
  • We assess business goals, needs and projects to identify the learning needs of all stakeholders.
  • We are skilled content creators and training facilitators, dedicated to developing top-quality programs, materials and resources that aid strategic, just-in-time learning.
  • We are experts in establishing, nurturing and maintaining an engaged, skilled workforce dedicated to our mission of serving customers.

 

>>>A concept of the market

Who do you serve? In some organizations or teams, this might be a relatively simple question to answer. But with today’s increasingly complex business landscape, this might be more of a challenge. Global, matrixed, disbursed companies = an even greater need to help teams understand the market.

A leader at a company I used to work for was often quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as an internal customer.” What he meant was, there was one customer. The person buying your products or services. (He referred to “internal customers” as “business partners.”)

Okay – I see his point. But in the Business of Talent, we are often (not always) a step removed from the true CUSTOMERS. So we need to understand how we align to and serve them, even if indirectly. I know that I can draw a connection to a customer, but can my team make the same association? Simplify this by articulating who you serve.

Example:

“The Talent Development team at ABC Company provides training, employee development programs, learning tools and resources to all employees.”

 

>>>A desired impact

I could come up with my own words, but the post from the podcast episode said it best, so I’m just going to take it and run with it….a desired impact answers the question:

“So what?”

By the time we’ve identified who we are, what we do and who we serve, it’s only fair to specify WHY we do it and what the result will be if we deliver on our promise.

Example:

“Through our programs and resources, all ABC Company employees may have the tools they need to be successful in their current or future roles, effectively serve our customers and drive tangible business results.”


 

Let’s stitch these 4 pieces together:

The Talent Development team at ABC company are professionals, serving professionals, helping all ABC employees learn, grow and succeed.

We assess business goals, needs and projects to identify the learning needs of all stakeholders. 

We provide training, employee development programs, learning tools and resources to all employees.

Through our programs and resources, all ABC Company employees may have the tools they need to be successful in their current or future roles, effectively serve our customers and drive tangible business results.

 

This would be an excellent exercise to share with your fellow Talent/HR/Learning leaders for a team retreat or strategic planning meeting. Naturally, you’ll want to expand this with your own priorities, leadership qualities and behaviors that drive personal, team and organizational results. Play around with the concept and discover what fits for your culture, team and company! Check out the show notes from the podcast for some killer examples.


 

My challenge to you, friends, is to set a vision and use every opportunity to make your vision come alive with your team. Use it to showcase the value you bring to your organization!

Your turn: What are your thoughts on setting and communicating a vision with your team? Have you done this in the past? How will you use this information? Please share a comment, or share this post with a colleague!

Why Managers Need a “GPS” to Navigate the Employee Development Journey

Why managers need a GPS

Unless one is in the business of “talent,” it could be confusing to recognize what “talent” really means. After all, what differentiates talent management, talent acquisition, talent development, talent shows….okay, I’m kidding on that one. But kidding aside, it can be confusing to people who DO work in a talent-focused role, so it’s no surprise how complex it might seem for anyone else or to understand how their role intersects with the “business” of talent.

People managers, regardless of your industry or department, this one is for you: Your role in developing talent is critical. You are the linchpin. The one who is most likely to encourage – or stunt – an employee’s growth, development and ultimate success within your team and in your organization. And yes, it may be only one of many functions listed on your job description, but it is arguably the most important aspect of your role.

If the end destination is an engaged, successful long-term employee, how do managers navigate the career path – especially when every employee is unique and at different points along the journey, and there are so many different route options to follow?

 

Successful navigators, whether in travel or career, follow a roadmap or GPS.

Throughout the employment journey, a manager should be tuned into employee development needs at every turn:

  • When interviewing and hiring
  • During the onboarding period
  • While career planning
  • Through the succession identification and planning process
  • While promoting an employee (and re-onboarding after that promotion!)
  • When an employee prepares to leave the business

 

Lou Russell, Brittney Helt and I have spent the past several months diving into the manager experience during each stage of employee development and built a simple road map to guide managers’ paths. We are thrilled to launch our new book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating the Employee Development Journey, a practical guide for managers to chart their course through this complex process.

Talent GPS cover image 2

 

Remember, an employee’s success hinges on the support provided by his/her manager. Our job as Learning & Talent Development practitioners is to help managers navigate the journey.  

Whether you manage people, or support people who do, you will benefit from having this resource in your collection.

Learn more and order your copy today!

Using Stay Interviews to Enhance Onboarding

 

There is an abundance of research clogging the interwebs on the subject of onboarding; a credible whitepaper that I often reference is the Definitive Guide to Onboarding from Bamboo HR. In the report, the author includes a terrific stat from Aberdeen Research (another fantastic resource):

As many as 87% of new employees are not fully committed to a new job for the first six months.

Dang.

This tells us that the vast majority of new employees may still be considering other options when they begin working at your company. They are still wondering if they made the right decision. They are still wondering if their skills, personality and expertise will be a “cultural fit” with your team.

And that’s unsettling.

Studies have proven that attracting, recruiting, hiring and onboarding a new employee is a pricey endeavor. REPLACING that new employee only adds to the hefty price tag, as well as reducing productivity with existing employees, lowering team morale from added workload and stress, preventing sales and other key business metrics.

Onboarding is a key opportunity for Talent and HR leaders to drive tangible business results in an organization. With effort, reducing preventable (regrettable!) turnover is certainly an attainable metric.

What if organizations, particularly hiring managers, had a decoder…a way to “check the pulse” of a new employee’s engagement and satisfaction during his/her first 30-120 days on the job?

It may not look like the decoder ring you found in your Fruity Pebbles box when you were a kid, but there is a decoder. It’s called a “stay interview.”

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines a “stay interview” as a conversation “conducted to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave. In an effective stay interview, managers ask standard, structured questions in a casual and conversational manner.”

A stay interview is:

  • An informal discussion to encourage engagement and retention
  • A chance to discover strengths, growth and development opportunities
  • A strategy to prevent regrettable turnover
  • built on trust

A stay interview is NOT:

  • A job interview
  • A disciplinary conversation or corrective action plan
  • A performance review or replacement for one

It’s no secret that the hiring manager is the linchpin for success for a newly-hired employee, and building that relationship on a foundation of trust is crucial. Conducting regular stay interviews during the onboarding period (and beyond) is an effective way to establish trust, capture feedback, check the new employee’s pulse and ensure his/her needs are being met in those fragile early weeks and months.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

If managers spend time focusing on why a new employee is excited, engaged and energized, they will inevitably have an easier time KEEPING them excited over the long haul. As with anything, we don’t know what we don’t know. And waiting for that exit interview feedback is too late – when a talented employee becomes frustrated enough to seek greener pastures in a different job, or possibly return to a previous organization – they’re already out the door; feedback isn’t going to help you then!

Consider enabling your managers to incorporate questions like these into 1:1 meetings and coaching sessions with new employees:

  • What are you hoping I will deliver as your manager that others have failed to deliver in the past?
  • What makes you jump out of bed each morning since you’ve started your new job?
  • What makes you hit the snooze button?
  • How has your onboarding experience here compared with past experiences?
  • When did 5 hours feel like 5 minutes – what types of work do you enjoy most in your role?
  • What passions, skills or talents are being underutilized in your new role?
  • How can I support your learning during these first few months?
  • What areas of our department/organization do you want to learn more about?
  • When have you felt overwhelmed in your new role? How can I support you?

And yes, you should absolutely encourage managers to utilize stay interviews far beyond the onboarding period. This can be an effective method to maintain trust between managers and their direct reports, and a helpful tool during development discussions, coaching sessions and to break regular 1:1 meetings out of a rut.

Bottom line: STAY interviews can help prevent EXIT interviews!

Your turn: Do you use stay interviews as a talent retention strategy? If so, how have you enabled managers? What success have you measured? Share a comment below!

 


Big news from phase(two)learning!

Looking for a resource to enable managers? I’m very excited to announce my first book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating the Employee Development Journey, will be available in May 2017! Co-authored with Lou Russell and Brittney Helt, this straightforward, practical resource is a perfect tool to help both new and experienced managers take ownership of their employees’ development through every stage of employment.

Join the list to be in the know about launch info, webinars & special offers!

 


 

Did you miss these oldies but goodies?

Check out these “greatest hits” from the blog!

When Does Onboarding Become Too Much of a Good Thing?

3 Steps to Developing a Killer Onboarding Program

Onboarding Table Stakes for Hiring Managers

 

Heading to #ATD2016 this month?

2016-ATD-International-Conference-and-Expo

It’s May – are you heading to Denver for ATD’s International Conference & Expo (ICE) this month? I am – and I couldn’t be more excited! ICE is the biggest event of the year for L&D folks, and I’m ready to absorb every possible idea or nugget of wisdom along with 10,000+ of my fellow colleagues. Plus, I’m on the docket to present this year, which is such a tremendous privilege. 

I'm-speaking-at-ATD-ICE-2016

If this is your first time attending ICE, you should know that this is not an event you just show up at, sans-plan. With so many session options, it’s important to map out some options ahead of time. I’ve been working on my game plan for the past few days. While it is definitely subject to change, here are a few of the sessions I’m considering:

Sunday, May 22

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Chapter Leader Breakfast, Chapter Leader Day

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (SU205) Flip & Drip Approach to Leadership Development: Accelerating Learning Transfer

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (SU314) The LeaderShift: How to Engage & Develop the Next Generation of Leaders

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (SU408) Keys to a (Really) Successful New Supervisor Training Program

Evening – ATD-Central Indiana Member Meetup!

Monday, May 23

8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – (General Session) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Come Together and Others Don’t

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Chapter Leader Power Hour

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (M212) Cracking the Code for Kirkpatrick Levels 3 & 4

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (M3318) Creating and Launching Sales Onboarding in 90 Days or Less 

Evening – TBD

Tuesday, May 24

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m – (TU200) Redefining the Future of L&D with 70-20-10 and Beyond 

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (TU416) 70-20-10 Onboarding: How to Engage, Empower & Develop New Employees (My session – join me!)

Evening – TBD

Wednesday, May 25

10:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. – (W201) Keeping Learning Alive Through Social Media & Learning Communities

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (W304) Ending the ROI Void: What You Should Measure Come Monday

There are still several open spots on my agenda…this is why careful planning is necessary! There are so many intriguing sessions being offered, it’s tough to play the Sophie’s Choice game to decide which to attend. I’ll be narrowing the list over the next week or so, but I still fully expect to call a few audibles here and there.

First time at ICE?

Fear not! The conference website has a handy session planning tool that will let you review the session lineup and bookmark your favorites. Some folks in the L&D blogging community have also shared their own tips for a successful ICE experience. Here’s a great one by JD Dillon – 5 Tips for Making the Most of #ATD2016. He’s also shared his #ATD2016 schedule – check it out!

Will I see you there?

What’s on your must-see list while at ICE? Share your can’t-miss sessions in the comments below! 

Looking for some good conversation while you’re in Denver? Let’s catch up and talk shop over a cup of coffee! Drop me a note – let’s meet up!