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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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 do leaders care about onboarding?

Why do leaders care about onboarding - blog header image

It’s one of many million-dollar-questions in the business of “talent” these days. Why do our leaders and executives care about onboarding?

I attended a conference session last week led by Tamar Elkeles, Ph.D., a former Chief Learning Officer of the Year during her longtime tenure with Qualcomm. Dr. Elkeles had some no-nonsense insight into the ever-evolving role of a Chief Talent Officer. While the session itself wasn’t necessarily focused on onboarding, but rather the position and challenges of talent leaders in general, there were some parallels I took away that are highly applicable:

Key Talent Challenges Facing Global Organizations:

  • Forecasting the future…and developing people for jobs that don’t even exist yet
  • Creating a company culture that maximizes employee growth and engagement
  • Retaining talent to drive business success
Source: Tamar Elkeles, Ph.D.

(If those challenges don’t directly correlate to onboarding, I don’t know what does.)

If our job is to find a solution to these challenges and address them through onboarding, then we need to have a seat at the table to better understand the underlying drivers:

  • To learn about jobs that don’t exist yet, we need to understand the industries we support, the products and services our organizations deliver and new innovations that require us to evolve.
  • To contribute to company culture, growth and engagement, we need to create onboarding programs that embrace and immerse new employees and help them feel connected.
  • To effectively retain talent, we need to enable new employees up to learn, perform and be successful, quickly.
Getting started with onboarding? Check this out: 5 Must-Capture Onboarding Metrics to Prove Your Value

Perhaps the most provocative statement that Dr. Elkeles stated during this session, and possibly the sentence that resonated with me more than anything during the entire conference was this:

“Executives care because we tell them to care.”

(This quote is paraphrased a bit, because I was in the middle of an “a-ha” moment when she said it, and didn’t write it down fast enough!)

But please let the point resonate as loudly with you as it did for me…

Many (not all) of our executives and senior leaders fail to recognize the value in developing talent, or providing a rich onboarding experience for new employees. Only when we claim a seat at the table (or contribute in our role in a way that our department leaders can claim that seat on our behalf) and TELL THEM how onboarding impacts these challenges, will the impact our programs are making “bubble up” and be:

Seen. Heard. Felt. Measured.

Providing an intentional onboarding experience is the necessary foundation and logical starting point for a results-driven talent engagement, development and retention strategy. It’s a competitive advantage that will set your organization apart, and be YOUR professional advantage, if you are looking to build influence among leaders.

Take some action: Find what matters in your organization, what drives business, and what keeps your leaders up at night…and discover how onboarding will make a positive, measurable impact.


Talent GPS is here! 

Talent GPS cover image 2

I’m thrilled to have co-authored the book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating the Employee Development Journey, with Lou Russell and Brittney Helt. If you manage people or support those who do, you’ll want to grab a copy!

Buy now


Are you ready to Make Onboarding Better in your organization?

We are nearing the halfway point of 2017 already! Is updating (or starting) your onboarding program on your list of goals this year? How’s that going?

Based on overwhelming feedback from our annual onboarding survey this winter, we are getting ready to launch an exclusive online community, completely focused on making onboarding better. Whether you are just getting started with developing and implementing an onboarding program, or you are committed to improving the new employee experience at your organization, this community is for you.

Be one of the first to learn more and to get pre-launch access to the community.

Subscribe today and be in the know!

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