Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lessons Learned from the ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference - Part 1

Through exceptional learning and performance, we create a world that works better.

This is the newly drafted mission of ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development. It is a simple statement that is very true, and an exceptional way to set the stage for the annual Chapter Leaders Conference.

This was my first time attending the Chapter Leaders Conference, and I can say without question, it will not be my last. I greatly enjoyed the conference, and meeting many of my fellow chapter leaders. It was an extremely valuable, if quick, two days. I am hoping that this blog post is of similar value to those that were unable to attend the conference, as well as reinforcement for those chapter leaders in attendance.

Like most conferences, ALC (not sure why that's the acronym - feel free to comment if you know) is comprised of a few keynote speakers and a variety of breakout sessions to choose from. What follows is a summary of my key learning points from the conference. I'll be separating this into two blog posts to make the length of each a little shorter.


Ed Betof Keynote

The conference kicked off with a keynote session featuring Ed Betof, author of Leaders as Teachers. This was a great way to start things off, and I think Betof did an excellent job of positioning his work with Leaders as Teachers for not only the audience, but the context.

I always prefer speakers that actively engage their audience rather than simply speaking to the crowd, and Betof did this very well. Ignoring the podium, and the stage for that manner, he conducted most of his presentation from within the audience itself.

The main message that I got from Betof is that all of those in the audience, as both learning professionals and chapter leaders, should have teachable leadership points of view or perspectives. We should be be setting the example and raising the bar in our leadership.

I particularly liked the series of reflection questions that were posed, which I thought were an excellent method of self-analysis of one's leadership skills

Reflection Questions:
1. Who were the leaders in your life that helped you the most to grow, learn, develop, and change for the better?
2. How did these leaders teach the lessons that made a positive difference for you?
3. Self assess yourself as a leader-teacher/coach (1-10)
4. If asked the first question, would your organization identify you?

Side note: I thought all of the keynotes were very good. I did not, however, think that they all targeted their content towards the context of the event. Based on the audience - chapter leaders for local chapters of ASTD - there is a reasonable expectation that the attendees are leaders and in some capacity work in the learning and performance field. The context of the event, though, was chapter leadership. I came to this event to develop my skills as a chapter leader, not as a general leader or as a learning and performance professional. I feel some of the keynotes missed out on the context.

Breakout Session: Managing Your Teams of Volunteers

This was a very interesting session facilitated by Dawn Mahoney of the South Central Wisconsin Chapter, that focused mostly on sharing ideas and successes related to the team of volunteers in a chapter.

One of the most simple and powerful ideas that came up during this session was in reference to getting more people to attend our 'meetings'. The focus of the comment was to change the labeling of our regular events from 'meetings' to 'Professional Development Events'.

I really like this idea because, as George Carlin used to say, "We think in language, so the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language". When was the last time you got a meeting request at work and thought, "I can't wait!". However, if you were invited to a Professional Development Event, you'd probably be a lot more interested in attending. Why would people think any differently about our chapter 'meetings'? This will be one of the first post-ALC actions that I recommend our board take.

Lunch with National Advisors for Chapters

This was a structured lunch with chapter leaders from our regions, facilitated loosely by our representatives from the National Advisors for Chapters. I greatly enjoyed connecting with the other chapter leaders and sharing ideas and best practices.

One of my favorite parts of conferences lately is having the ability to connect in person with people I have developed relationships with online, especially through Twitter. This conference was no exception, as I was able to meet up with and enjoy sharing conversation with two 'tweeps' from #lrnchat, @britz and @ThomasStone.
(If you are not familiar with #lrnchat, the weekly Twitter chat for learning professionals, check it out Here.)

Getting Volunteers Involved in Chapter Leadership

This was one of the first sessions I highlighted to attend when I registered for the conference. The chapter I am President of has a challenge bringing in new volunteers, and has a high percentage of current board members that will not be returning in 2011. I was coming to this hoping to have some actionable steps I could implement shortly after the conference. I was not disappointed by this session, facilitated by Christie Ward of the Rocky Mountain chapter.

One of the more simple, yet effective tips was simply this: Ask. Many times we ask the membership as a whole for volunteers, but don't reach out to potential leaders on an individual basis. I know this was the case for me. I assumed that I wasn't part of the chapter long enough to serve on the board, and didn't really see it as an option until someone approached me about it. (Hey Linda Berke, in case I never actually said it, Thanks for that!)

Another important theme was to emphasize the relationships forged through participating in chapter leadership. Being part of a chapter and a chapter leadership team makes you part of a unique community.

We also spent time discussing why people do, and do not, volunteer. Here are some of the points shared:

What do volunteers expect?
*To be involved and contribute.
*To work with like-minded people.
*To network.
*To learn and keep their skills sharp.
*To be recognized.
*To get career advancing competencies.
*To participate in a cause they believe in.

Why DON'T people volunteer?
*Time constraints
*Family and responsibilities
*They lack info about volunteering
*They lack info about virtual or short-term volunteer opportunities

Many family people are not going to volunteer, at least not formally, but are searching for connections to the professional world through volunteering. We can take advantage of this by building ad-hoc volunteer opportunities.

You'll Never Work in this Town Again! Creating a Career Portfolio

Being someone that is always looking to move ahead towards a greater opportunity, I was very interested in learning about a career portfolio, and Greg Williams of the Maryland chapter did an excellent job of describing and walking the group through the process of building one.

In today's day and age, it is incredibly important that individuals find a way to distinguish themselves from their peers in the job market. A career portfolio is an excellent way to do just that, yet it is estimated that less than one in ten learning professionals have a portfolio of their own. I find myself in this unfortunate majority.

This topic queued my interest because I found out first hand how hard it is to distinguish yourself from other job seekers about two years ago. The biggest lesson I learned during that time was that the time to prepare yourself for your next role isn't when you need it, it's while you are still in your current role. That's why I wanted to participate in this session.

A portfolio for a learning professional is really no different from a portfolio of a photographer or a model. It's a collection of artifacts that show, in a tangible way, the quality of the work you can produce. What are some of the things a learning professional can include in their portfolio?

Some of the suggestions included:
*Learning materials you wrote, such as participant guides, facilitator guides, job aids, etc.
*Communications that comment on the quality of your work, even something as simple as a complimentary e-mail
*E-learning modules you may have created. You can also include screen prints with a descriptive narrative.

Seeing these types of artifacts during an interview will make you memorable to a recruiter, and distinguish you from your competition.

Of course, the dreaded 'copyright' question did come up, and it is something you need to be conscious of. When adding artifacts to your portfolio, make sure you have permission to do so, and take out any proprietary information.

The session ended with a nice bonus - a quick walkthrough of creating an electronic portfolio using Adobe Acrobat's PDF portfolio functionality. I was already familiar with the PDF portfolio functionality myself, but had not yet connected it as an option for my portfolio. This seemed to be a highlight for many attendees.

Jack Phillips Keynote: Measuring what matters

First, a disclaimer. I believe in the need to show the value of training. Whether there are 4 levels, 5 levels, or whether you call it ROI, ROE, or any other description doesn't really matter to me. Phillips, Brinkhoff, Kirkpatrick and others may have different approaches to the 'ROI' theory, but one similarity they all share is that training needs to have a benefit to the business. When it comes to that concept, I drink the Kool Aid.

I should also disclose that In my efforts to learn more about showing the value of training, I went through the process of getting certified by the ROI Institute in Phillips' ROI Methodology Phillips. I don't necessarily agree with every piece of the methodology's process, but I find value in it and the work of Phillips' peers as it pertains to the business value learning.

With those disclosures out of the way, I enjoyed the presentation Phillips gave. Having participated in many of his presentations in the past, most of what he said I had heard or read in some manner before. That was one of the minor drawbacks to the presentation for me. I'm not sure how many others had seen him before and if they felt similar to the way I did.

If you have seen Phillips speak before, you probably know the drill. His presentation focused on the desire of CEOs to know the TRUE value of learning. Let the smile sheets go away, and don't report how many people attended sessions. He describes this as the 'Show me' evolution, as in, 'Show Me The Value' of learning. (or Show Me the Money, the title of a Phillips book ;-) )

Phillips shared a number of statistics with the audience, most of which showed a substantial gap between the type of information CEOs want about the training function as compared to the information they get. Overall, it was interesting information that I personally found interesting.

What I found to be the main drawback of Phillips presentation was the lack of connection that it brought to the context of the event: Chapter Leadership. I would love to have heard him apply his ROI model to Chapter Management, and provide examples of how chapters can measure the value they are providing to their membership, the chapter, ASTD National, or the profession as a whole.

Hmmm... Maybe that's an idea for a speaker proposal in 2011.

Day 1 Summary

Before I even stepped into Jack Phillips' keynote that ended the session, I had already decided that I was planning on returning to the ALC conference in 2011. I found a great deal of value in the sessions and networking, both personally and for my chapter.

As with many conferences today, there was an active Twitter backchannel, which I always find to be a great reinforcer of content and key learning points.

Most importantly, I found myself in my room that evening, making notes for a post-conference action plan. To me that is the most important measure of a conference: Can I use what I've learned? The answer in this case is a resounding yes... and I hadn't even gotten to Day 2 yet.

Better still, Day 2 had what was probably the best session of the conference.

Coming soon, my recap of Day 2 of the ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks David for all the hard work collecting and sharing this information! Hope to learn and collaborate with you more in the future. Great meeting you!