Belonging and giving is no longer enough; you have to demonstrate skills

Serving as the 2016 IABC Program Advisory Committee (PAC) chair has brought many revelations. One very important one is that being an IABC member and a long-time volunteer is not enough to ensure my place as a speaker.

I’ve submitted to speak to World Conference many times and been refused on numerous occasions; even as I speak frequently for other organizations, chapters and my region. I used to think that my long service in many different roles should have influenced my selection. One of the reasons I agreed to this last-minute assignment was to more fully understand the process. Now I do.

My PAC team – which is a remarkably talented group! – comes from 15 different time zones. There are millennials, mid-career professionals and very senior practitioners. There are people from corporate, consulting, not-for-profits and government. We even have several non-members to help us better understand what brings non-members into the fold.

These are the amazing people who evaluated the nearly 200 submissions received. This week, I’ve fielded many emails from the disappointed speakers who did not receive an invitation to present.

How the process works

Every proposal is submitted online. Prospective speakers are asked to provide session titles, descriptions, value/benefit explanation, along with their biographies, references and supporting documentation that helps us understand their skills as a presenter/instructor. Submitters are asked to consider a variety of concerns, such as the Global Standard, Career Paths and the conference theme.

Each submission is reviewed by at least two evaluators. Each is scored based on various elements related to content and presentation skills. Evaluators are able to comment on the submissions they review. Then begins a complicated process of identifying the short list of speakers to invite, considering these elements:

  • Track
  • Session type (e.g., traditional, workshop, IABC talk, speed presentation)
  • Speaker locations
  • Scores and evaluator comments

We also looked at who had spoken at the prior two conferences so as not to repeat too many of the same faces. This is in response to attendees who want to see fresh, new ideas from new faces. If we consider a speaker who has spoken recently, we review recent ratings for that speaker.

If we can’t discern the prospective speaker’s presentation skills, we may follow up with references to understand more about delivery style. Video clips help tremendously here. Only a small fraction of submitters even submitted a video clip. Evaluators often search online for these.

There are always some who decline the invitation, which sends us back to the backup list to fill such gaps. This means that a rude/inappropriate response to the initial decline doesn’t help your case for a secondary invitation. Remember, the speaker slate isn’t done until every speaker is under contract.

What it comes down to

In the end, here are my top take aways from the experience thus far:

  1. Evaluators may not know the prospective speaker personally. Even past chairs and Fellows may not be well recognized for their important role. Being a long-time member and/or volunteer really gives a submitter no edge.
  2. Submitters who do not provide clear demonstration of their speaking skills and ability will suffer lower scores. Slides alone cannot provide evaluators this level of information. Video is the best way, but providing exercises, methodology, handouts, tools, etc., can make up for a lack of video evidence.
  3. A high rating with one topic at the prior year’s conference is no guarantee that your new topic will make it through the PAC process. Last year’s rating is a secondary metric. If a submitter fails to impress with the new topic (e.g., vague description, poor supporting documentation), his/her score will not elevate the proposal to the short list.
  4. Every submitter believes his/her topic is the most important – I always thought this too – and is incredulous when it isn’t picked. What they don’t know is that there may be many other similar presentations submitted. The most competitive tracks are Employee Engagement and Leadership and Strategy. If you submit in one of these, your chances of getting selected are smaller because these are the tracks with the most submissions.

So what is really important in this process? According to the PAC’s charge, it is these considerations, in this order:

  1. Quality
  2. Content
  3. Global representation

Clearly, many prospective speakers do not understand how to submit a great proposal. I certainly wasn’t submitting the greatest proposals. To support prospective speakers we are going to create a how-to toolkit. This will help anyone submitting put together a great proposal in time for the 2017 call for presentations.

I get it now.

2016 PAC members were not allowed to submit; a change to the PAC terms beginning with this term. There is no bias, no politics involved in speaker selection; it’s been very democratic. The team is trying to deliver the very best in service to the member, the association and the profession.

As the PAC chair, I am not allowed to submit for either 2016 or 2017. But, I can promise you I’ll be ready to submit for 2018, and I’ll use my new-found insights to ensure that my submission wows even the evaluator who has never heard my name!

Tips for a Smooth HR Site Launch: Make Content the First Priority

Launching a new HR site on your digital workplace? Don’t leave content until the very last minute, or you’ll deliver a less-than-desirable result.

As I recently described in a post for ALI about making content your first priority, leaving content until the very last means you’re more likely to post junk and less likely to get the most out of your technology. Start on content early and you’ll

Here are some tips to ensure your success:

  • Put the right project manager in the lead: Not only does he/she need to know HR, the PM needs to understand enough about communication best practices and the technology to grasp how to fully leverage the tools. A project manager who can’t do both is sure to bungle the project. It goes without saying that he/she better have great project management skills because the volume of content in this area can be overwhelming.
  • Prepare a written plan: Draft a plan that outlines all the objectives, tactical steps, timeline, etc. Identify all the content owners up front and outline responsibilities. Communicate this clearly to the entire group; treat them like part of the team from the outset.
  • Create a timeline and stick to it: Give content owners plenty of time to respond, send regular reminders and then hold them accountable for their deadlines. We like a schedule that has multiple deadlines in anticipation of them missing the first two. Communicate with content owners that if they don’t get their content prepared in time, it won’t be there for launch; the prospect of blank pages is great incentive. This also works well for old content that hasn’t been reviewed.
  • Think about the user experience:
    • Different types of content lend themselves to different posting approaches. Make decisions early about the best way to post different types of content. For example, two days before a client’s HR site launch we received a Microsoft Word file with a set of frequently asked questions. At that point, it was too late to post the FAQs in a user-friendly, interactive fashion. It had to post as a PDF, which is far from optimal.
    • Standardize naming conventions. If one part of the world refers to their “employee handbook” and another calls it something else, this may confuse employees. If content owners post files with dates in the titles, all the linking may need to be redone when a new version with a different date is posted. Create standards for file, page and site naming at the outset. More on this in a future post.
    • Use plain language in links, especially if the users include people from outside North America. Avoid HR-speak.
  • Review content for consistency: These types of large content efforts are a great opportunity to uncover conflicting plans and policies. If there are four different regional policies on employee referrals, find out why and try to integrate them into one, global policy.

Want to learn more about bringing your HR content to your digital workplace? Join me at ALI’s conference on Transitioning Your Intranet to a Digital Workplace in Atlanta in February. Plus, if you are using SharePoint and want to leverage it for great internal communication, join me at ALI’s SharePoint for Internal Communications in Chicago in April.

Getting Your Executives to the Social Table

Executives at my client organizations are often timid when it comes to using social technology inside the organization. One recently explained that he believes collaboration must be done face-to-face, in person. He’s missing the fact that most of his employees neither sit in front of computers nor are acquainted with all the internal experts.

I recently posted for ALI about how to change your language when you talk about social, and the following two examples offer some real-world perspective.

Bring the Data

Sometimes, you have to have data to further the case. For example, one of our clients recently conducted a study to determine how long it takes their employees to find a policy. They conducted the test with employees across the organization and many different policies. It took, on average, 5:48 to find a policy. The team has already learned that social technology – coupled with usability improvements – could help reduce the time to find a policy.

Nielsen Norman Group once reported that it takes just 56 seconds to find a policy on the best intranet, versus 6 minutes and 4 seconds on the worst. Taking the client’s average number of policy searches per day – based on search data – and their average loaded salary, we crunched the numbers. Credit must go to Shannon Ryan at nonlinear creations for a really cool tool to make this easier.

The client could realize a productivity savings of $5.5 million. How much of that improvement could be realized by enabling employees to easily see a list of the top ten most popular policies? 10%? 20%? That could be a $1.1M opportunity; that’s results an executive can wrap his or her head around.

Keep it Simple

Nearly ten years ago I was working with a client on benefits open enrollment. The company was making significant changes that required a lot of employee education. Plus, enrollment was being done 100% online for the first time. Employees – many working in manufacturing environments – needed simple guidance and instruction.

I believed short video podcasts would be the ticket, but I also knew the client was conservative and cautious; they would never use anything they thought smacked of “social media.” So, we called them “short videos.” It didn’t take much to convince them. The podcasts were very successful and helped to smooth the entire enrollment. Afterwards, I told the client the company could lay claim to being an early adopter of social technology.

If you keep the focus on the business prize, the executives will come along with less trepidation. Data paves the way. With a little luck, you’ll create some great success stories that make the next new thing even easier to add. It’s all in how you talk about it.

If you are interested in learning more about intranets, their governance and social technology use inside organizations, I’ll be teaching at this upcoming event: