Really Want To Attend a 2002 Conference?

Some do's and don'ts for getting approval

by Russ Westcott

ASQ has tempting conferences in 2002, and you think you'd get a lot out of attending one or more of them, but:

  • My boss would never let me have the time off.
  • The company is experiencing financial stress, and all travel is prohibited.
  • We're short-handed.
  • There's no budget money for it.
  • No one here ever gets approval to attend a conference.
  • Management views conferences as just another vacation.
  • I couldn't spare the time; we've just received a new job and ...
  • My boss can see the value in spending $1.5 million on a new machine but not $1,500 for me to attend a conference.
  • Only senior management gets to attend executive briefings, symposia and miscellaneous boondoggles held at fabulous locales.
  • I really didn't get much out of the last conference I attended.
  • There's little point in going because I'd never get to apply anything I learned.
  • Poor me, I never get to go anywhere on a business trip.

Unless personal obligations are your reason for not attending, you may find your excuse above. Regardless, if you really want to go to a conference, you're going to have to sell the idea. Tried that, you say? Well, there's only one solid way to sell the idea: Present the benefits vs. the cost and time.

First, identify who would have to approve your request and by what metrics that individual is measured. In spite of an organization's avowed commitment to greater customer satisfaction, higher quality deliverables or a happy workforce, the bet is bottom-line profitable performance is still paramount. More return for the investment is the goal.

When you have identified the metric most vital for the approving person, you have the key ingredient for setting your objective. Hint: Your objective is not to attend a conference but to seek out information that will help you initiate an effort that will enhance the approving executive's key measurement.

Here are some don'ts and do's:

  • Don't mention all the wonderful experiences you will gain.
  • Don't approach the approving executive with a copy of the brochure. Brochures tend to play up the social and recreational aspects of the exotic location and facilities. Especially avoid brochures that advertise the event as a convention. A typical translation is "fun and games."
  • Don't go the "attending will build my professional competence" route. It may, but that's not what you're selling.
  • Don't attempt the plea that it's your turn to go, or you haven't been for soooo long.
  • Don't think about using "I need a break" (I'm tired of my job) or "It's important I meet with peers" (I'm checking out the job market).
  • Do stress the specific purpose for attending--return on investment keyed to the approving executive's primary metric.
  • Do carefully research the specific conference sessions, topics and speakers who will provide the information you need to meet your objective. Prepare a written proposal outlining what you plan to do with what you learn, its potential payoff, the cost of attaining the information and the net benefit. Show how long it will take to recoup the amount you will spend and contrast that expense of time and money with the overwhelming long-term benefit to the organization.

For example, describe your plan to initiate a cost of quality study that will pinpoint ways to eliminate 35% of scrap costs--a key target for the approving executive. Explain that you can easily recoup the cost of attending the conference within two months, with substantial benefits within the first year.

After the conference, you should continue to make a case for the value of your trip.

  • Do prepare a concise report of what you bring back from the conference. Keep the report focused on the objective.
  • If you attend sessions that have little or no relationship to the objective, leave those out of the report. Better yet--strive to link all your conference activities to your objective. Exclude references to personal networking, social events or sightseeing, and exhibits not related to the objective.
  • Follow through by initiating the effort you proposed. In many cases, the approval to attend the conference may serve as the approval to put your ideas to work when you return.

I'll be there, will you?

RUSSELL T. WESTCOTT is president of the Offerjost-Westcott Group (OWG) in Old Saybrook, CT, which specializes in providing work-life planning, guidance and coaching; and of R.T. Westcott & Associates, an organizational performance improvement consultancy. He co-edited The Certified Quality Manager Handbook, second edition, and The Quality Improvement Handbook, both produced by the Quality Management Division and published by ASQ Quality Press. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, certified quality auditor and certified quality manager.

Career Discussion Board Go to www.asqnet.org to discuss career challenges with your colleagues.

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