Build Your Economic Case

How to get approval to attend
a quality industry conference

by Russell T. Westcott

Do you realize that one of the greatest means for professional development is attending a quality industry conference? If not, consider the benefits of: meeting and talking with scores of people, many of whom have similar challenges to yours; attending sessions with recognized professionals and superb speakers; and chatting and gleaning information from self-selected vendors. Most important are the networking opportunities: Exchanging viewpoints, practices and information is paramount, as is establishing new contacts for more in-depth discussions later.

But first, you need to get there.

Four of the most likely reasons you may not have tapped into this vital opportunity are:

  1. You’re too busy at work and the boss will not approve you taking the time.
  2. There is no money in the organization’s budget for this type of expense.
  3. You can’t envision any good reason to go.
  4. The boss doesn’t know how much the value of your attendance will affect him or her and your organization.

You could add other roadblocks to this list, and there may be little we can do about reasons one through three, but let’s look at a proactive response to reason four.

A few years ago, ASQ launched an initiative urging members of the quality community to make an economic case for quality. Remember? Well, that is exactly how you can create a chance to convince your boss and your organization there is real potential payback from you attending a conference. Don’t try to sell your personal development—sell benefits to your organization and to your boss.

Getting there

First, you have to change your thinking from, "This expense won’t be approved," to, "My attendance will be approved when I show the benefits and the return on investment."

Here is the process you should use:

1. Carefully review the sessions, speakers and events offered at the conference. Look for any technology, process or method that, when applied to solving a work problem or  process improvement at your organization, will be recognized as beneficial.

Ask yourself: What knowledge could you glean from a specific speaker? What might you bring back as data and information pertaining to specific methodology and technology? Whom might you target for potential one-on-one information gathering?

Also think about: Is there a tour of a local organization planned that could benefit your organization? Which of your current competencies could be enhanced by your selection of specific activities at the conference? How might that enhancement benefit your organization? Is there any organization within the geographical conference area from which you could gather valuable process improvement information if you could arrange a visit and extra time (a non-conference day)?

2. After you have identified people, topics and activities with the potential of providing value-added methods and technology, draft a project plan. Select one to three of the most urgent and beneficial work improvement opportunities to which your new insights and knowledge can contribute.

Estimate an annualized payoff (benefit) from improving each of the selected processes. Estimate your organization’s investment for you to attend the conference to gather data and information to bring back to aid the ultimate improvements. Investments will consist of conference registration fees, travel, lodging and meals, and backup personnel expenses for your job while you are absent.

3. Sell your plan to the boss. Emphasize how the investment can improve the processes identified, thus reflecting on the good judgment of the boss in approving your attendance.

4. At the conference, keep your focus on the improvements you expect to make or assist in making, and what you need to learn to fulfill your mission.

5. Upon return, prepare a concise report and presentation about the application of what you’ve learned for the boss and others with a pertinent summary handout of critical information and numbers. Seek approval to launch or be involved in one or more of the improvements.

6. Follow up the improvement effort by applying appropriate metrics to further support the payoff from the investment.

7. Don’t forget to update your résumé with your added knowledge, experience and skills.

Sell it right

Stay on focus. If you had fun on the trip—enjoyed just being away, the hospitality suites or sightseeing—keep those personal matters out of your oral and written summary of the conference. You are selling the benefits to the organization versus investment cost. That you personally benefited from your conference attendance is secondary. Then, improve your process and do it all over again next year.

Russell T. Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, CT, consults on strategic planning, project management, quality management systems, work-life planning and career coaching. He is an ASQ fellow and an ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE) and quality auditor. Westcott is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition, co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook, and author of other books and many articles. He serves on the Quality Management Division Advisory Committee and Thames Valley Section executive board.

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