Is That Conference Worthy Of Your Investment?

This past week I made an investment, (in time and money) in deepening my knowledge in the Organization Development arena by attending the Organization Development Network (ODN) Conference and I must say, I think it was well worth the investment. Many of us get so caught up in our daily work and business priorities, we neglect the investment in ourselves and learning.

That’s a big mistake!

You may not feel it right away or in six months, but if you aren’t engaging in something to further build your knowledge and expertise annually, you’ll find  yourself outdated and your contribution value less relevant.

I understand that training and development budgets can often be the first thing to get cut, but there are many avenues for learning and staying current on the latest thinking via free webinars, participation in trade organizations and networking with colleagues both internal or outside your organization as well as leveraging mentoring relationships.

My experience at this year’s ODN Conference gave me access to many experts in the field and I got to engage in discussions about team dynamics, leadership, new social media tools, new methods in designing programs, and how to leverage polarities in problem solving, to name a few. I gained some great information that was missing in my knowledge base.

For readers who did not attend the conference, I’ll share an insight that struck a chord with me. It deals with an issue that comes up time and time again in my work with executives. The issue:  A leader casually mentions something and teams of people swing into action to answer the question or develop a program. The leader is then perplexed because they didn’t intend to initiate all that activity!

Frederick Miller, CEO of The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, along with Judith Katz shared a great approach for managing this dilemma and it really resonated with me. It’s about creating a common language for leaders to use so that people around them understand the intentions of their words. These four words/labels can offer meaning to the levels of response expected from their listeners.

Here they are:

are statements made that require NO ACTION by others. These are the ideas that come to you while you were at the gym or driving into work. Things like, “Maybe we should look at trying Yammer to help with employee engagement.” Notions are a way to open a discussion and test ideas. A discussion may begin, but action beyond that is optional.

Stakes suggest a firmer position on a topic. Like stakes used to stabilize a tent, they set a place for the discussion to begin…”putting a stake in the ground.” Leaders are open to others’ ideas on the topic and are willing to move their Stake (change their opinion) if others can make the case to consider something different. If the group comes to an agreement, then action can begin.

Boulders are different than Stakes as they are hard to shift. “If you want to move my opinion, bring friends!” It will take multiple people who share the new perspective for me to consider changing. A Boulder is given as an action item, a high priority with the leader committed to seeing the idea implemented. Discussion is not sought out, but would be allowed.

Tombstones suggest “over my dead body” – I won’t be changing my stance on this topic so don’t even try to persuade me. It symbolizes total commitment to the degree that the person may be willing to leave their job if the idea isn’t carried out. Tombstones are typically about core values or beliefs and the person’s integrity is at stake. When a leader states that a topic is a Tombstone, you know that it’s not up for discussion…case closed. End of story.

So the action to take after reading this is to share these definitions with your teams and the next time you have a “notion”, state is as such so that people know it’s a topic for discussion and a time to share their own ideas and opinions. You’ll save people time and energy so that they are well-rested when it’s time to implement those ideas you consider to be Boulders or Tombstones!

Do I think the investment in attending this conference was worth it? You bet! This is just a smidgen of what I learned.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect with her via email at