Grant Axtell Delivers Important Message Upon Accepting IAWP Presidency

Grant Axtell (pictured above), delivered the following speech upon accepting the position of President of the International Association of Workforce Professionals.  The presentation occurred last week, during the 105th Workforce Development Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Hello.  My Name is Change.

Okay, not really.  My name is Grant Axtell and I am proud to stand in front of you as your next international president.

Before I get too far, I am not sure that many of you know much about me other then what you see and hear at IAWP.  I was born in Corvallis, Oregon, just about 30 miles from where I was raised and still live today, Salem.  I am the oldest of three, with a younger brother and sister.  I was a shy kid and growing up.  I kept to myself and had a small group of close friends.  Despite my size, I never played football or any sports for that matter.  I did though play the trumpet, joining band in fifth grade.  In high school I began my foray into politics as I was elected Band Council President (yes, it’s a real thing).  The summer before my junior year, about two weeks before band camp (yes that is also a real thing) started, I got a call from the band director letting me he was taking another job and it would be my responsibility to gather the band and the band parents to let them know.  That was my first time standing in front of a large group and speaking.  And I was scared to death.  After graduation I went to college in at mid-size state school not far from my home, Western Oregon University.  I continued to play trumpet in pep band and my foray into politics as I got very involved in the Associated Students of Western Oregon University.  I majored in public policy and administration and speech/communication.  Just a few months after graduation, I was hired by the Oregon Employment Department.

Getting involved with IAWP was something I did under distress back in February 2004.  And by distress, I mean I was trapped in my cubicle until I signed the membership form.  For the first couple of years membership in IAWP meant nothing to me and I thought little of it.  As a trainer, members of the Oregon board saw me present in agency training programs.  That led to being asked to present at a state conference.  Magically I was the awards chair and then on the board as secretary.

In 2008 I attended my first workforce development conference in Richmond Virginia.  I attended as a presenter that year.  I looked around and thought you all were a bit crazy.  And to be honest, I was lost and intimidated.  While there, a nice lady came up and asked me if I was a father.  I looked at her oddly, and she told me it didn’t matter, just to pretend as if I did we could get buy one get one Segway tours.  I wasn’t sure and was peer pressured until I said yes.  Saying yes was one of the best decisions of my life as I got to spend the day with my friend Medra, who to this day, I look forward to spending time with each and every year.  And even more than making a great friend, and just as Teddy from Maryland said today in our business meeting, I too realized I found my people, my tribe.

In their book, Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright state that every organization is a tribe and when large enough, a network of tribes in which everyone knows everyone else.  Think about our organization.  We are a network of chapters and of members grouping together by common interests, like UI, ES, and work status (i.e. retired!)  Within many of these groups, everyone knows everyone.  Login, King, and Fischer-Wright argue in their book that tribes are more powerful then team, companies, and even CEOs.  And when these tribes work together, the result is unprecedented success.

Today, as I look across the organization, it does not always feel or appear that we our tribes are working together.  And in my opinion, it can at times even seem as if some tribes are working against the greater good of our association.  Just take a moment and imagines an association in which all of our tribes come together, put our personal interests to the side, and truly work to move IAWP towards unprecedented success.

For the past four years, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with my fellow officers and Steve Bent, each of who care deeply for this association.  We spend hours and hours talking about not what was but what is to come in the future.  And each of those conversations always comes back to this: how it will this lead IAWP to be even more successful.  It is easy to get caught up in how I feel about a topic or how it might impact me as an individual or my state chapter.  I have to remind myself though, that this association isn’t about me or my needs, it is about educating and recognizing workforce professionals from across the country and around the world.

I recognize that for some of us, the changes in the organization are coming fast: hiring an executive director, new logo, new conference name and extensive changes to the conference format, closing the office, staff changes, new website, new members only section, increased dues, changes to WPDP, changes to what is now the CWP, chapter affiliation agreements, new awards program, new standing rules, new publications, and now with the vote tallied, new bylaws.  It is a lot. You are right.  It is exhausting keeping up with the change.  It is also all change that has helped to get us to where we are today, peaking around the corner to success.

We are seeing new members find our association from our workforce partners.  Our conference attendance is up and we have more first time attendees then anyone can ever remember.  We have a record number of people taking the WPDP.  We have people in states that have been without chapters for years interested in looking at starting a chapter.  This would not be happening if it was not for the changes, even the painful ones, over the past two years.

I can’t promise you the change is going to slow down.  I do think the change is going to look different.  Over the next year our focus is going to be on development.  Developing new revenue streams through educational opportunities.  Developing our leadership pipeline so that we have people ready to serve in chapter and international roles.  Developing our marketing and social media strategies. Developing our partnerships with new international and organizational affiliates.  Developing our relationship with NASWA.  Developing our Workforce Innovation awards.  Developing a strong foundation for chapters to thrive.  Developing the foundation to provide support to the association and a top notch scholarship program.  We are going to spend the next year, developing the programs and tools that are going to take IAWP into the next twenty plus years.

We – myself, my fellow officers, my fellow board members, my committee chairs, and Steve –

We can’t do it ourselves.  We need your help.  And when I say help, not just input and ideas; we need your time and dedication on committees, special projects, and even routine administrative tasks.  We need all of us, each of our tribes to come together, to work together to take IAWP to unprecedented success.

Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to this next year!