January 24, 2017 / Mark Milroy

A Matter of Choice

Recently a group of us gathered in a meeting room at AIHA headquarters to make selections for an upcoming project. We had received a large number of applications, and in reading through the submissions I was struck by how each one was excellent in its own way. That made the prospect of choosing all the more daunting, but thankfully the decision at hand wasn’t whether to accept or reject. Instead, we were simply identifying the ones that would start the project, knowing that over time there would be opportunities for all of the applicants.

It occurred to me that I’ve been making selection decisions for most of my professional life. My career began in college admissions, where each year brought a new cycle of recruiting and then choosing a freshman class. From late autumn through the winter months we read through thousands of applications and had to decide which ones would receive offers of admission. This was done with the realization that our decisions had an effect on the lives of the applicants. Whether or not they were accepted influenced how many options they had for their postsecondary education.

Years later I served on a selection panel for a national scholarship program. Our task was to narrow a pool of state winners to three finalists from whom the top recipient would be selected. Each one of the semifinalists was a high school student with an incredible story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, turning their dreams into reality, or nurturing a talent into a burgeoning career. You couldn’t help but feel that they’d accomplished more in their 16 or 17 years than you’d done in your entire lifetime, but that didn’t change the task before us—we could only choose three.

My most recent job was for an association that puts on many conferences each year, which meant that there were session selection meetings happening all the time. I once submitted a proposal for a session that would be led by a couple of my co-workers and me. At the selection meeting, I made it clear that the same standards for selection would apply to my proposal as to everyone else’s. The group took my words to heart and after careful review they rejected my proposal. It would have been easy to pull rank and put my session into the conference, but the truth was that there were other proposals that were clearly better than mine.

Having been on both the selection side and the receiving end of the equation, I understand how difficult it is to make choices and to receive the results. We experience decisions in all aspects of our lives: elections, trials, job applications, even the officiating calls at sporting events. We saw it this year with the changes made to the schedule for AIHce 2017, resulting in fewer session slots being available and making the selection process more rigorous.

You can’t escape having to choose, but here’s what I’ve learned from these experiences. Keep the process public so people know how the decisions are being made; keep the deliberations private, so those making the selections can speak candidly with one another; take the job seriously and make the best decision you can, and be understanding and empathetic when communicating the outcome. It’s never easy, but at the very least you can feel better about your choices if you follow these principles.

Mark Milroy

Mark Milroy is AIHA’s managing director of Global Learning. ​


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