Upgrading Your Exemplar Nomination

Written by Rob McKenzie
Level 3, United States, Minnesota

Written by Rob McKenzie
Level 3, United States, Minnesota

Greetings all,

For those that don’t know me, I am Rob McKenzie, Regional Coordinator of the USA-North region.  I’ve been Regional Coordinator for a little over two months, which also happens to be how long the North has been a region.  So if you don’t really know me or the region, it’s because we are new!

I recently joined the Exemplar team as well, in order to help with the nomination review process.  (Bryan Prillaman talks about that process in more detail in his recent post.)

The high level overview is that reviewers flag nominations as not meeting the guidelines for an acceptable nomination, and a different judge takes a second look and contacts the nominator and tries to help them rewrite the nomination to be better.  All of us on the team want judgeto get nominated, and want the nominations to be meaningful.  We want to help make the nominations into the nominations they are reaching out to be – great and meaningful nominations.

The guidelines page I mentioned above is a great start for getting an idea of what we are looking for in a nomination, and I want to provide some help and guidance for your nominations, to help upgrade them to be really meaningful and to hold up actions people have taken as exemplary.  After looking at a number of flagged nominations, we found they tended to be flagged for one of four core reasons.  I want to help people avoid these reasons if possible, so I’m providing some guidance on how to avoid common pitfalls.

Vague Nomination

One of the goals of the Exemplar Program is to let people who have never met your nominee see something awesome about them.  Vague nominations don’t really let people on the other side of the world see anything noteworthy about the person you are nominating.

A vague nomination will look something like:

Mishra, you did a great job at the PPTQ.

Urza, I was impressed with your conference presentation.

These nominations immediately spark some questions.  What was so great about the job at the PPTQ?  What made the presentation impressive?  With these nominations, it’s possible the person being nominated won’t even know what they did to get nominated.

The easiest way to fix a vague nomination is to think about what you would say if you were asked to explain what was so great about the action you are recognizing by someone who is interested but has never met the person.  We can project a fake person out, and try to explain to them.  For our Mishra example, if an L3 from another country was curious and asked you about your nomination you might explain:

“Mishra is an L1, and this was his first comp rel event.  He studied the IPG before the event, took a lot of calls, got them all right, and handled a D/DLP game loss confidently.  Really great for an L1.”

That’s pretty close to a nomination right there – I’d clean up the language to be clear what acronyms mean, because I really like to be clear.  It would end up something like:

Mishra, I worked with you at the recent PPTQ.  Your pre-event preparation was outstanding.  It was your first Competitive REL event, and you clearly had reviewed the IPG and the key interactions in the format.  You took multiple calls, got everything right, and handled a deck/decklist problem game loss without needing help or being uncertain.

For the Urza example, if a conference organizer was curious what Urza did well in his presentation so he can possibly use some of the same tricks, you might explain:

“Oh.  Urza had handouts prepared for his presentation, with a bunch of information on them.  He also did more than a powerpoint – he used the handouts to get us to ask and answer questions about his topic of growing weekly events in stores.”

And with some language cleanup, that turns into:

Urza, I was in your presentation on Growing Weekly Events in Stores, and I was super happy with the handouts – I’m taking mine back to show to my TO.  You also did more than just lecture, you involved and engaged the audience.  I learned a lot from not just you, but the TOs and experienced judges there.

Expected Behavior

A number of nominations were flagged for review/rewriting due to them being expected behavior.  Mostly this was for working events, certifying judges, or being certified, but some of them were for things like team leading or Regional Coordinators doing regional development.

This is not to say that judges can’t do these things in exemplary ways – far from it!  But there was no way to tell if they were done well, or poorly, as the nominations were purely for doing an expected behavior.

For some examples:

Chandra, you head judged five PPTQs last season.  That’s a lot of PPTQs, and the stores and players are happier because they got judged.

Nissa, you tested Domri for L2, for his third attempt in three years.  Thank you, Domri passing his test was a long time coming.

A lot of these kinds of nominations are about context – the nominator knows that the nominee did something well, but instead of talking about what was done well, they just talk about the core action taken.

Let’s look at the Chandra example.  The core action was head judging PPTQs, which is a basic function of L2s.  If I just look at that, I don’t see anything exemplary.  But the nominator was impressed enough to write a nomination.  Why?  We can do the explanation thing again, as if you were explaining things to your Regional Coordinator:

“Chandra drove out to stores pretty far away from the city, and two of them had never run PPTQs before.  Chandra promoted those events, and brought on a store employee to judge the event, showed them how to run a good event, and tested them for L1.  Only one of the two passed, but Chandra is going back to retest the other one at their PPTQ next season.  Those two stores are super happy with their competitive events, and plan to do more because of Chandra’s outreach.”

Chandra clearly did something exemplary here, but note that the core action was head judging the PPTQs and the actual exemplary part of it was Chandra being a program ambassador.  So we could clean that up, and say:

Chandra, you took two new stores that had not run PPTQs, and showed them how to run good competitive events with your head judging, and trained two judge candidates at those stores.  The stores and players were very happy with the events, and you are going to end up with at least a couple new judges in the program as a result, plus those stores are going to be running more competitive events after the huge success of their PPTQs, due in large part to you.

When we look at the Nissa example, it’s more complicated.  The context we can explain to someone who does not know Nissa or Domri, like another L2 at a GP not in your region:

“Well, Domri has been an L2 in spirit for a while.  He has dyslexia, and has a really hard time with tests.  He handles calls by using a special font on his phone for oracle, which lets him read more clearly and by knowing the cards very well.  Nissa took the time to find the font he uses and print the test for him in that special font, and made herself available to read the questions out loud if Domri was having problems with the questions.  Domri ended up taking three hours to take the test, but Nissa was there the whole time.”

That’s extraordinary, and something worth calling out.  The actual testing is entirely secondary to the effort Nissa put in here, but you wouldn’t have gotten that from the initial nomination text.  This new text on its own would actually be one of the strongest nominations in a wave – you could safely leave it as is.  I’m going to show off my personal idea of a re-edit to focus on the heartfelt bits, but that’s because I’m a meddler.  I’d gladly accept that exact text as a nomination.

Nissa, you tested Domri for L2 recently.  He has dyslexia, and has a really hard time with tests.  You found and used a special font to print the test that let him read more clearly, and made yourself available for the full three hours it took him for the test in case he needed anything read out loud because he was having problems with it.  This was a lot of extra effort, and it made all the difference in the world to him and to me.

Not Relevant Judge Behavior

This is certainly the most contentious category of nominations with issues.  People can do awesome things.  People can be judges.  Being a judge does not make every awesome thing a judge does an awesome judge thing, however.  Some nominations are not for things judges do as part of judging, and there are a few lines we draw.  Some examples are:

Kamahl, thanks for staffing me on the PPTQs in your store so I could get experience.

Akroma, I really appreciate you letting me crash on your couch after Regionals, it kept me from making a 3 hour drive home when I was tired.

These nominations are problematic, because while they are for good things, they aren’t for judge things.

For the first, Kamahl is a TO, and hiring judges is TO behavior, not judge behavior.  If I were trying to thank Kamahl for staffing me, I’d instead try to do something related to his events – help him promote them, or go the extra mile in some way to make sure he knows you appreciate being staffed.  The Exemplar Program is not a way to thank TOs for doing things that TOs do, especially normal TO behavior like hiring judges.  If the Exemplar Program is about recognizing behavior we want to encourage, you can see the issue with a nomination that encourages “giving me a job”.

For the second, Akroma is not in any way acting in a capacity as a judge by letting someone stay at her house.  It’s something a friend does, and it is praiseworthy, but not something the judge program recognizes as a part of judging.  Were it me, I’d thank her personally, and maybe bring some nice cheese to her the next time we work together.  (Your thanking plan may vary.)

These nominations can’t be fixed, because the actual action isn’t judge related.

Highlights Behavior We Don’t Want To Encourage

In a small number of cases, Exemplar nominations were used to try to nominate people for actions that we don’t want to encourage.  Part of the goal of the Exemplar is to give people examples they can look up to and try to emulate, and nominations that hold up negative examples as worth emulating aren’t great.

Some examples of nominations for behavior that we don’t want to encourage people to do:

Mirri, you drove 5 hours to get to the RPTQ, and 5 home the same night alone.  You worked this event with far too little sleep, and sacrificed your sleep for the next day, and the players appreciated it.

Squee, there was a PPTQ in the town 2 hours from you that only got 8 players, and you head judged it.  You said “no” to comp, and even paid for your own lunch.  You spent a lot of money to make those players happy, and the TO ended up even making a little on the event

Both of these issues are pretty similar.  In the Mirri example, Mirri did something really unhealthy and actually kind of dangerous to make the RPTQ happen.  Encouraging judges to skip sleep and drive home when they are exhausted and could fall asleep at the wheel is not something we want to do.  Holding up risky or unhealthy behavior as an example to emulate is bad.

The Squee example here is going to be a bit contentious, because people see working for free as a sign of altruism.  In the example, the judge is paying money so the tournament organizer can make money.  This is behavior that is good for the players, but is ultimately the judge paying to judge.  As the Exemplar Program is about encouraging behaviors, we can’t hold up this action as something we want other judges to emulate.  (Outside of charity events, which are clearly different.)

In both of these cases, there is a hint of greater dedication to the community.  That is something we want to recognize and encourage.  For such judges, there should not be difficult in finding other, more appropriate, actions that illustrate that dedication.

Wrapping Up

There are a lot of ways to write good nominations.  The single biggest thing I find helps is trying to write your nomination both as a “nominee, you did something awesome” but also as if someone who you have never seen or worked with before is curious and wants to know what is exemplary in the situation.  That fixes any problem that can be fixed, really.

Fundamentally, the Exemplar Program is about recognizing exemplary behavior, and making that recognition public for the world to see and applaud.  It’s hard to applaud when you don’t know what someone has done.

Thanks for reading, and catch you next time!