There is no argument. The best part of any conference is the connections you make and renew. If you ask me to name JUST ONE THING that made this conference great, it would be the hugs and handshakes from the people.
But that is the responsibility of the attendee more than the conference organizer, so I am going to ignore that to discuss the best and worst of what SHRM did – or failed to do – to make this conference what it was this year.
I am going to dodge some incoming on this one, because I know not everyone agrees. But I name this one of the best venues for a SHRM conference for some very specific reasons.
- Price. I stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the conference center for four nights, and my total bill was only a small amount more than I paid per night in Chicago, site of last year’s SHRM conference.
- Restaurants. It was easy to find a restaurant within walking distance of most hotels surrounding the conference center. No cab fare or car needed. Some of the party and club venues were a long ride away, but you couldn’t beat the conference basics nearby.
- Weather. It wasn’t nearly as hot and humid as central Florida usually gets in June, and no one had to huddle under an umbrella while waiting for the bus. Ever. Maybe it was luck, but it worked.
While there were still plenty of sessions with names like “Seven Steps to Creating Bulletproof Documentation”, there was a subtle but palpable shift toward content that was a little different – and a touch more innovative – than previous years. One big change was that SHRM started talking seriously about the benefits of social media as well as the risks this year. They also stepped out to embrace previously overlooked areas such as solo HR in small companies.
One of my favorite sessions was called “Effective Public Speaking Strategies”, and it was led by a communications professor – not a consultant or even an HR pro. The message was profoundly important for HR pros, but not limited to them in any way. SHRM needs to do more sessions like this. (Marketing? Marketing? Marketing? Please?)
Also new was The Smart Stage, where twenty minute programs on a variety of topics allowed for broad overviews coupled with intimate interaction with attendees. Some of the social team spoke on this stage, and they reported excellent attendance and feedback from the attendees.
By the time SHRM 14 ended on Wednesday, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear this word ever again. It even pains me to write about it, because SHRM talked about their new certification model constantly. Hank Jackson, Betty Francis, and every SHRM staffer who took a stage somewhere mentioned it. But the biggest reason that this was a fail in my book is because all of those people said nothing of substance or importance. It was like the drip, drip, drip of a Chinese water torture.
Along with that mindless cheerleading, SHRM made a another tactical blunder by trying to wipe out every trace of HRCI and the SPHR/PHR/GPHR in the Orange County Convention Center. They said they were supporting traditional certification through the end of the year, but treating HRCI as if they didn’t exist is not supportive in my book. I was ready to forgive SHRM for the shoddy way they handled the initial announcement, but they didn’t own their mistakes or try to fix them. I needed that, because it is about so much more than my personal interest in my SPHR – it’s about how much support I want to give this organization in the future.
SALES EXHIBIT FLOOR
Disclaimer: I am not an expo fan under the best of circumstances.
I often skip the exhibit floor entirely, because watching 25 or 30 people line up to spin a wheel in the hopes of getting a foam football just aggravates me. I also hate the fact that exhibitors tell people via Twitter to “stop by Booth ____ and visit”, but make no real effort to participate in the conference. But this year I had hoped to do some blogging about the exhibits, so I wandered in right after it opened on Sunday to see what I could see.
I saw ridiculous swag like this:
Yes, those are plastic sunglasses that have a logo on the front of them causing the wearer’s vision to be impaired. Don’t give them to your kids. I’m not sure what else you can do with them, and the vendor had no answer in response to my question. This was one of the dumbest giveaways I saw, but there were certainly more.
In short, there was little that was interesting, different, unique, or delightful. I met with a couple of vendors I knew and had promised to visit but the floor was mostly boring, repetitive, and crowded. (Stop texting in the middle of the aisles, folks!)
In fairness, there were a couple of vendors who got it right, especially by doing more on social media to participate in the conference as a whole. One was Career Builder, and one was IBM Smarter Workforce. Take note, vendors!
Agreements? Disagreements? Other conference best and/or worst? I’m listening.
My first SHRM conference was in March 2010, and it was not the big “Annual” affair that I am currently attending. It was the SHRM Legal and Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, designed for lawyers and senior HR pros who have a responsibility for legal compliance in their organizations.
At that conference, I was unhappy to find that social media – which I had embraced about 18 months previously and was enriching my life by leaps and bounds – was a topic of fear, avoidance, and derision. I blogged about that conference, mentioning the story of telling one attorney-presenter who was speaking on social media that I would be tweeting her session. She looked at me horrified and said, “you mean you are going to tell people what I SAY?” Another blogger wrote an entire blog about the lack of balanced presentations about social media, calling on SHRM to do a better job.
Well, it only took four years, but I think SHRM has finally decided that social media is not a crazy, soon-to-disappear fad to be avoided at all costs. Here at the big Annual bash (#SHRM14), there have been several sessions related to social networking and social media, most with a positive outlook about how much good social can do to promote a healthy workforce.
But when I saw the scheduled session with “risk” mentioned twice in its title, presented by an employment lawyer, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my lips started to curl. It sounded like the old fear-mongering SHRM, and I knew there was no way I could miss that session, if only to hurl invectives via Twitter.
But my resumption, based on previous experience with SHRM’s social media offerings, was wrong. Dead wrong.
Jonathan Segal gave a fair, balanced, and delightfully energetic program showing the risks and benefits of social media use to the organization. One example? “Liking” subordinate employees on Facebook is too risky, but adding them as LinkedIn contacts has benefits that outweigh the risks (as long as you don’t endorse them). Another tip discussed the potential value of employee social media posts as both offensive and defensive evidence, advising to document them and hold them for litigation.
Overall the program showed the benefits of social media, the risks of certain social media practices, and ways to mitigate and minimize those risks. There are risks to being risk averse.
And I let out a little sigh of relief, muttering under my breath, “finally.”
Day two of SHRHM 14 started with internationally renowned author, reporter, and columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman’s presentation focused on the future of business, and more specifically on the changes brought about by the digital explosion and increased connectivity.
One of the best statements made by him came when he was discussing the changing expectations of employers regarding their workforce:
“Know one cares what you know or where you went to school. They care about what you can do with what you know.”
Many writers and bloggers in the HR-based social media space have been advocating that approach for years. I have been hearing pleas for people to change their resumes for at least five years, asking people to quit writing cliched, buzzword laden description of what their job was, and to instead focus on listing specific accomplishments. Tell people what you did – or can do – instead of what your job description said you were supposed to do.
Friedman cited Google as an example of a company that cares what you do with your knowledge, not the source of your knowledge, claiming that 14% of its employees don’t have college degrees. That isn’t actually true, but its close enough to make the point that employers should start looking past paper credentials – if they haven’t already – to create real problem-solving capabilities in their job descriptions. I’ve written about over-blown job descriptions twice before (here and here), imploring HR to consider more specific, actual needs and less boilerplate language.
Tom Friedman may think that employers don’t care about college, but for the most part that day isn’t here yet, even though it needs to be. I hope the HR pros in the audience got that point and quit asking about where your applicants went to school, and start caring about what they can do.
Before I attended my first SHRM Annual, I pondered the important question, “What does Michael J. Fox have to do with HR?” I didn’t understand at that time that SHRM follows a set of specific criteria when choosing its keynotes. (Matt Stollak explains that system here.)
But now I know that a motivational speaker is an important part of the SHRM plan to get attendees motivated and inspired. I’m okay with that – and I admit that I enjoy it.
Yesterday Robin Roberts kicked off SHRM14 with a fun and often touching journey through her life’s joys and struggles. And she offered some wonderful sound bites designed to make us feel good about ourselves, so we can go back to our HR lives elsewhere change things for the better.
“Dream big but focus small”
Have big dreams and ideas, but focus on the details you need to manage to realize them.
“Proximity is power”
If you want to make things happen, put yourself in a position to do so. No one is going to do it for you.
“When you strut, you stumble”
Robert’s momma taught her that one, and she uses it to keep herself from swaggering. It’s more effective to be true to yourself and be authentic.
“Optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use”
We all have struggles and tragedy. Keeping a positive attitude during those times can help you cope and transform.
“I’m 5’10″ and worth the climb”
Yes, she told that as a little joke on herself, but I loved the message: you are powerful and worth it.
Roberts wrapped up her address with a quote from the late Maya Angelou, something HR pros should always keep in mind:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’
My first SHRM Annual Conference was supposed to be in 2011 in Las Vegas. The morning I was scheduled to depart, by husband became seriously ill and I missed it. (Gory details here.) But I can easily recall the anticipation and excitement that I felt.
One thing I didn’t feel, though, was intimidated, because in 2011 I was already highly connected – through social media – with HR people from all over the country. I knew a lot of tips and tricks, because my friends had been talking about SHRM11 for weeks.
So I wasn’t thinking about intimidation and disconnection when I walked into the “First Time Attendee Meeting” at SHRM14 this morning. I went in to ask some first time attendees what their motivation was for attending this particular SHRM annual. I’ll discuss those responses in a minute.
But after talking to some of those first-timers, it is clear that there needs to be a better way to help them navigate. There is an app with all the sessions, but the first timers have no idea how to choose sessions, and are intimidated by the number of choices. They know they have to show their employers some ROI, but they are nervous about how they are going to do that. They want to learn more than where the restrooms are and what parties are important. They want to know where to go to ask questions about their concerns, because they haven’t read any of the blogs or tweets that might help them. They want tips that are more specific than “wear comfortable shoes”.
One of the first-timers suggested a special booth or small meeting space where first-time attendees can get specific advice on how to best meet their needs and goals. A smart bar for rookies. Are you listening, SHRM?
Wooing first-time attendees is important to SHRM, because they will drive attendance in the future, and attendance at SHRM14 is down from previous years.
So what motivated the first-timers to be here?
Based on my survey, the large majority of first-timers came because this was the first time their employer was willing to pay for their attendance. And by “large majority” I mean roughly 10 of the 15 people or so I spoke with.
Attendance at SHRM annual is an expensive proposition, and it is nice to hear that there are more companies that are willing to invest money to get their employees there. But unless those employees can show that attendance was worth every dollar when they get back to work, they won’t be returning.
Before SHRM14, one of the social team asked some Facebook friends why they were NOT coming. Most of the responses were the same: no ROI.
ROI. Return on Investment. SHRM needs to do more to help sure that attendees get it and show it.
Our March #SHRMChat on Governmental Affairs was hosted by Lisa Horn, Director, Congressional Affairs at SHRM. The discussion was spirited and engaging, and every question was enthusiastically discussed. Here is the briefest of recaps, so you can know what you missed, or what type of chat you can expect next time.
1. Other than being a CLA, what should motivate chapters and councils to be more engaged in advocacy and public policy?
Most of the answers to this question revolved around two main themes – (1) it helps the chapter or council build relationships with their members, and (2) advocacy and policy is a professional issue, not just a SHRM issue, so all HR practitioners have an important stake in the knowledge and development that advocacy activity creates
2. Is your membership active with SHRM on advocacy efforts such as the A-Team? What are some of the benefits?
Based on the discussions, state councils are far more active in this area than local chapters are. Somewhat surprisingly, most agreed that advocacy involvement is largely individual instead of chapter or council wide.
3. How do you determine which legislative issues are important to your membership? What do you do the address them?
The three most commonly cited methods were (1) polling, (2) roundtables, and (3) bringing in state directors or volunteers to speak at or discuss with local chapters.
4. What activities should your council/chapter engage in to ensure a positive legislative environment for the sector to grow?
There were almost as many answers to this questions as there were people discussing, but my three favorite answers were (1) have at least a short focus on advocacy at every single chapter meeting and educate your captive audience, (2) position your chapter or council as an expert on workplace issues so policy makers will seek out your HR expertise, and (3) invite the legislative staffers for breakfast or to meetings so that they become aware of your HR role in the community.
5. What is the one most important thing that SHRM national could do to help you increase your involvement in government affairs?
There was one resounding answer to this question, and that was that SHRM already has lots of opportunity for chapters to increase their advocacy activity, and that chapters and councils need to reach out more instead of waiting for SHRM to spoon-feed them.
Certification is a topic that pops up in almost every SHRMChat, especially those dealing with member benefits, meetings, and conferences. So in April we will devote the entire SHRMChat hour to the topic of certification. Our chat will be hosted by Ohio SHRM and the long-time SHRMChat advocate Nicole Ochenduski. The questions that will drive our discussion are
- Are you HRCI Certified? What certifications do you hold and what percentage of your local chapter/state membership are certified?
- How do you most frequently receive your recertification credits?
- What percentage of your local chapter meetings are approved for credit? Of those approved, do you pay for speakers that are accredited?
- How do you promote certification within your chapter/state council?
- What one improvement/suggestion would you give HRCI and SHRM for their certification efforts?
Join us on Tuesday, April 8 at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central!
I started #SHRMChat in the fall of 2011 because I wanted to dialog with leaders in other SHRM-affiliated local chapters and state councils about how to use and promote social media within the chapter or council. Since then our topics have expanded to include a discussion of all Core Leadership Areas (CLAs), concentrating on how state and local SHRM affiliates can improve and expand their competencies in those areas, while continuing to address social media, conferences, and other topics important to chapter leaders. We chat on the second Tuesday of every month at 8pm Eastern, and I try to have a different SHRM leader act as host each month.
This month our guest host is Lisa Horn, known to many by her Twitter name – @SHRMLobbystLisa. Our topic is “Government Affairs”, a CLA that admittedly troubles many chapters and councils. Lisa is uniquely qualified to host this chat, as her official title at SHRM is Director of Congressional Affairs.
We will address the following questions during the chat, but, as always, please feel free to discuss related issues that are not specifically addressed in the formal questions.
- Other than being a CLA, what should motivate chapters and councils to be more engaged in advocacy and public policy?
- Is your membership active with SHRM on advocacy efforts such as the A-Team? What are some of the benefits?
- How do you determine which legislative issues are important to your membership? What do you do the address them?
- What activities should your council/chapter engage in to ensure a positive legislative environment for the sector to grow?
- What is the one most important thing that SHRM national could do to help you increase your involvement in government affairs?
Remember – Join us on Tuesday, March 11 at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central. Use the hashtag #SHRMChat on all of your tweets!
“You are only as old as you feel”
“Age is an attitude, not a number”
“Age is a state of mind”
You’ve heard all of those platitudes before. And they are all bullshit.
If I told someone that I was 35 – because that is the way that I feel sometimes – they would laugh. Or snicker. Or roll their eyes. Because me being 35 years old just doesn’t pass the straight face test.
If I am filling out a form at the doctor’s office and it asks for my age, filling in the blank with the word “stoic” or similar attitude, I think the doctor and her staff would think I was loopy. And they would be right.
I usually have a pretty positive state of mind, but if a friend asks me how old I am today and I say “Pretty positive, thank you!” it is likely that my friend will suggest that I have a hearing test. Or see a psychiatrist.
Because all of these motivational chestnuts about staying young by thinking young may help you have a better life, but they cannot, can NOT, change how old you actually are. Despite all of these admonitions to have a good mental attitude and behave like I don’t care about my age, the fact is this:
I am 59 years old as of today.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that I should have quit calling myself “middle aged” many years ago. As Barry Cryer might say, “how many 118 year old woman do you know?” Even though the average age at death is climbing, fewer than 100 people in modern history have been documented as reaching the age of 114. According the the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy of a female in the United States is a shade over 82 years. That means “middle age” is more factually placed when a woman is in her early 40s.
But still I cling to the phrase “middle aged” as a descriptor, even though I am quite a few years past the fact. And I think I will hold onto that phrase for 2014, because society seems to be so accepting of middle age throughout a person’s 50s. It passes the straight face test, even if it is mathematically unsound.
But in January of 2015, I am officially moving to old age.
Where do you think the line between middle and old age should be?
For those of you paying attention, you will remember that I put #SHRMChat on hiatus in the early part of June, and left its future up in the air. I wasn’t sure of the direction it needed to take, or if I was the one to take it anywhere. Then I went off to the #SHRM13 Annual Conference in Chicago, and spoke with several people who support and believe in #SHRMchat – its need, value, and importance.
Those discussions yielded the following changes in #SHRMChat and its format:
1. #SHRMChat will continue to be held monthy from September through May on the second Tuesday of the month at 8pm Eastern/7 pm Central.
2. There will be 8 scheduled chats per year, plus two special/optional chats, based on the following schedule:
- SEPT – College relations
- OCT – Membership
- NOV – Diversity
- DEC – Special/As needed
- JAN – Social Media
- FEB – Conferences
- MAR – Government Affairs
- APR – Certification
- MAY – SHRM Foundation
- JUNE – Special/As needed
NO chats in July and August
These chats are based on SHRM Core Leadership Areas that all local chapters and state councils should have assigned volunteer leaders to cover, making them critical to the success of each chapter/council.
3. Each monthly chat will be sponsored and hosted by a state council or local chapter. This will give the council/chapter a relatively simple way to introduce themselves, and their members, to the benefits of social media.
Planning for the coming months has already started, and I urge you to contact me if you and your chapter would like to be involved.
Since September is “back to school” month for all, we are starting off with the topic of college relations, hosted by Matt Stollak (@akaBruno on Twitter), formerly the social media direction of the Wisconsin State Council, and current adviser to the student chapter at St. Norbert College, which was named an Outstanding Chapter at #SHRM13 (one of ten in the nation). His preview blog with questions for the chat on Tuesday, September 10 at 8p Eastern/7p Central is here.
PLEASE JOIN US!
This post originally appeared in the Women of HR Series:Random Encounters. Check out that site because, as the headline says, those writers have your back. I am re-posting it here as a personal tribute to the dog discussed in the post, who was euthanized last Friday. I will be back with fresh content very soon, including the return of #SHRMChat, so check back or sign up for email notifications.
I used to be a lot of things: politically conservative, impatient, intolerant, and demanding.
I also used to be a shopaholic. To me, going to the mall or a shopping center was as necessary and important as breathing or eating. My husband hated doing errands with me because I would enter a man-centric store with him – like a hardware store – and never leave.
So going to a mall on a Saturday afternoon was not random at all. But on one particular Saturday in the fall of 1999, a trip to the mall changed my life.
I stopped in the pet store, which was near my usual entrance, just to look. I had a dog at home who had been adopted from the humane society, and I certainly wasn’t in the market for another. But I loved to look. Did I say I was just looking?
Inside of one of those cages was a Border Collie puppy.
Maybe it was because my daughters and I had really enjoyed the recent movie Babe (which features BCs, as they are called), but the sight of that puppy excited me like no other dog ever had. I called my youngest daughter and said, “Guess what? There’s a Border Collie puppy at the pet store!” She asked if I was going to buy it, and I said, “Of course not.” Then I left the store and went about my shopping.
But for one entire week I thought about that dog. Constantly.
By the following Saturday I couldn’t stand it any longer, and returned to the pet store with my two teenage daughters. I bought the dog (my husband was out of town, thank goodness) and took him home.
And he changed my life.
You have to understand a little about the BC to understand why. BCs are considered the smartest dog in the world. Consequently, they need special attention – they need to be trained, encouraged, and engaged if they are going to be successful pets. (Yes, just like employees.) So I set out finding a job for my highly intelligent, driven boy.
What I found is flyball. And within flyball, I found a totally new world. It’s a dog-centric world, where the care and compassion for animals is overwhelming. It is a world where people cooperate and encourage each other – at least most of the time – in order to give their pets, and themselves, something special and rewarding.
Author Jon Katz writes about the “lifetime dog”. By his definition, it is a dog that touches your heart in a way no other animal can or does, often at a critical time or juncture.
Ike, as he was named, became a lifetime dog to me. I got him as my children were becoming adults and entering their own world. I was also at a professional crossroads, having left the practice of law and wondering what else I was suited for. Then he took me into the world of flyball, where I learned so much about dogs and animals – their need for care, compassion, tolerance, and their love of play, affection, and attention.
And that laundry list of me that started this post? Ike, and his ultimate love of flyball, changed all of those things for the better.
The professional crossroads? That’s when I went into HR.
Thanks to a random encounter of the most wonderful kind.