The Best and Worst of #SHRM15

LasVegas

I wrote my first conference recap post – then called “Rants and Raves” – in March of 2010. This has become my favorite blogging experience of every conference I attend, because it really causes me to think about what is happening around me and whether I love it or hate it – or if I am just momentarily in a mood. This is why I always wait a day or two until conference end. And by focusing on just a few items per section, I can really try to look at the big picture, particularly that part of the picture that is really the responsibility in whole or part of the conference organizer. For example, if I don’t make at least 5 new connections (a magic number proposed by Steve Browne on the Smart Stage), that is my own damn fault.

So with that qualifier . . .

BEST

The Smart Stage. If I had known this was going to be one of my “best” while I was actually at the conference, I would have made some effort to find out exactly how long it has existed, instead of trusting my senior memory. I think this was the third year of Smart Stage, and someone will correct me if I am wrong. However long it has existed, it just keeps getting better and better.

For those of you who have never been, the Smart Stage is an open stage in a large common area of the conference, usually near the bookstore, registration, info booth, etc. The speakers talk about relevant topics, but in short intervals of 20-30 minutes. Most of the topics are really fun, and the smaller audiences allow for more interaction. As I mentioned above, Steve Browne gave a talk about how to make personal connections while at the conference, and you can believe that he made some of the people connect right there in the audience. I also watched Jonathan Segal give a talk about Mad Men and HR, which had us singing the Coke “Hilltop” advertisement at the end. (If you aren’t a Mad Men fan, I am not going to try to explain this to you. See below. If you are, no explanation necessary.) Even though I have blogged about Mad Men several times (here, here, and here), I still gained insights into some current business practices compared to the 1960’s world of Mad Men.

It’s topics like these that are perfect for the Smart Stage, and I hope that SHRM continues to find the value in programming that is relevant, informative, and meaningful, which may also be fun, engaging, and a little wacky.

Electronic Delivery. They are not all the way there, but SHRM made another big leap into paperless this year by delivering newsletters and papers via email. Their conference app has been around for a few years now, but even more features made it an even more useful tool. I didn’t stay at a hotel on the SHRM circuit, so I didn’t walk out of my room to find a newspaper on the threshold like I usually do. I am crossing my fingers that SHRM didn’t deliver them at all (I forgot to ask), thanks to electronic delivery. But my inclusion as a “best” comes with a caveat – quit giving attendees paper anything. Force them to become more environmentally friendly and to embrace better business concepts. If you make them use the app and read information electronically, SHRM starts walking the walk. Given the frequent complaint that attendees slow down the flow of people by using their electronics – one woman stopped and started texting right in front of an escalator immediately after a general session – SHRM shouldn’t take any complaints of electronic incompetency too seriously.

There is another benefit of going totally digital – you wouldn’t need to get a sponsor to pay for all of those useless tote bags. I tried to donate my tote on Tuesday and wandered to the registration looking for the donation box (there has been one at other conferences). I couldn’t find it, but there were hundreds and hundreds of bags on tables behind the registration desk. SHRM should be environmentally aware of the cost, in fossil fuels, of those bags to be made and trucked in. Just because someone else paid the bill doesn’t absolve SHRM from responsibility for the destruction caused by their needless presence.

#SHRM15Blogger. The inclusion of this category as a “best” may strike you as unfair, so it probably is on some level. But the bloggers really drive a lot of conversation out into the world at large. Once again, “hashtagSHRMyear” was made a trending topic – no easy feat. And while many people are tweeting, a lot of those tweets are from outsiders seeing the excellent content that the bloggers tend to put up on twitter and repeating it. More exposure for SHRM and the conference is always a good thing. So I would like to personally thank Dice for sponsoring us, and SHRM’s Amy Thompson, Andrew Morton, and Mary Kaylor for doing things in the lounge that were engaging and delightful. Bringing in a caricaturist for everyone to sit for was my favorite perk, and I am told that was Mary’s idea specifically. Sell those things on the convention floor next year as a fundraiser for SHRM Foundation. I had a lot of people ask where mine came from.

JoanCartoonSHRM15

WORST

Las Vegas As a Venue. It was crowded. Hot. Expensive. And I generally like Las Vegas. But as a SHRM Annual site it sucked. “Hot” means over 100 degrees, every single damn day. I personally didn’t have to walk much outside, but my heart was crying for those people who even had to travel to the hotel next door for a bus. In Vegas, the hotel next door is a long way away. No wonder the cab line was about 100 people long when I left the convention center on Monday. How hot was it standing there waiting?

Expensive in Vegas isn’t about room rates, although that was pretty bad. My personal example is Starbucks. In sunny (and much cooler) Naples, Florida I pay $3.13 every single day for the iced tea that I drink. In Vegas, I paid $5.00. How much were other things marked up there? I’m not sure, but Vegas being what it is, my guess is everything was. A lot. Quit being an elitist organization, SHRM, and embrace everyone who needs you. Lots of pros need you and can’t afford you, and Las Vegas proves that.

Sugar Overdose. Besides experiencing this myself, I had several people specifically mention it to me, which validates it for inclusion here, it in my opinion. And I am not talking about iced tea (which I drink sweetener-free). I am talking about session content.

I have no problem with keynote speakers being cheerleaders – what SHRM calls “motivational.” If the keynoter doesn’t deliver a certain amount of rah-rah, I am apt to get a bit testy. But once the keynoters have left the stage, the sessions should be about real world practitioners giving usable examples that attendees can take back and implement. Cheerleaders are an important part of the game, but they aren’t on the field or court actually playing it. The players – or attendees – need help. That is the level that the session speaker should work at.

I love the concurrent sessions – it’s the most basic reason I go to SHRM Annual. But other than The Smart Stage speakers I have already mentioned, only one of my session leaders actually delivered specific, real world-usable examples of how to achieve the cheerleaders goal. That speaker was Joe Rotella, who was talking about Social Media Concepts. I am sure there were others, but I can’t go to all of the sessions. SHRM’s job should be to make sure that all of the session leaders are less a cheerleader and more a coach.

Lack of Discussion. The Friday before #SHRM15 started, the US Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that prevented governments from banning gay marriage. Was it too late for SHRM to have a panel discussion around this issue? They claimed it was when I asked a few people. Did they discuss it in 2014? Or 2013? No. But it wasn’t too late in either of those years, so timing was really just an excuse.

I think SHRM needs to get into the education -not advocacy- business about current issues. If they had a panel discussion encompassing several points of view about minimum wage (an issue that affects my industry profoundly), I would have been in the front row with tongue hanging out. Quit telling me why you can’t (something I heard repeatedly), and start finding ways to do. This is the message we should be telling our attendees about everything. Current affairs shouldn’t be different.

“In all my years I have never heard, seen, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yes – I’m for debatin’ anything.” – Peter Stone, writing for the character Stephen Hopkins, delegate to the Continental Congress from Rhode Island, in the musical play 1776.

 

Social Media Concepts at #SHRM15

JoeRotella

Last year (#SHRM14) I wrote a blog about how far SHRM had come with its position on social media presentations since my original involvement in SHRM-related conferencing in 2010.

So I wasn’t exactly surprised this year when the sessions included one titled “Social Business: Social Media Concepts Throughout the Employment Life Cycle”. I had heard that the speaker, Joe Rotella (@JoeRotella) was particularly fun, so off I limped to listen to what he had to say. He had a lot to say, but here are the highlights.

MARKETING

I have been complaining about SHRM presentations that do not focus on marketing for quite a while now. I have also implored SHRM to have more sessions that specifically discussed marketing and other business areas for conference attendees. So when Joe asked how many people in the room were “HR pros” and then reprimanded them, indicating we should call ourselves “business pros with HR expertise”, I gave silent thanks.

He then launched into a discussion of how marketers listen and respond appropriately, the large numbers that actually use social advertising, how hard social marketing actually is, and the elusiveness of social media ROI to the marketer. He also mentioned some specific trends, such as image-centric networks, the rise of micro-video, and the use of LinkedIn for B2B growth.

But in the end, he asked the business pros in attendence to CARE about marketing and to think strategically, because otherwise HR ends up being “the department of sunshine and rainbows.” He made sure the attendees understood why marketers built brands and why it was in HR’s interest to do the same.

SOCIAL BUSINESS

Joe defined social business as that which a company needs to become, not a description of a feature or business function. It is not a business that addresses a social problem, but the “intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.”

In support of the social business, Joe presented statistics from an MIT study which showed how social business sophistication directly impacts traditional HR concerns, such as hiring needs (57% of employees age 22-52 say social business is at least somewhat important in choice of employer), and improving leadership performance and talent management (83% of employers utilizing social in this area).

Joe predicts that social business is business of the future – “connected, adaptive, and intelligent.”

SOCIAL MEDIA AND HR

A large part of Joe’s presentation went through most of the areas of traditional HR functions, and how practitioners could use social media in developing and modernizing those functions. Joe presented specific examples in each of functions such as recruiting, onboarding, training and development, and evaluations. As a former police officer, here’s one of my favorites:

In addition to video, some of Joe’s examples used intranet, blogs, Pinterest, Yelp, and gamification in different areas of the employment life cycle.

By the end of the session, I was ready to jump up and run back to my employer and start adding social media to all of our business processes.

Wait . . . I already do that. But I walked out hoping that the attendees who do not were listening and saw the value of what Joe was saying and were ready to take it back to their business.

 

Coach K at #SHRM15

CoachK

A few days before SHRM11, I wrote a blog post about the selection of Michael J. Fox as one of the keynote speakers. I was unhappy about what I perceived as the irrelevance of an actor speaking about HR at a time when jobs were scare and the profession was fighting to maintain some relevancy in the workforce.

I think I was wrong.

I had never been to a SHRM annual conference previously, and I didn’t understand the impact a powerful speaker could have, especially one whose message was uplifting and motivational, even if it is not specifically about HR. And although I missed hearing Michael J. Fox speak (I missed the whole conference), I heard that his message was truly inspirational.

So I formed no opinion about Duke basketball coach Michael Kryzewski (“Coach K”) before today’s opening keynote.

But now I am sad to say he was the worst keynote speaker I have heard at SHRM Annual.

It’s not that he didn’t have many small suggestions for building a winning team, like “make sure everyone feels important”,  “embrace the plural”, “have each other’s back”, “you’re good – get better”, and “find the opportunities that are presented.” But these nuggets were interspersed in a disjointed narrative about basketball and basketball players. And the subtext of that narrative was that extraordinary athletic talent only achieved what they did because he was there to lead them to greatness.

That kind of thinly disguised arrogance always aggravates me. As Cole Porter once wrote, “he may have hair upon his chest, but sister, so does Lassie”.

Many of his leaderships examples mentioned the great talent of the 1992 “Dream Team” – the very first Olympic team comprised of professional US basketball players – and how he helped create what they achieved. But he never mentioned the fact that this very team is plagued to this day with controversy about how they were chosen to be on the team and how petty grievances among some of the players possibly caused the exclusion of deserving players. And although he did mention that he was an assistant coach on that team, I don’t think he ever mentioned the head coach of that team (Chuck Daly) or gave him any credit for the team achievments.  I would have rather heard Coach K talk about how he helped teach these players how to put aside their egos and become better human beings instead of talking to them about standards that would help them win basketball games, and how he himself was part of a team that achieved that goal.

That’s the kind of lesson that would motivate me.

 

4 Tips for #SHRM15 No One Is Mentioning

My apologies to regular readers who haven’t seen me blog in a year. The last quarter of 2014 and the first of 2015 was full of personal problems that killed my desire to blog about workplace issues. Or about anything.  But SHRM15 is here, and it is time to take back the night! Or something like that.

TIP #1 – CLOTHING CHOICES

If you are following the #SHRM15 Twitter stream, or reading a few blogs for tips, you have probably read that you should wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater for blasting air conditioners, despite the outdoor Las Vegas heat. Good tips, BUT – no one is telling you to mind your own business when it comes to other attendees clothing choices. Until now. So quit dissing women for wearing capris or yoga pants, or carrying Coach bags. Quit snickering about men who wear cargo shorts and polo shirts. WHO CARES? Wear what you like and can learn best in – and let others do the same. I like to wear dresses and sneakers. If you have a problem with that, it will interfere with your state of mind, not mine. Let it go.

TIP #2 – DO THE WORK

I am addressing this mostly to those attendees whose employer is paying some or all of the substantial cost of attending #SHRM15: work hard and bring value back to your benefactor. Some employers need information from sessions, some will benefit most from you networking with others, and some need the scoop on vendors and products. You decide. But it is almost a certainty that laying by the pool, getting drunk at the bar, or visiting Hoover Dam isn’t helping your employer at all. It’s great to have a little fun, but be mindful of how lucky you are to have an employer who is willing to spend some money for you to be at the conference, and bring back as much real value as you can. And value is NOT cheap freebies from the exhibition floor. Trust me on this.

TIP #3 – FORGET CERTIFICATION

Hey, I’m an SPHR (although I skipped the SHRM certification for reasons not relevant to this post), so I am mindful of credits and wanting to keep the cert you have up to date. But for this conference, forget your certification and just find sessions and experiences that you will learn from and delight you. After SHRM14, I wrote about how SHRM was really trying to expand their offerings a bit to include topics and speakers that were a little new and different. Don’t choose sessions based on how many credits you think you can earn. You can do better.

TIP#4 – THANK A VOLUNTEER

Do you ever approach active military personnel and say “thank you for your service”? Do the same thing at SHRM15. This conference doesn’t run without all kinds of volunteers, and they don’t even get to attend the Tuesday night entertainment unless someone donates their ticket. Show them some appreciation, because they deserve it.