Am I the only one feeling this way…again? | HR Fishbowl | HR Fishbowl

Written on May 11, 2010 by Charlie in #TrenchHR, HR Profession head-scratch-7284550

I said  to myself I wasn’t going to write a post about HRevolution 2010 and I’ve been resisting as much for the last three days.  I figured by now it would have all been said.  But it hasn’t so I can bite my tongue no longer.  Let me start by getting three things about the whole event out of the way: 1) It was awesome, 2) I didn’t meet one person who wasn’t really bright, thoughtful, passionate, and fun, and 3) If you didn’t go this time, make sure you do next year. Although I am currently unemployed, my entire career has been spent providing HR leadership in a corporate environment to small and large organizations alike.  I’ve often referred to HR professionals operating in that environment as #TrenchHR – professionals who are actually on the ground (and in the trenches) caring and feeding for employees every day. Many of you who read this blog are from that realm.  I’ve maintained for a long time that our voice is too soft, that we need to be more aggressive in getting our perspective out there.  I thought – and hoped – we would have a stronger voice at HRevolution.  But sadly we heard more from consultants and vendors than we did any one.  Consultants and vendors (with a few exceptions) facilitated the tracks, they raised their hands most often, they interjected their wisdom whenever they could.  Now I didn’t speak up much at the conference myself.  I actually set a goal for myself to just listen.  I have a history of being a bit too active in these discussions and wanted this experience to be different for me.  But sitting there I realized that it would have been really tough for those people to get a word in edgewise.  Rarely would they have had the chance!

Now don’t get me wrong – these guys are brilliant, they are charismatic, and funny, and fun, and really are passionate about the HR profession.  They make a difference in our industry and most of it is really good stuff.  I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to learn from them and hope more of that will come.  But for goodness sakes, just shut it for a while and listen to what others have to say. And when you talk to us, check the attitude at the door. Laurie Ruettimann (a.k.a Punk Rock HR), for example, told us in her closing remarks that one of the best things we could do to move the HR agenda forward was to “go out and get promoted.”  I love Laurie and I follow her work religiously, but is she serious on this one?  I’m sure she made all the HR Managers in the room feel really confident – guess what guys, your word doesn’t stand for much ’cause your title isn’t impressive enough. Talk about not moving the HR agenda forward. Jason Seiden took every opportunity he could to plug his book How to Fail Spectacularly.  I’ve read the book and like it.  I’ve given copies to my team and promote it whenever I have a chance.  And I think Jason is one of the coolest guys out there, I’d work for him if he’d have me.  But come on, man, tone it down for a little while. Jason Lauritsen lead an entire track with flip charts and venn diagrams and he talked to us like we were in elementary school.  I know he didn’t mean to; he really is a smart guy and I liked what he had to say.  Here’s the kicker for me, though:  As he was reflecting on the HRevolution brand, he explained that when he considered going to the first conference in 2009 he didn’t think it was “for him.” Read into that what you will.  He went on to tell us that his perception of the brand changed, however, “when [he] heard that Jason Seiden was getting involved [in the 2010 conference.]”  Hmmmmmmmm…..

And so much of what was being prophetized by these guys was really interesting, but entirely impractical to most.  Who the hell leading an HR practice out there has the resources – the people or the budget – to devote attention to this stuff?  “The beauty of the unconference format [after all] is that it is designed to leave you with practical, useful knowledge because [you’re] actively engaged in the discussion from start to finish.” I guess I just pictured smaller groups of HR practitioners, more open discussion, energetic debate, and meaningful dialogue around making an impact on our people and doing so with pragmatism in mind.  No, that doesn’t mean I want an SPHR certified curriculum.  But I would have liked the opportunity to hear from the people who are actually living and breathing the application of HR in the field every day; and I just don’t think the environment was conducive to that. Adding sponsors and lofty visionaries takes your “unconference” to a different place.  And that place looks a lot like most of the other places we’ve been.

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21 Comments – Leave a comment!

  • @Shennee – ditto. let’s keep the live conversation going.

    @Margo – i’m not very good at stepping away from the computer before hitting ‘send’. and i’m glad we share a dissenting opinion every now and then.

    @Tammy – thanks for clarifying that there were in fact other tracks. in fact, i was going to specifically mention the diversity track – i had a chance to overhear some of that and it seemed more like what i expected. so i should caveat this all by saying there were close to twice as many tracks to attend than could be attended.

    @Mike – thanks for the validation. there is definitely a fix here and it most likely sits somewhere in the design and structure. i would still want every one who was there this time there next time. it’s just more in how we converse.

    @Laurie – i don’t argue with you that we need people in high places and that those people typically have a greater influence on the profession than “the masses.” but your saying “get promoted” to them is like me saying “get a job” to you. you’re suggesting they don’t have credibility and can’t make a difference until they do. and i think your suggesting that to this particular audience – particularly as parting words – is misplaced, albeit well-intentioned. but WHAT you said is not really the point. i’m merely pointing out this misfortune: the traditionally loud voices once again drown out the traditionally soft voices. I was just hoping it would be the other way around…

    @Lance – i like the idea of putting a concerted effort into “reaching out” to this group. i struggle too with how best to do that, but would enjoy the opportunity to kick around with you a bit. thanks for your contributions to the event.

    @Jason – i know you had nothing but the best of intentions. and i of course love the t-shirt…i was one of the first to grab one! the consultant’s birds-eye view is crucial to these conversations. i’m just saying it should only be one of many parts of the conversation. and while the others have an obligation to “speak up,” i think it’s harder to do that when the visionaries are at the front of the room or standing up more often than not. we only need to be mindful of that going forward. thanks

  • Charlie,

    First let me say that I’m sorry that we didn’t get more time to hang out at the event this weekend. I love your perspective and I would have enjoyed chatting more. I live and work in the trenches of HR and I left feeling some of the same way that you have expressed.

    I’m also sorry that my session came off that way. I struggled with how to get that conversation teed up and clearly the approach I tried didn’t connect for you. Thanks for the tough love. It’s been a while since I’ve been slapped good and hard. I needed it.

    My one comment to you is that I find your comments to be a little hypocritical. The design of the unconference, as I understand it, is to create a shared learning experience where we create content together. The effectiveness of my facilitation or topic aside, you are complaining about there not being more HR practitioners at this event, and yet you chose not to engage in the conversation. I understand wanting to listen more, but you were one of the people with the very perspective we needed more of and you decided to hold it back.

    Next year, I promise to try to do better on my end. I hope that on your end, you will come in with both guns blazing.

  • Charlie, I’m glad you came to HRevolution and you know I value all the good comments as well as the criticism. As someone in the trenches of HR every day, I will argue that I am surrounded by HR pros who are doing nothing but working inside the bubble of the company they are in. It’s been this way for years. It wasn’t until I personally got out of that bubble and started interacting with a few innovative HR pros, consultants, recruiters, pundits, CEO’s, CFO’s, etc that I began to expand my world view of work.

    So, while I agree that we can and should TRY to get real life practitioners to lead, it’s really challenging because most that want to do it are doing it with a FAT powerpoint at a SHRM conference. I definitely welcome you and other trench HR to join the facilitator ranks at HRevolution. There should be no reason your voice isn’t heard. Thanks again. T

  • Charlie –

    Having not been at HR Evolution, but being a trench HR/HR department of one, I love your enthusiasum to get conversation started about those true daily HR items (and there are many).

    During my HR career I’ve never been afforded anyone to share the load of HR responsibilities. I feel that trench HR is about being with the employees, listening to their concerns, needs, ideas, fostering those solid working relationships between them and their supervisors, as well as all those compliance “whatchmacallits”.

    I think my frustration comes from those bigger HR departments who seem to make every effort to separate themselves from the employees. Why? Just my opinion…that is what gives HR a bad rap in many cases.

    Again…love the posts…keep them coming!

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