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You Are My Best Teacher

If you haven’t had the fortune to attend one of the three HR Evolution Conferences (Un-Conferences), you’ve missed out on some serious game-changing in the realm of Human Resources. The 2011 conference was held this weekend in Atlanta and it was nothing but the real steel deal. The networking, the knowledge sharing, the expertise, the dialog, the debate, the venue, the food, and the fun were enough to put it up there as one of the very best in Talent Management conferences. Set a Google Alert for “HR Evolution” and keep an eye on it. And then as soon as the details for the next one are announced, go out and buy yourself a ticket. You’ll figure out how to get there and how to pay for it later. Just buy the damn ticket.

This was my second HR Evolution, but my first as a track facilitator. Mary Ellen Slayter, General Business Senior Editor at SmartBrief, and I offered an “HR Slam” workshop for roughly 40 of the attendees. For an hour, the participants mixed it up in a real-life case study designed to help a real-life small business respond to their real-life issues.

The problem. Privately-held regional restaurant chain that is bleeding talent, about to lose pretty much all of its management team, and particularly bleak about their prospect of dealing with these issues in both the short and long-term. The owner needed some counsel on how to deal with her staffing challenges while also developing a more valuable career proposition to keep her existing employment base connected, committed, and engaged.

The solution. Six teams first convened separately to develop their recommendations. Then each presented to the entire group while having to withstand the scrutiny, questioning, criticism, and even admonishment (no tomatoes were thrown) from their peers in the room. It got hot in there, but civility and respect prevailed. And some really thoughtful and innovative ideas surfaced in the process.

  • Quickly reach out to the local Community College that has a Restaurant Management program to engage a couple of its students to take on interim  management roles at the restaurant – maybe even partner with the college to create a practicum over the long-haul.
  • Design, in short-order, a management crash course or boot camp for several of the “high potential” line employees and give them at least the trial opportunity to take on a management role in the interim – maybe move them into a permanent role if they succeed in the trial.
  • Implement a lucrative employee referral program to rapidly green-house qualified candidates…and to engage employees in the business.
  • Work closely with a third-party recruiter to launch a social media “blitz” and heighten the region’s recognition and awareness of the company’s employment brand.
  • Explore the interest and opportunity for the owners to designate a portion of their equity in the business to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or some other long-term equity based incentive program.

The lesson. What’s cool about these and all the recommendations we heard during the session is that they will actually go straight to the owners in support of their current plight. Hopefully they’ll actually be able to leverage some of it. For those who participated in the track, though, the value came more from the exercise itself. We learned – or were reminded of – the following.

  • Before formulating your answer, gather facts and ask lots of questions.
  • Don’t always go straight to your trusty quiver or tool kit; one size fits all solutions don’t usually work with highly dynamic issues.
  • Think outside your realm of expertise, and bring a bunch of other experts to the table to help you with that.
  • It’s hard to design comprehensive HR solutions without also thinking about the marketing, finance, operations, and IT ramifications.
  • Collaboration and consensus are not necessarily the same things.
  • Often the best answer is the easiest one.
  • Finding the best answer is only half the battle. The harder half is sometimes convincing others it is the best answer.
  • It’s a ‘slippery slope’ to try and solve for problems that aren’t really there. Stay focused and on-point.
  • We – as a profession – really do care about helping people. And we show a lot of passion as we do so.
  • Cinco de Mayo is either on May 5th or May 6th (sorry, inside joke)
  • We have a lot to learn from one-another…

I can’t wait for the next HR Evolution…I really can’t. In the meantime, I’ll draw on these and so many other lessons my peers taught me this week.

Image Credit: Unbridled Talent LLC

  • Dwane Lay

    Great recap of a great session. I’d love to see us do more like that going forward. Maybe a rotating virtual session!

    I’d love to hear what kind of response the ideas get.
    Dwane Lay´s last [type] ..So- What Did We Learn Today

  • laurie ruettimann

    Great session and great presenters. You guys owned the room. Good job.
    laurie ruettimann´s last [type] ..hrevolution- progress- and the future of HR

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  • Tom Bolt


    To restate the title of your blog post, you are my best teacher! And all the other bloggers who are sharing the HREvolution experience with us. I’m also taking your advice to “just buy the damn ticket” because I waited too late this time. It’s funny how conflicts resolve themselves when a plan is put into place early. So when my conflict evaporated and I discovered I could not buy the ticket, I found myself hungrily scarfing up all the blogs and tweets I could gather. Thanks for this example. Or should I call it an Un-Example?

  • Steve Boese

    Loved your and Mary Ellen’s session Charlie and look forward to hearing what the ‘client’ thinks about the solutions. It was great to see you and many thanks for being such an important part of HRevolution.

  • Miri McDonald

    What a cool and useful exercise! Will you be blogging about the client’s reaction to the proposed solutions and also how it goes when they implement them? I’d love to hear about it!

  • Charlie

    @Dwane – so glad you sat in the session – your passion added a lot to the debate. i think there are definitely some stuff we could do to improve the session and tweak the approach, but i see this thing having broader application. i love the idea of getting the actual client in the room to brief the team on the issue and then have them leave while it’s debated. more to come…

    @Laurie – as always, it is a pleasure to share some space with you. you very much make this profession go round, my friend.

    @Tom – we missed you and hope to see you at one in the future. i’m glad to call you one of my virtual professors.

    @Steve – you guys got this thing going on for sure. incredible production by you, Trish, Ben, and Crystal. so glad to have been included and look forward to so much more.

    @Miri – yes! we’re in the process of transmitting the recommendations to the owner of the business and will gather her feedback along the way. will keep you all apprised. thanks for asking.