This is not your Mother’s SHRM Conference

I trust many of you are planning on attending the SHRM 2011 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas in a few weeks. Doesn’t matter what you think about SHRM, or the scheduled sessions, or the venue itself.  If you’re serious about a career in HR, you should consider this a good opportunity to develop it. I for one am thrilled to be attending as a blogger for the second consecutive year and will again wear my press pass with pride. I plan on sharing my perspective on all of the keynote speakers and at least a couple of breakout sessions every day. We’ll even do a little roving reporter stuff on the expo floor. Make sure you look for opportunities to stay plugged into the events, the content, and the people – there are a number of bloggers and Social Media pros that are planning on nourishing the stream with a bunch of good stuff from the event…day and  night.

So it ain’t cheap to get yourself out to this shindig every year…I get that. I would argue that the chance to listen to and see either one of the inspirational keynotes – especially Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington (big crush), Tony Hsieh, and Michael J. Fox – is worth the price of admission alone (see other reasons below in the ‘Comments’ section). Throw in the opportunity to do it all while hanging in the world’s “adult playground” kind of makes it hard to pass up. This is a chance for HR pros to take a step outside of their job description for a few days. We are the proverbial cobbler’s children, and taking care of our own personal and professional development is often something that falls prey to “higher priorities.” That just plain old sucks. If your company really believes HR plays a role in its success, they ought to relax the purse strings a bit. But first you have to ask! If they balk, tell them this is the only thing you want to do this year for development and remind them that you don’t get to do it often; mention that the networking opportunities alone will be invaluable to your role in strengthening the employment brand for the organization. Help them recognize that the face of Talent Management is changing more rapidly than almost any profession and this is a near perfect way to stay on top of it. Promise to bring back your learnings and share them at great length with the HR team. Let them to take a look at the program and suggest they pick a few of the sessions for you to attend. Offer to disseminate a summary of your take-aways to a wider leadership audience (and do it anyway even if they decline).  Suggest you’re willing to pay for it yourself (but only if you think they won’t call your bluff). If they say (and many will), “there are better conferences to go to – this one is too elementary,” then you should gently educate them on the contrary. Times have changed…This is not your Mother’s SHRM Conference. The content gets better and better every year. The breadth of subject matter is impressive. And there are a number of tracks which appeal to all levels in the profession – entry-level to executive.  And if all else fails*, just go to Vegas…and then look for another employer to develop your career when you get back. Why would you want to work in a place that didn’t support your attending the biggest event of the year for your profession?

If you aren’t asking for – in fact, insisting on – this opportunity, then you’re doing yourself, your colleagues, your clients, your business, and your profession a disservice (no pressure).  And if you’re too timid to at least ask, then maybe this profession isn’t for you any way.

*Don’t play the “but he gets to go to the annual sales conference” card unless you absolutely have to.

Image Credit: Eclectic Bibliophile

  • Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR

    Sorry Charlie, but I don’t buy it.

    The SHRM Conference is the “must attend” development event of the year? Sounds like the best reason for going is to meet a few famous people. Is that really worth the price tag?

    Is the message you want to send to leaders at your company, “The only development I’m doing this year is attending a conference run by an organization that doesn’t really get how to execute on 21st century competencies.”?

    I’m sure there’s some value to this conference. But I’m also pretty sure that value is not equal to the hefty price tag, and I’m positive there’s plenty of great, cost-effective and more impactful ways to develop yourself throughout the year.

    Reading blogs like this one (or maybe writing one yourself) would be a great start. Even just taking the initiative to run with an innovative project would add more career value than watching a bunch of famous folks talk about topics you can already read about for free on the internet.

    Conferences are fun, but do they represent jumps in learning that match the price tag?
    Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR´s last [type] ..Beautifully ugly design

  • Charlie

    @Chris – your comments don’t surprise me in the least. here’s an important point: SHRM bashing is hackneyed and quite frankly it typically comes from people who are “on the fringes” of the human resources community…and not necessarily engaged in building community, but rather criticizing it. sure, SHRM and its annual conference have its flaws, but it’s what we have. and like it or not, it is part (a very strong part) of our professional identity. i have seen this conference, SHRM’s presence, and their dedication to our profession mature by leaps and bounds over the years. they have a huge constituency and they have the difficult task of trying to keep a lot of people happy. when was the last time you went to an official SHRM conference, Chris? my point is that they have changed and yes we (at least those of us who are truly committed to advancing our profession, not just bashing it) are almost obligated to attend it.

  • Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR


    Here’s the thing: This isn’t just SHRM bashing.

    Sure, I believe they’re massively out-of-touch with the current state of things. Their failed social network and horrible use of tools like Twitter are two examples that immediately spring to mind.

    China Gorman was a big step forward for SHRM, but she was a short-lived exeption to the rule.

    My bigger point is not about SHRM, but about spending thousands of dollars to attend an event for a few days that has little impact on what you do the rest of the year. The most valuable part of a conference is arguably not what you learn, but the connections you make and the actions you take afterwards.

    That doesn’t REQUIRE a conference anymore. I love meeting people in person. But I think at less than $100, something like HREvolution provides far more value than a swag-filled talking-head-athon generally will.

    Learning and growth come from doing things, not from watching Tony Hsieh talk about the Zappos culture for the millionth time.
    Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR´s last [type] ..Beautifully ugly design

  • Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR

    “My point is that they have changed and yes we (at least those of us who are truly committed to advancing our profession, not just bashing it) are almost obligated to attend it.”

    Charlie, I know you that you know I’m deeply committed to improving the profession of HR. HR and SHRM are not synonymous. We don’t owe them anything.

    In fact, the exact opposite is true. As an organization whose mission is to represent the HR professionals of the world (which is itself probably an unrealistic task – another convo for another day), they owe it to us to provide value every single day.

    This reminds me of the NY Times pay wall. If you can get the same quality of info elsewhere, why would you buy it from them? Only with SHRM, there seems to be the strange sense of duty to support them and “be part of the change.”

    My loyalty is to HR. Not SHRM.
    Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR´s last [type] ..Beautifully ugly design

  • Charlie

    @Chris – 11,000 people paid to attend SHRM’s annual conference last year. Are you saying these people were brainwashed into thinking that was a good use of their money? Are you suggesting none of them are as committed to the profession as you are or that they wouldn’t understand a good conference if it slapped them in the face? i get a ton from connecting and conversing with all the HR pros in the social mediasphere, I blog, I tweet, I facebook, I focus…but I also go to the annual SHRM conference. not necessarily for the content, but for the people I meet, and the conversations I have, and the network I grow, and dots I connect, and the glimpse I get into the evolving agenda, and the support i give to our profession’s most prominent and widely recognized trade organization. and despite my support for HREvolution (which I’ve attended two years running and facilitated a track this year – I don’t recall seeing you there), the un-conferences of the world can’t advance the HR profession alone. this is not an either/or proposition…it is an and/both proposition…and I do both.

    I never said my loyalty wasn’t with HR or that it was with either SHRM or HR. I also never said we “owed” it to SHRM. I said we owed it to ourselves and to our profession…to show some support and unity for each other and our trade. I don’t go to the conference because of SHRM, I go because of HR.

  • Dwane Lay

    Gents, if I may join the fray…

    I think there is some truth in both sides of the argument. Here’s what strikes me about the comments so far.

    HRevolution -> Chris is right. WAY more impactful. If you doubt that, then just take a look at the hash tag trends. We’re still talking about it, still inspired by it, and still building on the relationships. The other side of that, though, is that it is a small forum filled with highly energized, like thinking people. If it didn’t have that kind of effect, it would be an indication that something had gone seriously wrong.

    SHRM -> Charlie, I think you have a great point about advancing the profession. That said, I’d love to hear what SHRM has done, in your eyes, to advance the standing of HR outside of the HR community. We don’t need them to make us feel better about ourselves. In fact, I would argue that one of their biggest misses has been putting some mean behind the value of PHR/SPHR/GPHR certification. Go make that work.

    The two other thoughts that have pushed their way through the detritus in my head are these.

    1) I am way more interested in some of the state SHRM conferences than that national, which I won’t attend this year. Again. I’m not sure exactly why, thought I have some suspicions. Would love to hear what you think about that, or if you think I’m off base with it.

    2) I’ve never felt like I’ve missed anything by not going to national, or by not being a SHRM member. (I am now, mostly because I’m certified and it seemed like a good investment.) Forget our responsibility to support SHRM, how does SHRM see their responsibility to me? Why should I want them in my life and want to be part of theirs?
    Dwane Lay´s last [type] ..Is LinkedIn Finally Getting In The Game

  • Charlie

    @dwane – for goodness sakes, this post has nothing to do with SHRM. it has to do with a conference that they happen to sponsor, organize, and put a lot of work into every year (do they get paid for it, of course…they should). Do I get more out of HREvolution than the annual SHRM conference? Hard to say. I think it’s interesting that you think it’s “WAY more impactful” yet you don’t attend the annual conference…so how could you possibly know. if you guys want to debate the merits and success and contributions of SHRM, we can do that with another blog series (and by the way, this topic is as old as the sun and pretty much everyone under it has written about it). this post is about getting people to a) speak up and ask that they be given the opportunity to attend the conference and b) support their profession and community by giving it a chance. it is not about supporting SHRM or some clandestine selfish agenda they have. i don’t care if it’s the AICPA or the freakin’ Screen Actors Guild – if they can find a way to get 11,000 of my brethren to commune in one place i’m going to find a way to be a part of it (and that does not make me a sheep or a lemming…just read my other stuff if you even have an inkling of that). There were 100 seats at HREvolution. Important? Yes. Impactful? Yes. Gonna get it done by itself? Nope.

  • Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR

    Charlie, I’m pretty disappointed right now. Ad hominem attacks? I thought you were better than that.
    Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR´s last [type] ..Beautifully ugly design

  • Dwane Lay

    I judge it’s level of impact based on the reverberation in the space. But, as I said, that is likely biased by the type of people who attend. I may just be hanging with the wrong crowd to feel the SHRM-itude. And I hadn’t intended to debate the merits of SHRM. So let’s put that to the side.

    You didn’t answer my question for you, though. “If you’re serious about a career in HR, you should pretty much consider this an annual job requirement.” Bold statement. Why? You said “Doesn’t matter what you think about SHRM, or the scheduled sessions, or the venue itself.” OK, then. Why should this be a job requirement?

    I reject the idea I should go just because a lot of other people go. That’s a good start, granted. But there must be something pulling you there, right? I believe in your ability as an independent thinker to make sound rational decisions and not just follow the crowd. So for the sake of discussion, let’s say I don’t feel like SHRM impacts my career a whole lot, I don’t care much for Vegas, and I don’t see anything in the sessions I can’t see somewhere else.

    Why should it be a requirement then? Wouldn’t I be better served asked for that development money to go places that I think would do more for me? Is it just important that I ask for the support, and then use it to develop myself? Or is there something special about this conference, as opposed to, say, the HRPS global conference? What am I missing?
    Dwane Lay´s last [type] ..Is LinkedIn Finally Getting In The Game

  • Charlie

    @Chris – in order for something to be ad hominem, there has to be truth in the claim. the claim I’m attacking is that SHRM doesn’t have it’s act together and that it’s charges for the conference are not commensurate with the value received. i think that claim is a terribly broad generalization, isn’t based in fact, and is irrelevant to this blog post. i’m merely suggesting it’s a good conference, it’s probably gotten a bad rap over the years, but things have changed, and one might think seriously about attending it because it’s good for personal development, networking, and the profession. and that HR people don’t take care of themselves and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask to go to it. maybe i shouldn’t have suggested it was a requirement (although, i said ‘you should pretty much consider’ – not really an absolute). but i do think it’s important.

    you attacked an institution that i feel strongly about rather than consider the underlying message to the masses.

  • Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR

    Charlie, calling someone an elitist as a way to discredit their idea is 100% ad hominem. I’m done. Have fun at the conference.
    Chris Ferdinandi – Renegade HR´s last [type] ..Beautifully ugly design

  • Charlie

    @Dwane – so i changed the sentence to read “If you’re serious about a career in HR, you should consider this a good opportunity to develop it.” I didn’t realize you would all get so caught up on “pretty much a requirement.” It’s called hyperbole…show me a blog that’s not filled with it.

    why do i go to the annual conference?

    1) there’s good content and i always leave smarter than when i came
    2) there’s good fun
    3) 11,000 people who i have a chance to meet, connect with down the road, and learn from are there
    4) it’s yet another opportunity to take the pulse
    5) there are a lot of vendors selling their wares – it helps me stay close to advances in technology, latest and greatest tools, resources, etc.
    6) it’s the flagship program of a global professional organization that i happen to strongly support; it’s a chance for me to reconnect with their leadership team and demonstrate my commitment to advancing their agenda
    7) i don’t have time to hit every conference and un-conference under the sun; this is a good one-stop shop.
    8) i get to see some people who i really admire and respect speak – not necessarily the keynotes, but the same kinds of people you chatter with in the SM space all day long.
    9) etc.

  • Dwane Lay

    I’m good with hyperbole. I’ve used it in every single thing I’ve ever written. (See what I did there?)

    I wasn’t challenging your assertion of the importance of the conference. I’m honestly asking what I was missing by not being there. I think these are fine points to make, and they are, in my opinion, far more persuasive than the list of keynote speakers.

    I especially like that #8 was turned into the cool face smiley. Has nothing to do with the content of #8. I just like that is happens.
    Dwane Lay´s last [type] ..Is LinkedIn Finally Getting In The Game

  • Kim

    Charlie, I wholeheartedly agree with your post. It was my pleasure to attend the 2008 Chicago convention and the 2010 San Diego convention. Both events were well worth my time, and I met many great fellow HR pros, including John Jorgensen, Laurie Ruettimann, Maria Perez, Eric Winegardner, Jessica Miller-Merrell, and many more.

    I met Curtis Midkiff, and I had the opportunity to have dinner with him and discuss his work with getting SHRM involved in social media. And, if you remember, I met you at the San Diego Monster Tweet-Up held at the Vin De Syrah bar (under the street, how cool was that?).

    I’ve heard criticism of SHRM in the past, and my feeling is that you basically get out of it what you put into it. Those who stand back with a “dazzle me, please” attitude generally don’t get it. But those who realize and understand it’s about and for the people actively engaged in the HR profession, then the SHRM Conventions offer unparalleled opportunities to learn and share new ideas and approaches to the field.

    Eleven thousand people can’t all be wrong, and those other people who spend their time bashing the event instead of joining in remind me of people throwing eggs at the house that is hosting the party they weren’t invited to.

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  • Dwane Lay

    @Kim -

    “Eleven thousand people can’t all be wrong, and those other people who spend their time bashing the event instead of joining in remind me of people throwing eggs at the house that is hosting the party they weren’t invited to.”

    Pure numbers don’t do much to convince me of anything, especially when it comes to behavior. Mom taught me that.

    As far as bashing instead of joining, why is it so wrong to question the value of an event or group, or disagree with someone else’s feelings? Can’t we respect each other’s intellectual horsepower and capacity for reason enough to say, “Well, you may really dislike it, but I respect it. Me, I dig it the most, so I’ll be there.”

    But your analogy of “throwing eggs at the house that is hosting the party they weren’t invited to” doesn’t quite work. Everyone is welcome to attend, some question it’s value and choose to stay home. And I’d hate to think that ANY of us are in a profession or group that discourages that kind of critical thinking.
    Dwane Lay´s last [type] ..Loud and Clear

  • Charlie

    @Kim – thanks for your comments. i’m sorry you won’t be there this year. congratulations on your new gig, though; your time is definitely better spent there.

    @Dwane – you just had to jump back into the fray, didn’t you (i expected you to)?!?! you’re wise to caution us not to go too quickly to extremes. my (extensive) experience with this topic alone, though, is that for some reason HR professionals are typically diametrically opposed. while i haven’t proven it, the two camps are those long-time traditional HR professionals and those new-generation HR professionals (or consultants). that’s probably not a fair characterization, but i see some of it for sure. for some, anything said in attack of SHRM is paramount to a “your momma” joke. i kind of feel that way…i think kim does too. my mom has her faults…like all moms…but i love her resolutely.

    i’m ok with this vehement opposition. to me it’s passion. and i think it’s gr8 we have HR pros who are willing and able to stand up and take a defensive posture. i applaud and respect those who have such strong convictions. and those convictions are welcomed (encouraged) here. this isn’t supposed to be some mamby pamby glad-handing blog.

    so i respect all of your opinions and like watching the debate. keep it up.


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