Am I the only one feeling this way…again?

head scratch

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 Responses to Am I the only one feeling this way…again?
  1. Shennee
    May 11, 2010 | 1:31 pm

    Charlie-
    It was great to have met you! I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend. It will be interesting to see what changes/additions will be added for the next one. Best wishes on your jobsearch!

  2. HRMargo
    May 11, 2010 | 1:40 pm

    Thank goodness someone else feels exactly the way I do. I am so friggin happy you wrote this post. I took the post I wrote yesterday down, because it was a little over the top. The one I repost later today, is an excellent recap of what I’d like to see moving forward. Interestingly, Laurie thanked me for my feedback. I found that really admirable. I really like you personally, Charlie. We are deeply rooted plants in the same back yard.

  3. Tammy Colson
    May 11, 2010 | 1:42 pm

    Charlie,

    I think part of what you missed was in some of the other tracks. I’ve heard your comments from several folks, and sort of experienced something different. While I agree on some level with what you are saying. There was meaty conversation in the Diversity track, in the Meaning of Work track (though I honestly didn’t know that was what it was called) and the HR vs. Recruiting track (@billboorman called it global recruiting, but i’m not sure we ever got there. I found wonderful, engaging #trenchHR people throughout the conference. And while I’ve made a decision to leave the corporate world, I still think of myself that way, because I can dive deep into immigration, benefits, workforce planning – you know… the stuff we manage and deal with, and have to think about.

    I appreciate your insight, you have a valuable opinion… and I hope it doesn’t sway you away from continuing the conversation.

  4. Michael VanDervort
    May 11, 2010 | 1:55 pm

    Charlie – first, I am glad we were finally able to connect. Secondly, I had a smilar feeling about the level of consultants versus practitioners. I woudl like to see a little more balance in that regard, or a different blend of tracks featuring handson versus theory or something.

    Cheers!

  5. laurie ruettimann
    May 11, 2010 | 1:58 pm

    Hey dude, awesome feedback.

    You know, two things: Lance and I said that we would make you feel uncomfortable. We did it. There you go. That’s the hallmark of any good keynote or closing speech. FWIW, our message wasn’t just ‘get promoted’ — although that’s what many people heard. We need people in positions of power and authority who have budget, autonomy, and can get stuff done. We encouraged people to skill up, read outside journals, and interact with CEOs and CFOs with business people and not like wussy HR folks. We want HR colleagues to take their progressive ideas and get to a level where they can make a difference. As a former VP of HR, you know that budgets and line items are controlled above the level of a HR specialist. Being a Human Resources generalist is lovely, but it only gets you so far at any company — even a company with 200 employees.

    Want to make a difference? Get in there and take over HR. And I also said, “If you can’t get promoted, act like you’ve been promoted. It’s attitude.”

    That’s a tough message, Charlie, and it can either be dispiriting or motivating. Not everyone can be the top dog in HR, but it’s a lofty goal. I don’t apologize for telling people to accept that political power in an organization is a reality. Someone needs to be the top dog. Why not you? Why not me? Why not every single gosh darn person in that room? We need to have goals bigger than implementing social recruiting tools in our pipeline. We need to take over the world. Or at the very least, we need to take over our HR departments.

    Get promoted, people. Be in charge.

    xo/laurie

  6. laurie ruettimann
    May 11, 2010 | 2:00 pm

    Also, I don’t write touchy-feely HR. I write Punk Rock HR. I talk to CHROs on a weekly basis through The Conference Board and through my consulting practice and they affirmed much of this — so I’m not crazy. Just mouthy and a little sweary. :)

  7. Lance Haun
    May 11, 2010 | 2:22 pm

    My feelings mirror yours when it comes to getting practitioners out of their bubble and leading these groups. What do you need from a guy like me (a non-practitioner) to help? Mentoring or encouragement? Scouting these folks out? Let’s do it.

    I really regret that we couldn’t dive deeper into the job title issue due to time constraints but I don’t think I did a good job of clarifying it when I was given an opportunity either. The topic simply came from an observation that many progressive HR folks reject titles and other forms of traditional business influence out of hand (and often rightly so). I think that becomes a handicap, especially in organizations where titles matter. Those organizations need transformative HR more than most. And some of those organizations (like SHRM for example) have a stranglehold on the very people we want to reach.

    So how do you break into that org to deliver? You move up the ladder, you gain respect and only then you can pursue change. It shouldn’t be that way but it is.

    It came off as a judgment of status and influence via title versus a suggestion to be subversive in organizations that required title before influence. That was as much my fault as Laurie’s.

  8. Jason Seiden
    May 11, 2010 | 2:25 pm

    Charlie—

    1. Thanks for the feedback.
    2. In times of change, it’s often the consultants—who have a bird’s eye view across companies—who see trends first. Perhaps that’s why so many of them had something to say?
    3. I probably get asked for a Fail Spectacularly shirts once a week; I thought it would be a nice thing to hand out to people who have been terrific supporters of my work. I’ll keep in mind how that came across when planning future sessions.

  9. Charlie
    May 11, 2010 | 2:48 pm

    @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

  10. Jason Lauritsen
    May 11, 2010 | 3:49 pm

    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.

  11. Charlie
    May 11, 2010 | 6:34 pm

    @Jason – appreciate the comment; and my hypocrisy is worth noting for sure. i guess i was trying a bit too hard to stay out of the way of others at the expense of not supporting the cause. and i did in fact worry about that. to put myself out there, there were times that even i felt intimidated by the company and chose to stay quiet. i can tell you i don’t feel that way often. and i know others felt that way too. now we just have to figure out how to balance it out going forward. thanks for your track…i did in fact get a lot out of it.

  12. Trish McFarlane
    May 11, 2010 | 7:15 pm

    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

  13. Joan E Ginsberg
    May 11, 2010 | 8:04 pm

    I’m really glad I got to meet and talk to you Thursday night before all of the madness began. It helped me put a voice into your post, which was thoughtful and honest.

    I have heard very similar comments from several people about limited amount of TrenchHR. I think this is something that needs to be addressed if HRevolution continues. Or maybe there needs to be a similarly styled unconference but with a more pragmatic perspective. This is part of my own in-progress blog post.

    I have also heard from other attendees about too much “promotion” from sponsors and speakers, a la your comment about Seiden. This is a tough one to balance. Without that sponsor money this event would not have happened. Period. But most sponsors want something in return – so where is the line drawn? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try – but sometimes that line might waver.

    Thanks for speaking out. That is the true unconference way. :)

  14. Charlie
    May 12, 2010 | 9:12 am

    @trish – it is largely because of you that i got outside “that bubble” and your tireless efforts related to this unconference have caused many others to do the same. if it were easy, it would be called the HRLightswitch conference and all we’d have to do is flip it. it is an evolution and some of this will come with time, patience, and encouragement. thanks for your efforts in that regard. i’m looking forward to discussing this and many other things with you as we forge our connection.

    @joan – it was great meeting you too – love your energy. thanks for all that you did to keep things flowing throughout the events. i was reluctant to mention the sponsors because they really do make a difference. i thought, by the way, Monster was fantastic. they made it fun, yet they stayed out of the way. they are good people for sure and i enjoyed having them there. it does add another element, though. and it’s just an element that needs to be considered and “kept in check.” thx for the comment!

  15. Dedra Parsons
    May 12, 2010 | 5:21 pm

    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!

  16. China Gorman (@ChinaGorman)
    May 12, 2010 | 9:56 pm

    Charlie: the clarity and honesty of your comments are rather breathtaking! I wasn’t at the unconference, but you point out something that all conference organizers in our space wrestle with: finding HR leaders/practitioners to lead sessions. Consultants — who are mostly former practitioners — have time, energy and flexibility to prepare for leading sessions — and because they do lots of public speaking, are very comfortable leading the conversation. It’s brutally difficult to identify HR pros in the trenches who feel they have the discretionary time to prepare, and the organizational will to commit the time and protect it no matter what. SHRM wrestles with this with all its conferences. A real conundrum.

  17. Charlie
    May 13, 2010 | 2:40 pm

    @China – great to hear from you and hope to catch up with you soon. I’m learning that this is a bigger issue than I thought and it’s one I’m trying to get my hands around. It seems there’s a real opportunity here and I’d like to help respond to it beyond “the pointing of fingers.” And watch out…I may ask you to get involved. Thanks for your comments, as always.

  18. Charlie
    May 13, 2010 | 2:44 pm

    @Dedra – I think your observation is so astute and if it’s the philosophy you’re applying in your workplace, your employees are very lucky. At the end of the day it is all about relationships, and community, and dialogue. It’s about listening to what you’re people have to say about what they want and need. It’s not about fancy programs, or intellectual exercises. It’s about people. The TrenchHR community at large needs to be discussing that more than anything. Thanks for your comments and observations!

  19. HR Carnival-HRevolution Style | UpstartHR
    May 19, 2010 | 9:04 am

    [...] Charlie Judy (who wore a Monster towel as a skirt for a significant portion of Friday’s festivities) made me think with his post. I have a feeling that he’s not the only one who feels this way. [...]

  20. [...] There’s been a lot of talk in the HR blogosphere lately around “TrenchHR” (HR professionals actually practicing in a corporate environment – private or public) needing to get more active in publicly promoting, advancing, and influencing the practice of Human Resources (See HR Capitalist, HR Whisperer, CareerLifeConnection, FistfulofTalent). The perceived imbalance between what we hear from outside consultants/pundits and what we hear from those in the trenches appears to be the impetus to this trend’s emergence. I’m not here to argue one perspective is more important than the other; but I’ve been preaching the dangers of this imbalance to the profession for quite some time. [...]

  21. You No Longer Have an Excuse... | HR Fishbowl
    September 30, 2010 | 1:59 pm

    [...] over whether the “unconference” is more effective than the traditional conference; and some have complained about the prominence of sponsors, vendors, and those generally selling their wa…. I have my opinions about all of these things, but who the hell cares!? One thing is for sure, [...]

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