And What Do You Do?

My wife and I are expecting are second child together sometime in late December/early January, so we’ve been to a multitude of different doctors in the last several months, both pre-pregnancy and normal prenatal stuff. Normal prenatal stuff for parents in their late 30s/early 40s is a lot more involved than parents that are below what medical professionals deem “geriatric maternal age”. Some doctors are nice and replace the word geriatric with advanced, which is something we don’t quite hate as much. “Advanced” in school meant you were smarter than people, didn’t it? With all these visits, they always ask my wife what she does, then ask me what I do. It’s happened twice so far.

The first time:

CNM: And what do you do, Wendy?

Me: I’m in Human Resources.

CNM, with a slightly tentative tone to her voice: Oh, here at (insert name of clinic)?

Me: Uh, no. For a credit union.

CNM: Well, somebody has to do it, right?

Yep, someone totally has to do it. And I do it every day and I really love doing it. Those are the things I wanted to say. And then I wanted to say, “Yeeeeeah, and someone has to do your job, which I would never want to do because health care? That’s a big ew for me, ma’am.”

The second time:

X-Ray Tech: And what do you do, Wendy?

Me: I’m in Human Resources.

X-Ray Tech: Ohhhh.

It’s funny/not funny really. I never thought I’d want to be in Human Resources up until I was actually in Human Resources, but here I am. And I’m not going anywhere, so I’m gonna have to work on making it sound a little more exciting to people that don’t quite get the same excitement towards HR that I do.

#SHRM17 All Wrapped Up

I say #SHRM17 is all wrapped up and it almost sounds like I’ve put all the Christmas decorations in a box and put them in that closet in the basement that I only go on once a year. That’s definitely not the case. It’s more like the ornaments that have fallen off the tree, either by way of cat or toddler, and hung out in the living room with us all year ’round unbeknownst to any of us until the aforementioned cat or toddler manage to find them. (Note: add “awesome at analogies” to resume.)

I’m still referencing notes and slide decks, sometimes quoting the speakers I heard (with appropriate attributions, of course), listening to podcasts (which I’d always avoided in the past), asking questions outside the walls of my office, reading blogs and Twitter with intention and not because I’m bored. I loved HR before. That’s why I stay in it. But I feel like I LOOOOOOVE HR now, even more than I thought I could.

Did I just manage to get lucky in the sessions I went to? Did I just accidentally stumble upon this group of people that feel like my kindred HR folks? Are there constantly little HR Jiminy Crickets sitting on my shoulder all the time and reminding me that it’s important to be intentional as opposed to provide some immediate rapid response? I don’t know and I don’t even really care. I came back from this conference feeling motivated and inspired and all of those words that most people walk away feeling from things like this. And I also felt like I was coming back to my same job and my same company with a new sense of purpose and abilities I might not have realized I had six weeks ago.

I’ve been back for over a month. Life has been crazy because it always is. Work has been crazy because, hi, HR. My kitchen is clean right now, which I feel like is notable. (I’m also using this as documentation, documentation, documentation in case my wife doesn’t believe that I did actually clean the kitchen. Most of it anyway.) I finally managed to put together summaries of my days there, including most of the sessions I went to. There were a few where I didn’t really feel even remotely equipped to summarize the takeaways, because new ones are continuing to pop up.

Here they are, listed by day:

  • #SHRM17 Bound: I literally wrote this on the first leg of our flight to New Orleans, somewhere between Minneapolis and Atlanta.
  • #SHRM17 Upon Arrival: Arriving in New Orleans and making myself “network”, which gave me a great start to this whole conference.
  • #SHRM17 The Conference Commences: New Orleans, Kat Cole (so much love), more “networking”, more New Orleans.
  • #SHRM17 A Full Day: Otherwise known as The Day I Met All of the HR Blogging/Tweeting People I Love, with a subtitle of “and also learned HR stuff”.
  • #SHRM17 Another Jam-Packed HR Day: Most of my favorite sessions had been strategically scheduled on this same day.
  • #SHRM17 The Final Countdown: Soaking in every last bit of knowledge and a hell of a lot of rain thanks to Tropical Storm Cindy.

 

The Annual SHRM Conference was leaps and bounds more inclusive, comprehensive and enjoyable than any other conference I’ve ever attended. Truthfully, that’s not comparing it to a lot, but I’m cool with that. This experience has completely revitalized the way I look at my own HR skills and my own leadership skills. I’m trying to decide if I have the intestinal fortitude to get the 2018 Annual SHRM Conference approved this early in the game, because I really enjoy saving money, but I also can’t imagine not being back in 2018 in Chicago. I gotta hang out with these people again!

#SHRM17 The Final Countdown

Last day. Super bummed when I woke up, too! I felt like I still needed to learn more and more.

The closing session with Laila Ali didn’t start until 8:30, which was awesome because it meant the hotel breakfast was actually an option for us instead of the dozens of free breath mints I’d picked up from the various vendors. We checked our bags at the hotel and jumped on the shuttle to the convention center for one last time. Yep, I did say Laila Ali. You didn’t read that wrong. Boxing, reality TV, HR – it’s all really the same.

I’m not going to try to pretend that Laila Ali was the best speaker I’ve ever heard in my life because she’s not, but I also don’t think she’d be surprised if I said that to her… but she’s a really, really good boxer so I might not say that to her. Hearing her story and the different types of changes she’s had to make in her life, both personally and professionally, to get to where she is today. She tried to tie it into HR a couple of times, but it was a pretty tough stretch even though there are some days where I have wondered how often managers might consider hand-to-hand combat instead of approaching difficult conversations. The short of the message I felt like she brought to the table was something like this: Life isn’t easy. Things get in the way. You make your own path.

Of the course of the conference, it was fascinating to watch how more and more of the attendees became more comfortable talking to each other as they trekked across the convention center. Some of that might have been because we’d all been seeing each other for the past four days, either in sessions or somewhere in the French Quarter. I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of those people had taken something away from what they were learning in different breakout sessions or maybe even by following #SHRM17 on Twitter where they were hearing the repeated theme of PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE. Either way, I think if the conference would have lasted for a couple more days, we all would have been BFFs. That’s what HR professionals do, right?

There were two more sessions to wrap up the day before heading back to real life.

 

How to Deliver Bad News and Build Trust at the Same Time with Andrea Howe and Gary Jones

First off, Andrea Howe (co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust) and Gary Jones present really, really well together. I think this topic is something that everyone wants to master in about five seconds, but I think we all know that’s not how we get better at harder things. Anyway, Andrea and Gary were engaging, they drew the audience in with partner activities that aren’t painful  and I really appreciated the way they applied things to examples that actually made sense. I also took three pages of notes and have already referenced some of the takeaways in a couple of work situations of my own. This is my one big takeaway, which is also broken down into four parts, but also the four biggest reminders to keep tucked away for those difficult conversations/bad news:

  • There are four main problems with delivering bad news. While I can think of about 3920 more problems I have with delivering bad news, here are the four that problem work for everyone:
    • It’s uncomfortable. This makes us naturally not want to have these conversations, because they are terrible and horrible and nothing good will come of them. Not true, but it’s still something that lingers in our brains. We also have the fear that having these conversations will hurt what trust we have. And really, it might, but it’s still the right thing to do if anyone is going to succeed. Candor is important. (More to come on candor because I’m obsessed with this podcast and still want to read Radical Candor.)
    • Conventional wisdom really sucks. Being objective and factual at this moment in time is fine, but you have to remember there’s more to it than that. You need to lead with vulnerability at this moment in time if you expect the other person to do the same way. Don’t automatically jump to answers and provide all of the solutions and tell them everything is going to be “just fine”. You’re not the one sitting there getting the bad news, dude. Let them have a moment to react and process. When they’re ready for answers or next steps, then you get there. They need room to react and, really, they might not really care about the solutions you’re ready to provide after getting that bad news from you. You need to be okay with that, too. You’re a human, they’re a human. There’s no difference.
    • It’s a tug of war. Ooh, what about a difficult conversation with – GASP – someone above your pay grade? Whaaaaaat? Oh, it’s gonna happen and the delivery might even feel even worse depending on the type of relationship you have with senior management. The thing is, the people that are in those senior management positions have probably had to have difficult conversations, so they’re going to know where you’re coming from. You might have to deliver bad news to your boss because you skipped a big part of something you were supposed to do. Major suck. But when you own it, admit your mistake, fall on your sword, whatever you want to call it, it’s one more step in getting better at this bad news thing. And then you learn from it.
    • People are watching. Oh, man. They sure are. From an HR perspective, I absolutely know that there are people who watch when someone walks into our office and waits to see what kind of expression they have on their face when they walk out the door. If that person walks out shell-shocked or in tears or full of rage, everyone else that sees that person for the next hour is going to feel that in some capacity. It could be co-workers, customers, other managers, you name it. That’s a hard thing to avoid and that’s why I’m glad my HR team doesn’t handle those conversations in our office and why we partner with our leadership team to handle them on their own. It’s my belief that a direct manager is going to have a much better way to address their own employees than HR.

 

There was a second session. I don’t remember the name of it. Probably because there was a tornado warning five minutes after it started and our entire session got evacuated since the room we were in was against a wall of windows. I grew up in tornado country and don’t get too worked up about tornados. People in New Orleans get even less worked up. Here’s all I have from that last session. I call it Die Hard HRing in an Interior Hallway. SHRM emailed out the presentation and the actual session itself since most people weren’t able to find room in any of the overflow rooms, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.


We had lunch. Took a Lyft to the hotel to get our luggage and to the airport. Flight had been delayed an hour but we got home before midnight. I just wanted to get home by 9am the next day to go to our unborn baby’s ultrasound.