Category: #SHRM17

#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.

#SHRM17 Another Jam-Packed HR Day

Since we’re all about authenticity here, I’m gonna let you know I didn’t make it to the 7am session. My co-worker picked me up a box of Fruit Loops because she is a caring individual and I had a bottle of Coke I’d picked up Sunday morning, so the Breakfast of Champions was all I needed. Fair warning before you start reading – the things I heard on this day go much further beyond anything I could possibly explain via blogging or writing or probably even talking. It was a lot in a really, really, really great way.


Patrick Lencioni was the keynote speaker for the day and I was naive enough to know nothing about him. Turns out he’s pretty friggin’ amazing and kinda knows what he’s talking about. I had The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable on my Goodreads list after hearing a peer talk about it during a leadership forum, but hadn’t familiarized myself much more with Patrick. Big mistake that has sense been rectified! I need more knowledge from his guy and plan to gain all I can in the very near future. Here were my quick takeaways from his talk focused on How to Identify and Attract Ideal Team Players:

  • The ideal team player/co-worker/employee needs to be humble, hungry and smart. Two out of three ain’t bad isn’t exactly accurate on this one, Meat Loaf. Two out of three is also 66.7%, which is only about a solid D, according to my College Algebra teacher back in the day. We have to do better and really hone in on these three things if we’re looking for greatness.
    • Being humble doesn’t mean you need to lack confidence in what you do or what you can bring to the table. It just means you’re thinking less about yourself and that’s something we can all probably work on. The person that doesn’t have humility might be great in meetings and doing all the presenting, but deep down it’s still all about them. When the rest of the team starts to realize that, there’s bound to be a breakdown of trust.
    • You need the hunger to be there. If someone lacks the other two things we’re looking for, they’re going to bulldoze everything – their team, their leader, and anything else that gets in their way. You can see the hunger in someone by the way they always want to do more and their strong work ethic. It’s inherently who they are and is also the hardest to teach later in life. Without the hunger, you’re going to have someone that’s really great with people and truly cares about the people around them, but they’re never going to take things very far and have a hard time with that pesky commitment thing.
    • And they gotta be smart. It’s not the letters behind their name, how many books they read or how many conferences they go to all the time, even though those things are also very valuable. The smarts we want/need is more common sense with people they’re around and understanding how people might response to things. If they’re too smart for their own good and aren’t humble or hungry, they’re going to have that knack of being very good with people, but can also be arrogant and lazy meaning there’s nobody that’s really going to enjoy being around them.
  • You can work on developing your current team members, whether they’re your employees or your peers. As part of a HR department, you’re a leader of humans within your organization by default, so you’re going to need to get used to that. Go first. Be vulnerable with this. See yourself as too arrogant or just maybe pretending to be confident? (That latter is always me since we’re going first on this one…) Acknowledge that in front of your team and start the conversation that way. You’ve opened the door for the conversation and now each individual can work to identify the area where they need to improve. Once everyone’s nailed that down and the team has taken time to share it, hold each other accountable and give permission for everyone to call each other out on them. The first few times will be rough, just like any other awkward conversation, but that’s how we all grow. As a leader, it’s your job to go to someone time and time again if you don’t see a change happening because it’s important. You can’t half-ass invest in someone and expect greatness. Employees need to know where they have room to improve so they know how. It’s our job as a leader to have the courage to help them stay in their position and stay successful.


Ditch the Performance Evaluation Tool? Let’s Talk Leading Instead of Managing with Lepora Menefee.  

This is the thing now, right? I feel like I’m constantly reading something about this type of thing. I’m trying to write an annual review right now and I hate it. I don’t hate wanting to tell my employee how they’re doing – I think that’s vital. I hate having to go through an Outlook folder full of saved emails to figure out how the year was. It doesn’t seem sincere or at all intentional to me and I’m not even the one receiving the feedback. I’m always curious to learn more about why this is a great idea or a really terrible idea. And let me tell you, it tends to be one way or the other.

For me, I don’t think this particular session was what I’d planned on it being. It was much more of a session guarded towards showing leaders how to make those performance evaluations less of a chore and more of an interactive and engaging experience for the employee and the leader. There were a few ideas I still want to noodle for a while because I think they pose some great jumping off points if an organization is looking to revamp the review process, but I didn’t have any takeaways from here that I was itching to come home and implement RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.

Brand Name HR: Giving Your Function Life and Purpose with Steve Browne

Truth: I’d really been waiting for this session as soon as I started stalking the SHRM17 schedule. I’m in HR because I want to make sure people can be their best selves at work. I’ve followed Steve on Twitter for what seems like forever and am pretty regularly inspired by his approach and intention towards Human Resources. If you were there and saw someone nodding their head up and down pretty much the entire time Steve was talking, that was me. And even though he made us all stand up and yell “I love HR!” before he got started, I totally wanted to do it about four dozen times while listening to him talk. I walked away with so much to take away from Steve, including his book HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion These are only just a few:

  • How do you view and describe HR? How do others within your organization view and describe HR? I really, really doubt the answers to those two questions are going to even be remotely close to the same. They probably won’t ever match up word to word and, in my opinion, I think that’s probably okay. It’s our jobs as HR folks to at least get those answers running parallel to one another instead of at opposite ends of the earth. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to improve how I explain what my HR department is like, whether it’s to a New Employee Orientation class or to different student groups we have touring our offices from time to time.
  • Come to Me versus Intentional Approach. If employees are the ones coming to the HR department for things, we’re not doing our jobs right. We’re reacting based on each question. Yes, it could be the same question 15 times in a row from 15 different employees, but that doesn’t matter. Each person is going to need a different response because not every single person is the same, but more importantly, we should have been out there with those employees making sure things were clear from the get go. HR shouldn’t be a department that handles transactions. We shouldn’t answer a quick question about the effective date of someone’s benefits and then be done with it. We should have either been partnering with them well before that question even came up or we should stick with them until the very end to make sure they’re feeling confident about their benefits. It’s the difference between an order taker and a business partner.
  • People are emotional and we should treat them as such. Conversations, whether they’re really, really exciting ones or absolutely terrible ones, will easily hinge on emotion. Put yourself in the shoes of someone that’s meeting with their manager and/or HR. They’re probably nervous, anxious, unsure of what’s going to happen in that conversation. (This could be projecting, because before I got into HR, I was called into HR’s office with my manager and promptly fired for being terrible at selling educational software.) If tears happen to start flowing, let the tears flow. Sure, have some tissues nearby, but don’t try to placate someone by telling them “it’s going to be okay”, because you aren’t them and you don’t really know if it will be okay. Give them time to feel whatever it is they’re feeling because it’s valid. Whatever it is. It’s valid.
  • If people aren’t your foundational block, don’t be in HR. Steve could have dropped the mic and walked out right there. I think for the majority of the people in that room, that simple statement was probably a given. I don’t think it is for everyone. To me, it’s the same thing as if you don’t like math, don’t be a math teacher or if you don’t like driving, probably don’t drive an 18 wheeler your whole life. I know it’s not always easy to do what you love, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park for you or anyone else around you if you wind up doing something you hate. People have always been my foundational block and, because of that, it’s sometimes hard for me to understand the why behind people in HR that don’t feel that same way. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong I can’t figure it out. I can’t figure out Calculus, but I’m sure there’s some really great things about it, you know?


Getting the C-Suite’s Attention: Seven Strategies for Transforming from HR Leader to Business Leader with Jennifer McClure

If there was a conference where I could just sit and pick Jennifer’s brain for eight hours at a time, I would. And totally not in a creepy way, I PROMISE. I’m fortunate enough to work in an organization where it’s not a far stretch to already have the C-suite’s attention. That transformation from an HR Leader to a Business Leader is a shift I know I need (and want!) to begin to make. I’ve recently noticed that I’m lacking when it comes to strategy. While it was hard to admit that to my boss, I feel like actually saying it out loud was a good thing. I’m aware of this area I need to grow and I think by making my direct leader aware that I know that about myself just gives us a chance to gear our conversations more towards that. Point here: definitely a session I’d been looking forward to, not only because of the topic but because the speaker is someone whose beliefs I can get behind about 99.9% of the time. These are brief points, but if I didn’t make them that way, I’d go on and on more than I already am.

  • Strategy 1: Workforce Planning. I’m a recruiter by nature, but in my roles, I’ve never been the one to plan out what our workforce might look like to a larger scale. It makes sense it should involve an HR partner, because it involves that whole people thing that we happen to do. “The right people in the right place at the right time” is something we’ve heard/read 1 million times, but it’s the truth. It’s just how we get there that’s a potential bump in the road. We have to identify the people that fall into those critical roles – the hard to hire, hard to retain roles. Where does the redundancy in those roles lie? Nowhere? We’re in trouble. We either build that redundancy internally with those that are able to learn, we hire the folks that already have those skills that are high in demand and that price tag (and value) that would come along with that or we make a jump into the gig economy that’s starting to really grow out there.
  • Strategy 2: Attract and Recruit. OH, HEY, THAT. Our organization has only recently noticed we need to be more proactive in our recruiting efforts. Thinking like a job seeker instead is something I’d imagine most recruiting-type folks don’t think about and, yet, it’s the easiest damn thing in the world to do.
  • Strategy 3: Retain Key Employees. Everybody’s open to talking about changing jobs and don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. I was at my current job for just shy of three years when I got a call from a tech company that I’d applied to literally years ago for a Project Manager position when I’d never even managed much more than a Taco Bell in my life. And I’d casually hinted to the CEO via social media that I’d be more than happy to come do anything HR-related for her. Then I found my current job in 2013 and L-O-V-E it. Got a call to interview for a Director level position at this damn tech company. I had many conversations with that company, even accepted a job offer before I had a conversation with my boss as to why I was accepting it. I ended up staying where I’m at now and haven’t regretted it. Point is – your high performers, your low performers, your solid rocks that have been in place for 20 years? Don’t be so sure they’re going to slam the door in every prospective employer’s face. You gotta figure out what’s going to make them stay and it’s not always making it rain with dollar bills on Fridays. (Is that even still a thing kids talk about nowadays?)
  • Strategy 4: Develop Future Leaders. First off, remember not everyone wants to be a leader and not everyone who thinks they want to be a leader will really like it when they get there, because there’s no way to clearly paint a picture of what day-to-day things leaders do. But, as a leader, I’d sure love a set day-t0-day sometimes, man. Not all your “high potential” employees want to be leaders either. And since most organizations don’t have any type of formal process in place to figure out who those future leaders might be, it’s time to figure out how yours can get going on that. Mine doesn’t and we know that, so this one’s a big “more to come…” for me.
  • Strategy 5: Improve Engagement. I f’ing love employee engagement. I want everyone to be 100% engaged 100% of the time and I totally know that’s not ever accurate. But if it did happen, I think I’d be bored. The first thing that has to happen is to make sure your employees know you actually give a damn in who they are humans. You don’t have to go hug them, chest bump when you see them in Home Depot on Saturdays or talk about periods for them to see you’re truly engaged in who they are. You have to be genuinely interested. If you can’t find a way to do that, I might consider really evaluating whether or not leadership is for you.
  • Strategy 6: Create a Great Place to Work. I f’ing love this more than employee engagement. One thing that thrills me about where I work is how closely we each personally value our core values. I’m not naive enough to think 100% of the people feel the same way, but I actually know from a recent employee engagement survey we conducted in February that it’s pretty darn close. The reason we’ve all been able to get on the Core Value Train is because it truly comes from the top down. It’s communication, but it’s transparent and genuine communication. If your senior team isn’t open to this, well… good luck because you’ve got some work to do to convince them otherwise.
  • Strategy 7: Communicate Like an Executive. Like a BOSS is what I think this should actually say, because I’m hilarious. What I’ve learned in reporting up directly to a Senior VP is that bringing a whole list of questions is absolutely fine for some kind of fact-finding mission, but when it comes time for a final decision or a recommendation on something, just give it to ’em with confidence. Understand the “why” behind what you’re trying to solve for and make sure you can justify how your solution answers that question. Have the answers to the questions that they’re going to ask ready to go. Know you shit. Really know it. And if it winds up being a terrible action/decision, keep owning it at that point, too, and just learn from it. Learn from it and come back with another action. That’s how you get better.
  • Strategy 8: Sequester yourself away with Jennifer McClure for hours and pick everything you can out of her brain. But not in a creepy way. 

Shit. That was a day.

That night, we grabbed dinner, saw Harry Connick Jr. for about 20 hot minutes and then called it a night. We still had to pack and get ready to check out of the hotel the next day. Right about this time was when Tropical Storm Cindy started rolling into town and sleeping through that much rain was fantastic.