I have always loved to listen to colleagues when they return to work after attending a really good conference. It’s especially entertaining when they’ve attended with another in the same organization. Their talk around the office is littered with the language of a newly-found cult, and references foreign tongues that lead others to wonder what exactly they ingested with the conference Kool-Aid. They try to summarize in 2 minutes what they spent 2 days learning, and they usually butcher it. They occasionally smile at each other, wink, and maybe even develop a secret hand shake or fist bump. What is sometimes apparent is the mystical impregnation of energy and urgency to make a difference in the organization. This is all good. Over the past week, I’ve become one of them.
The question quickly turns to just how long that renewed faith will endure. We are a skeptical lot by nature, and we’re convinced that the once-converted will be re-assimilated into the culture of our reality. For many that isn’t very long. So what does that mean for nearly 800 attendees of Illinois SHRM 2011 who left a great conference full of spirit? Or maybe that was full of too many spirits?
This post is NOT a recap of the themes and key learnings to come from Illinois SHRM 2011. Others have already written some great posts: Mike Vandervort; Josh Rock via HR Schoolhouse; Geoff Webb ; Susan Avello; and Illinois SHRM . I encourage you to check them out.
Instead, I have spent the last week reflecting on the conference experience from a very personal perspective. Illinois SHRM is the first HR conference that I have attended. After more than 12 years in the profession, I have finally joined the larger HR community. I even stood and testified with hundreds of other HR professionals on Drury Lane, and that was several hours before any actual spirits.
SHRM’s social media guy, Curt Midkiff
cornered engaged several conference attendees as they left the final session, and asked them to sum up their experience in just one word. The word that came to my mind was “community,” which I stole shamelessly from conference emcee Charlie Judy. As Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen discussed in their keynote address, the ability to influence anything in HR (and in life) is dependent upon the relationships that we develop with others.
I understand that this is not rocket science, especially for HR pros. But, the ability to develop these relationships has reached an entirely new level, which is something many HR pros still don’t get. The strongest motivator for me to attend this conference – outside of an outstanding agenda – was the opportunity to meet dozens of people with whom I had connected on social media. Let me say that another way: my first step into the larger HR community was through my decision to get involved online. What had only been virtual connections prior to the conference have transformed into personal relationships since. What I didn’t anticipate was that the personal relationships that were born at the conference can now be nurtured through continuing dialogue online.
If you are introverted by preference, then please take note because this may be the only useful part of this post: Start making connections to other HR pros online! What others don’t understand about us is how painfully difficult it can be for us to participate in large social gatherings (i.e., conferences). If you are not introverted, let me say that these situations can suck the life out of us.
Already having connections before the conference did not entirely resolve this introvert’s curse, however it did provide a great foundation to navigate my way through the social blender. What I found interesting is that even the short fits of maladroit, mental withdrawals did not escape the notice of some veteran HR professionals. What was impressive was their willingness to call the question, and to make sure that I was doing okay. The answer was, “yes.” Don’t mistake silence for disinterest. And, thank you for making the effort to show that you care.
Spirit and Community
Back to the original question – yes, I do have a point. Why do so many professionals lose their energy, passion and spirit only days or weeks after returning from a great conference? Hypothesis: Because they lose their connection to the community of people with whom they shared that learning. It is not the ideas of the conference that generate the emotional conviction to return home and create change. It is the spirit of relationships and community that energizes us to want to take on the hard stuff, and to want to make our organizations better. I plan to stay connected.
While nobody in my organization knows what to make of the Freak Flag that is flying outside of my office, I take great comfort in knowing that there are almost 800 other Freak Flags flying across Illinois, and a few other states. Oh yeah, there is at least one flying in Canada too.
*Insert Secret #ILSHRM11 Fist Bump Here*