If I Was Running A Company…2009 SHRM Conference

For the record again, I did not attend the 2009 SHRM Annual Conference.  I was at home with other HR pros looking through to Twitter to see the trends in our sector.  There are a plethora of sites mentioning the SHRM Conference here and here.  Here are my outside observations:

  • SHRM likely knew attendance will be low and the mood be more pessimistic.  Coming out of the conference, there is a ray of hope, but the question remains can SHRM follow-up?
  • The HR Bloggers panel and Jack Welch were the main attraction at SHRM (By the way, best wishes to Jack Welch on his health).
  • Was there any buzz from the other sessions?
  • There was no “State of SHRM Address” from new SHRM President Lon O’Neil.  Not a great first impression.
  • China Gorman is Bizzaro Dick Cheney.
  • Social media has change the landscape of business and conferences.  SHRM was no exception.
  • New Orleans was hot and sticky.
  • The word, tweetup, was encouraging for the people in the Big Easy, but painful for those who didn’t attend.
  • Lots of mentions of food and shops.
  • People still collecting too much swag.

Overall, it seems like SHRM is heading to a new direction, but where is it going?  A few points I want to make:

Future Conferences

SHRM needs to adopt to a three-tier price plan: the people who actually attend the conference (full price); the people who couldn’t attend the conference but want to be interactive (watch, discuss, argue in their homes) (10-15% of the full price), and the ones who look through Twitter and a couple of videos (free).  People have said teleconferences are the way to go since people can stay in their office/home to watch the conference.  However, the face-to-face aspect makes people curious to attend these conferences more.


I’m fine on how SHRM pick their location for their conference and people have different agendas in different cities.  I would expect people would love New Orleans.  One of the reasons I didn’t attend the conference was I hate the heat and humidity and that would be any stickler point to any conference or vacation, in my case.  Next year, the conference will be in San Diego and I want SHRM to have package deals with the city (sports teams, amusement rides, parks). Imagine several San Diego packages: a ticket to a Padres game, SeaWorld and Shamu, go north to Los Angeles for a day, go south to Tijuana for a day.  Okay the last one is a stretch, but it does bring an attraction to some who want to go to San Diego next year.

Of note: if the cycle continues for SHRM, 2011 would be in Washington D.C. Imagine the wonderful possibilities for SHRM package deals: White House tours, monument tours, a round of golf at Congressional…after the U.S. Open is played, Nationals baseball (they’re going to be respectable… just not now), NPR tours, meeting Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, the Safeway Barbecue competition (it did coincide the last time SHRM held their conference in D.C. in 2006 and I intentionally put that event there because I know some HR people are meat-lovers), and if SHRM can make a deal with the NHL…the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in Washington D.C. so people can experience how HR works through all 30 teams.  Yes, it is D.C. bias, and that is why I’m trying to save money for 2 years for this moment…if SHRM decides to return to D.C.  I know they will be hesitant after D.C. was hit with a monsoon that last time, but can a guy dream?

Conference Structure

In 2005, SHRM had a brilliant setup of a roundtable of HR professionals in their industry to discuss what they’re doing.  Sadly, only 5 people showed up.  It could of been time (the roundtables were at 7AM Pacific (10AM Eastern)), people were shy talking about their practices, or I have that affect on everything I touch.  The point here is SHRM missed a great opportunity of building that from 06-09.  Now, with the popularity of “unconferences” and panels, SHRM needs to change its structure.  SHRM can still have sessions to hone their craft, but people also want to discuss their company’s issues, how to solve it, and carry back to their respective company.  Which leads to my final point…

The Overall Point of HR

I agree with most of the blog posts that SHRM is too centralized.  To add to that, all HR professionals need to realize HR is a skill.  HR professionals join SHRM to practice, develop, “cheat,” and hone their HR skills either in one or multiple areas.  What SHRM needs to do is how do we use these gifts.  If you think about it, SHRM is really a union headed by Lon O’Neil and China Gorman and they tell us what should we vote, what should we lobby to benefit the HR profession.  The problem is in my opinion, SHRM is looking at the profession as a one size fits all.  What SHRM needs to do is decentralize and segment by function and by industry.  My pet peeve about some HR professionals I asked is they think HR is the same in every job in every sector and I think SHRM has brought that mindset to their members.  That is why I think SHRM needs to create sessions tailor for professionals who are interested in working with government, nonprofits, private sector, telecommunications, or other sectors specifically.  Each individual has a different agenda and SHRM needs to embrace that more.

In the grand scheme of things, HR is the most versatile function in business since HR deals with recruiting, training, marketing, some form of finance, some form of communication, some form of technology, and others.  Basically, if HR is taking seriously to be innovative and creative, SHRM must give us not one, but numerous pathways to make that happen.  SHRM has the tangibles with their resources, but can they give us the intangibles?  That question remains to be seen.

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  • I don’t think the conference will be returning to DC. Too many problems with hotels and transportation. I’m hearing it might be Atlanta.

  • @akaBruno I think you’re right and it’s unfortunate. DC still has transportation problems and the 2006 Conference was a mess because of mother nature. Although, I can still dream and SHRM can change their minds 🙂 For the record, Atlanta would be nice, I have a few friends there and a few HR tweeps we know, so it’s a good deal…although the NHL Entry Draft should be coincide with the SHRM Conference.

  • Things.

    1. Like Bizarro Jerry? That’s such an awesome episode. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bizarro_Jerry

    2. I can see how the tweet-up would be painful. It’s sad to see a bunch of people get together, but I think it’s painfully boring to watch people tweet about it. It’s like being on a diet and watching people eat ice cream. You can’t have it, you don’t get to have it, and you don’t really want to watch.

    3. Atlanta? I object to the heat but I like the idea of putting these conferences near airport hubs. St. Louis would be a nice city, actually.

  • @Laurie

    1. Anything Bizarro: Superman, Jerry, etc

    2. I have seen people doing that more and more after the DC Twestival I attended. It’s something we have to get use to.

    3. I don’t mind Atlanta because of the many friends we have, but the heat is always a dealbreaker for me. St. Louis might be something I might be interested.

  • I have it on good authority (I asked @SHRMcoo because 2011 is the first year that I expect to be able to attend) that SHRM 2011 will be in Vegas and SHRM 2012 in Atlanta. I also understand from my husband’s active participation in our other professional association (ASIS International – for security professionals) that there are only about 5 or 6 cities that have a large enough conference venue to handle the size conference that SHRM and ASIS generate, so that limits the options.

  • @ndslotnick Well, that stinks. If it’s Vegas in 2011, count me out. Now a fan of heat and basically I was going to gamble when I go to Vegas.

    Atlanta might be hot, but I do have a few friends, plus Stephanie, Jenny, and Kris are there so it might not be that bad to attend. Just hope it’s in D.C. for my benefit…if they changed their minds 😉

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