June 27, 2011

SHRM National: Cirque de Soleil and the Important of Failure

The SHRM National Conference opened with a bang. Even though I was standing in line waiting to register when the conference officially opened, the Twitter stream kept me in the loop. I heard something about a Cirque De Soleil opening act and Lady Gaga but I could have just been in mind melt-down from the ridiculousness that was the registration line. I was a bit peeved that I did not receive my registration packet in the main, even though I registered for the conference more than 6 weeks in advance, but I tried not to let that get me down. The line moved relatively quickly and, even though there had to realistically be over 150 people in line by the time I got there, I was done in under an hour. All other things considered, this conference seems to be pretty well planned. There are lots of signs thought-out the convention center, the volunteers are easy to spot in their bright orange shirts and they are very friendly and helpful. Each room had a large sign outside displaying the available sessions and times, and SHRM even had an iPhone/Android App to keep up with all of the various sessions, the Twitter stream, speaker BIOs, etc. So, kudos to SHRM for trying to make this a well-organized event.

In terms on the conference itself, the opening general session with Sir Richard Branson was good, although I enjoyed hearing from SHRM CEO Hank Jackson even more. CEO Jackson is very inspiring and motivating. Hearing him speak about the future of HR and the future of SHRM was enlightening. Hank Jackson was announced as the CEO of SHRM during the opening session, which I’m sure had to be a powerful experience for Mr. Jackson. He spoke about how, even in times of recession, SHRM membership increased and is now stronger than ever, further reiterating what we all know…the importance of SHRM and the HR profession. The only annoying part of his session was some of the PowerPoint slides, which were totally unnecessary and actually detracted from his presentation at some points. SHRM did a great job though of making sure that all 14,000+ attendees were able to hear and see the presentation. With over 8 large screens though-out the session space and broadcasts in the social media and press lounge, you didn’t have to worry about finding a good seat.

Sir Richard Branson’s interview session was a bit of a let-down. I was extremely interested in hearing from him. As a matter of fact, he was one of the main reasons I really wanted to come to this year’s conference. But, instead of letting Richard Branson speak, they formatted it into a Q&A session. Because of this, I don’t think the general public truly got to hear the brilliance, dynamism, and charisma that is Sir Richard. We were able to pick up various tidbits of insightfulness though. Branson spoke about how leaders need to allow their people to fail, to give them room to make mistakes, because through this, you learn and grow and excel. He spoke about how he surrounds himself with brilliant people, even if they themselves do not see the brilliance within. For example, the former Janitor and Switchboard Operator at his company are now leaders within the organization. Once again proving that title and rank do not define us and we all have the opportunity to make a difference, a real impact within an organization. One other nugget of knowledge that he left us with (or at least me, as it resonated) is that he has no more than 100 people in any one of his locations. He does this to enforce an environment of collaboration and recognition. Everybody knows everybody, their strengths and their weaknesses and this, he said, makes for not only a better working environment, but also a much more success focused organization. So, again, while I would have rather heard him just go out it, mic in hand, if you listened closely, you would have been enlightened by the wonderment that is Sir Richard Branson.

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