Tag Archives: Unconferences

Should Executives Embrace Social Media?

This was originally posted on the MonsterThinking blog on July 29, 2011 found here.

As business leaders, we’ve always known our customers talk about their experience with us.  Sometimes it’s good…sometimes, well, not so much.

Ten years ago, heck, five years ago, if we really cared about what our customers were saying to their families and friends about their experiences with us, we sent surveys to find out what they were thinking, feeling and saying.

Today?  Well, we’ve got the social web to provide a ready and steady stream of information about what our customers, employees, competitors, stockholders, investors, vendors, suppliers, analysts, employment candidates, neighbors and random strangers are thinking, feeling and saying about our organizations.

In fact, there’s so much information flowing that new departments within the customer service, public relations, sales, marketing, human resources, legal and investor relations divisions (and sometimes in all of them simultaneously) are being created to monitor what’s being said by whom and to figure out what to do about it.

With all the noise, with all the new tools (it’s not just Twitter and YouTube anymore), with all the organization attention being paid, why should an executive enter into the world of social media – beyond their personal LinkedIn account and FaceBookpage?  Here’s one executive’s story:

When I was leading SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management, with more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries) as its Chief Operating Officer, I became aware of a pretty large group of very smart, very active and leading edge HR professionals who were quite vocal about their disdain for the organization.  They were talking with each other through various social and new media tools and had accidentally (I think) created a community that I thought of as the “anti-SHRM gang.”

But here was the thing:  they were terrific HR leaders and consultants.  They were experts in the field.  Many were certified by the Human Resource Certification Institute.  They were active in learning and sharing their knowledge as mentors and coaches – formally and informally.  They were great!  Many of them are future Fortune 500 Chief Human Resource Officers.  And except for their anti-SHRM sentiments, they were just like SHRM members…with one major exception:  they were experimenting with and diving head long into the world of social media.

It was very clear to me that these were just the folks SHRM needed as members at the national level and leaders at the local level.  They included all the age demographics – this wasn’t just a GenX thing.  And they were writing blogs, hosting and participating in internet radio shows, innovating ways to use Twitter – all in an effort to create a community of like-minded professionals.  (They were also innovating ways to use social media applications to make their practice of HR more effective and efficient.)  And I couldn’t get them out of my head:  I wanted them involved in moving SHRM forward.

So I took up the challenge and created a Twitter account.  Because I wanted to be transparent about who I was, I chose the handle @SHRMCOO (now @ChinaGorman).  I wanted to let them know I was lurking.  I would ask questions from time to time and I re-tweeted comments I found interesting.  And I began to comment on blog posts that I thought were controversial.  But mostly, I listened and responded with lightning speed if anyone asked me a question.  In short, I listened.  I didn’t try to “tell” anyone anything.  I didn’t try to recruit new members.  I didn’t try to sell conference registrations.  I simply engaged in order to learn what was on the mind of these future members.  And I learned a lot!

The bottom line is that I made myself available in a transparent way to engage with our customers and potential customers.  And although I was just one executive at the world’s largest HR association, the symbolism to the full HR community – members and nonmembers alike – was powerful for our organization.  This community began to see SHRM in a new light.  “If a SHRM executive was engaged with social media, maybe this isn’t my father’s/mother’s HR association after all.”  And several of them joined and began to get involved.  That was good, and I’m glad for that, but what was most important was to hear their voices, understand their issues, and engage them in conversation.  We enlarged our community not by being willing to embrace the uncharted new world of social media but by taking advantage of a new source of business intelligence that informed us about what was on the minds of our audience.  And so we grew in relevance.  A good thing that created lots of benefits for the organization.

Does social media pose organizational risks?  Absolutely!  But to ignore those in-the-moment opportunities to engage a new or current customer, save a former customer, support an employee or just see a new way of thinking about your products or service puts your organization at a competitive disadvantage.

So go ahead and put together your LinkedIn profile and begin to populate a BeKnown network on FaceBook.  But be open to the richness of data available throughout the social web – and don’t just rely on your PR and marketing teams to report their findings to you.  It means so much more when you engage yourself!

China will be speaking at Talent Net Live on July 29 in San Antonio, TX.  Her track, Is Engagement the Antidote for Turnover?…Well, Maybe promises to be a lively session in which she’ll listen a lot!

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Two Sides of the Conference Coin

I had the great good fortune to attend two HR conferences last week:  HRevolution in Atlanta and Bersin & Associates’ IMPACT: the Business of Talent in St. Petersburg, Florida.  HRevolution was a one-day conference; IMPACT was a two and-a-half day conference.

IMPACT was about introducing new research focused on HR effectiveness; HRevolution was focused on discussing HR’s opportunities to transform itself.  IMPACT is a traditional conference; HRevolution is an unconference.  And both were outstanding.

130 activist HR professionals descended on Atlanta on Friday afternoon.  This was the third HRevolution unconference organized by Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Steve Boese and Crystal Peterson, a team who wanted to provide an alternate HR conference experience to those who couldn’t afford the big ticket conferences and who wanted a community energizing experience to kick-start their learning.  The HR activists who attended this week came from all over the world, from all walks of HR life and who were bound together by the relationships they have created on the social web.  Yes, there were tweeters, bloggers, FaceBookers, LinkedIners: all manner of social web inhabitants.  All there to solidify their relationships in person and take their online discussions to a deeper level.

While billed as an unconference, HRevolution was more of a highly-participative structured conference.  An opening keynote by Liz Gottung, CHRO of Kimberly Clark started the day with a frank overview of HR’s opportunities and goals in a legacy-burdened, paternalistic culture.  Her candor about her leadership challenges was motivating to the attendees who then made their way to a series of breakout discussions on topics like “If HR is so bad, what you doing about it?” “Pop Culture, Politics, and HR”, “Diversity and Inclusion = Innovation in the 21st Century” and “Designing HR for Influence.”

Few of these sessions used PowerPoints and session leaders – discussion leaders, really – expected  attendees to jump in to the discussions at hand.  And they did!  It was fun to sit with Courtesy of Monster30 or 40 other knowledgeable HR-related folks and debate topics like “If a high EQ is so desired in leaders why do such a high proportion of CEOs have low EQ scores?” and “what is influence and how can HR professionals develop more of it?” and “why do we insist on creating activity-controlling policies for flexible workers when we should be focusing on measuring outcomes?” and, well, you get the point.

One particularly engaging session, “HR Slam,”  broke the attendees into groups and asked them to solve an actual business problem provided by the session leaders.  A small, family-owned chain of restaurants is experiencing sudden and unexpected turnover in its small group of managers and asked for suggestions on how to move through their crisis.  The group with the most compelling and complete set of recommendations won $50 gift cards, so the competitive juices were flowing.  The restaurant chain owners ought to pay attention to the advice that was generated:  it was remarkable.

The toughest criticism I heard all day was that there were too many great sessions led by too many great leaders to pick which sessions to attend.  I felt the same way.

At the end of the day, HRevolution was a success because it was flawlessly planned and executed, the attendees came to play, the session leaders engaged with their attendees, and a spirit of camaraderie pervaded the space.

IMPACT introduced several new Bersin & Associates research reports by its analysts, all deeply knowledgeable and engaging speakers.  The research overviews were impressive, presented in actionable bites and gave the attendees just enough information so that the value of the full reports was crystal clear.  Made me want to go home, get on their website and download everything they’ve got.  And I am doing just that.

Additionally, IMPACT featured a number of in-the-trenches HR leaders who shared what was happening in their organizations on such topics as the use of social media in strategic staffing (AT&T, Actuant, Darden), re-building HR as a critical business performance asset (UnitedHealth Group), improving organization effectiveness by creating a robust HR analytics/business intelligence function (Eaton, Accenture), successfully leading organization change (Kaiser Foundation, CA Technologies), and transforming business through learning (SunTrust Bank, Thomson Reuters, The Cheesecake Factory, Teradata Corporation, Cisco Systems).

Sponsors of IMPACT, solution providers, were provided a large Demo Room to set up tables and engage with attendees.  It was a sort of genteel expo, not the usual frenetic tchotchke-laden expo hall.  Quite enjoyable, actually.

I really enjoyed all the built-in opportunities to network with the other attendees.  There were 3 receptions and robustly timed lunches and breaks.  The whole conference experience was designed for 450 senior HR leaders (they sold out and turned away 40+ more!) who don’t need a lot of noise and hoopla to engage, discover and learn.  I did all three.

So.  Two great conferences.  Two great experiences.  Two different audiences (although 3 of us were at both).  I really appreciate that there are many options for HR professionals to come together and learn.  I like seeing the trend of HR professionals reaching out for what they need in new ways – and conference organizers responding with new kinds of experiences.  There truly is something for everyone.

My only complaint?  Sponsors at every conference I’ve attended this year have raffled off IPads.  I haven’t won any of them.

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The King of All Social Recruiting

    You know how Howard Stern is the King of All Media? 

     I now declare Bill Boorman King of all Social Recruiting.

I’ve just returned from TruLondon, a social recruiting unconference.  It started on Wednesday with a day of Master Classes – unlike any Master Classes you’ve attended.  These were 45 minute sessions led by experts on topics ranging from Global Diversity (one of the sessions I led) to HR Challenges to  Personal Branding to Case Studies of Rackspace, Hard Rock Café and Zappos (another session I led).  The session leaders presented prepared remarks for 10-15 minutes and then opened the floor to questions and discussion.  Three sessions, sometimes four at a time, gave the attendees a real smorgasbord of learning and opportunities to engage.  Thought leaders and practitioners from all over the world attended, although the U.K. and the U.S. seemed to represent about 85% of the crowd.

On Thursday the real two-day unconference began and the meetings rooms overflowed with energy, expertise and passion for social recruiting.  TruLondon was, quite simply, a happening. 

A couple of words about Bill Boorman, the self-described conference disorganizer, and host to all the track leaders, sponsors and attendees.  He’s like the ring leader at the circus.  He keeps the lions at bay, makes the elephants behave and keeps the horses jumping through flames of fire – all while delighting the crowd.  If the timing isn’t quite as posted, if the speakers’ topics change at a moment’s notice, if a speaker doesn’t show:  no matter.  Our genial host was out in front ensuring that everything ran smoothly.  And it did.  In a manner of speaking.  Because the focus was on engagement not precision of operations.  I rather liked that.

Bill collected an incredible array of talent and expertise from the global social recruiting scene to lead sessions and to participate in the discussions.  In fact, it was hard to tell the experts from the attendees:  everyone was energized and passionate about connecting, learning and sharing.  It was less of a conference and more of a revival meeting.

From my perspective attending TruLondon provided a rich and meaningful experience:

  • I met many social recruiting experts from all over the world with whom I’ve connected through social media but never met face to face
  • I learned so much about the intersection between recruiting, social media and technology – especially what’s happening that’s innovative and bleeding edge
  • I have a much greater understanding about job boards and their role in the employment cycle (thank you, JobSite!)
  • And I have a sense that the confluence of global talent needs, the recruiting function, social media and technology holds great promise for organization leaders as we create sustainable strategies for managing our talent and our talent pipelines
  • And, it was in London, my favorite city in the world

Bill’s Tru Unconferences – coming to a new city every month this year – need to be experienced.  If you are a recruiter – internal or third party, if you are an HR professional, if you are involved in talent communities, heck, if you just want to hang out with smart visionaries and talk one-on-one with thought leaders in this space, you should attend a Tru Unconference.  But come ready to share, to engage, to network, to connect and to participate. 

And leave your notions of what a recruiting conference should be at the door.

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TRU London: Here I Come!

I wrote a lot about HR conferences last year because I spoke at a lot of them.  And because some of them are changing their approaches to engaging their target audiences.  And because I learn a lot at HR conferences.  And because people who attend HR conferences are among the best in the profession.  And they’re fun.

I’m pretty excited that my 2011 HR conference experience is starting next month in London at TRU London 3.  Did I mention it is in London, my favorite city in the world?  Bill Boorman, founder of the TRU unconference movement, invited me to be a track leader as well as to lead a master class prior to the start of the event. 

While I’ve been a speaker at HR conferences that bent the rules (see my post on RecruitFest! last fall), I’ve never actually participated in a true (no pun intended) unconference.  So I’m really looking forward to this. 

I’m not sure what to expect as a track leader, but I’m gearing up for great discussions, divergent points of view, a truly global perspective, and the chance to hear from people way smarter than me about the latest approaches to recruiting.

My master class is going to be focused on tying engagement to recruitment.  In Turning Back the Tidal Wave of Turnover I’ll provide some of the most recent engagement data from leading organizations like Gallup and BlessingWhite and lead a discussion about what the data means as organizations start losing employees to the improving economy and start hiring again. 

I expect to learn a lot from that discussion as well as from the interactions with a great group of track leaders that include thought leaders like Craig Fisher, John Sumser, Laurie Ruettimann, Glen Cathey, and many more big thinkers whom I have not yet met.  Here’s the website to check out the other leaders.

So here’s the deal:  join us in London February 16-18 for TRU London 3.  Sign up here and make your reservations today.  I can’t imagine a better spot to be in the middle of February – or a better group of people with which to learn. 

And did I mention that it is in London?

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Re-imagining the Conference Experience

 I speak at a lot of HR-related conferences.  I started this as part of my job responsibilities when I was Chief Operating Officer of SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management).  Supporting SHRM state conferences by being a keynote speaker was a great part of my job.  It got me (and by extension, SHRM) close to our members in a very personal way and was useful to create stronger relationships and to know what was on the minds of our members. 

 And through my SHRM experience where the very talented Meetings & Conferences department was part of my responsibility, I know a lot about the mechanics of putting on successful conferences for as few as 200 and as many as 20,000 attendees.  While the execution is extremely challenging, the formula for success has been pretty simple:

  1. Contract outstanding and well known keynote speakers that motivate people to attend.  (Typically these folks fly in to speak and fly out after their book signing.  They have almost no personal interaction with the participants.)
  2. Offer a wide range of breakout/concurrent sessions focused on knowledge development and skill building.  (These sessions are led by content experts and experienced practitioners who focus on practical applications in traditional classroom style.  PowerPoint presentations abound.)
  3. Engage a set of high profile corporate sponsors to underwrite the conference so attendee registration fees can be kept low and sponsors’ visibility is high.  (The sponsors are kept at arm’s length so the programmatic content isn’t “tainted” by the commercial nature of that relationship.)
  4. Create multiple networking activities so that people can connect in person and carry those relationships forward.
  5. Select an attractive and affordable city and conference/convention venue.  (The focus is on making the participants comfortable in the physical surroundings.)
  6. Execute a strong plan to market the conference to the universe of potential participants.  (Most conference organizers use traditional marketing methods.  Some have stuck a toe into the social media marketing world; most haven’t figured out how to do that yet.)

 I had the privilege of participating in last week’s RecruitFest! in Boston organized by RecruitingBlogs.com and Monster.  And it’s clear that the effectiveness of this conference has the potential to change how conferences are conceptualized and experienced going forward.  In fact, I might go so far as to say if other conference organizers in the HR space aren’t paying attention to what these folks accomplished, they may well be selling buggy whips next year when they go to market. 

 I have to hand it to Eric Winegardner at Monster and Jason Davis, Miles Jennings and Ashley Saddul at RecruitingBlogs.com for having a startlingly new vision and risking it all to try something substantially different in the world of conferences.  These folks went way beyond “thinking outside the box” and “pushing the edge of the envelope.”  They re-imagined the experience from top to bottom.  Let me give you some examples.

  • There were no keynote presentations or concurrent sessions.  It was a series of important conversations between thought leaders.  Unrehearsed, substantive, sometimes controversial, sometimes argumentative, and always informed and thoughtful, these discussions between two, three, four and five experts explored issues and practices that matter to business leaders and talent management professionals.
  • The thought leaders were asked to participate in the entire day – in fact the day started with each of the 12 of us giving a brief overview of the reasons we were participating and our particular point of view; the day ended with each of the 12 of us sharing what was the most impactful learning we experienced during the conference.  Additionally, each of us participated in one or two of the live discussions and asked questions of our colleagues in the other discussions.  We also were part of the studio audience so we were seated side by side with the live audience throughout the day.
  • There were almost no PowerPoint slides.  Really.  The focus was on having real discussions and exploring different points of view.
  • Participants were encouraged to weigh in and agree/disagree or ask questions.  The comments came from the studio audience where a microphone was available as well as from the remote participants via telephone, Twitter and a chat box on the RecruitFest! Live web site.
  • The focus on the “participant experience” covered both the live attendees and the remote attendees – with an emphasis on the experience of the 3,800+ remote attendees.  The technology employed to ensure a rich remote experience included a 3-camera video team, a web site that offered the live stream, a chat box and question box, and the call in telephone number.
  • The sponsors were all involved in creating the experience.  They suggested speakers, they participated in crafting the discussion agenda, they were in the audience and participated in the Twitter stream and through their blogs.
  • The marketing was almost exclusively conducted through social media:  Twitter, blog posts, FaceBook pages and LinkedIn updates.  In a matter of 2 weeks the number of registered attendees grew from just over 100 to the nearly 3,900 participants (from 38 countries).
  • The venue was more TV studio than conference classroom venue.  The newly re-constructed Paramount Theatre (part of Emerson College) and stage gave the conference a look and feel that felt contemporary and useful and made the live streaming feel natural. 
  • The entire day was recorded and will be shared with anyone who would like to experience this next step in the evolution of conferences.  (Click here to enter your email address so you may receive the url.)

 Although it was a tremendous and exciting experience, it wasn’t a perfect experience.  Clearly the financial model needs some more thought.  And the studio audience could have been engaged even more.  But I have to tell you, after managing conferences, attending conferences, and being a keynote speaker at conferences, this was more fun, more engaging, more interesting, more exciting and more impactful from a learning perspective than any other conference in which I’ve played a part.  And I’ve been involved in a lot of conferences. 

 So again.  Kudos to the Monster and RecruitingBlogs.com organizations for stepping off the precipice into the future.  They’ve created something remarkable.  I can’t wait till the next RecruitFest!

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What’s an unconference like, anyway?

 

I’m really getting jazzed about RecruitFest! in Boston on October 7th and 8th.  RecruitingBlogs.com has put together a track leader line-up that looks outstanding, Monster is the big sponsor, and it’s Beantown!  How much better could it possibly get?

I have a sense of what an unconference is like and I’m eager to experience it for the first time.  I’m expecting lots of smart recruiting and talent management professionals to roll up their sleeves and dig in to some really important topics with energy and passion.  The power of focused, collective experience to generate new ideas can be awesome.  Hope we get some of that going.

 Here’s what I hope we don’t do:  have the same endless and pointless discussions about whether HR is ever going to get a seat at the table (man, I hate that phrase), or whether recruiting should be part of HR. 

 I hope we focus more positively…more hopefully…more meaningfully on what we actually can do differently to impact the performance of our organizations.  I hope we focus on what is in our power to control:  our intentions, our behavior, our risk taking.  Because if all we’re going to do is lament our lack of power and our inability to catch the eye or ear of the CEO we’ll have wasted precious time and energy. 

 I’m interested in having conversations that change behavior, that improve performance and that make us (whoever we are) more powerful.  That will be a great investment of time and energy.  That will be a great unconference. 

 Are you with me?  If so, then you should click here and register right this minute!  Because if you register before the end of the week, you’ll get a discount (use the code “chinagorman”) and you also might win the Monster VIP hotel package!  What a deal. 

I hope you’ll join us, roll up your sleeves and contribute to two days that really could change HR.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

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Covered Over by Conferences!

I’m looking for a job.  So I’m networking.  A lot!  People in my network and in the networks of my network are so generous with their time and their referrals.  I’m very grateful. 

Most of the people I’m talking to are in or around the world of HR.  They’re either HR pros themselves, or they sell to HR pros, or they support HR pros in some manner.   They’re steeped in HR.  And many of them ask me a variable of the same questions:

“There are so many conferences aimed at HR people.  Which ones should I attend/sponsor/support?”

And you know what?   They’re right.  There are tons of conferences aimed at HR pros.  Let’s just start with SHRM.  There are 5 national/global conferences (not counting the leadership conference just for volunteer leaders).  Then there are the state conferences.  Some states put on conferences every other year; most put on conferences every year.  Let’s call that 40 state conferences a year. 

Then ASTD has a big national conference and 3 regional conferences.  WorldatWork has a big conference in the U.S. and at least one other big conference in Europe or Asia Pacific.  ERE has a bunch – 8 or 9 this year.  I have to mention RecruitFest! put on by RecruitingBlogs.com (more on that at the bottom of this post). 

But if you do cursory research you’ll find a list like this:

    AHRD International Research Conference in The Americas

    Benefits Forum & Expo

    CUPA-HR Annual Conference & Expo

    Engagement and Retention Conference

    Advanced Employment Issues Symposium

    Government Talent Management Summit

    HR Star Conference

    Jacob Fleming HR Conferences

    Learning and Development Conference

    National HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo

    Annual HR Technology Conference & Expo

    People Report Best Practice Conference

    IHRIM Conference and Technology Exposition

    Onrec Online Recruitment Conference & Exhibition

    World Human Resources Congress

    Worldwide ERC’s Global Workforce Symposium

 And these don’t include the up and coming unconferences, like HREvolution, or the bigger for-profit organizations like AMA, The Conference Board, etc.

 So what’s a person to do?  How do you manage your professional development investments to achieve the most appropriate outcome for you and your organization?

 Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you think through the complexity and variety of the offerings:

  1. Are HR Certification Institute recertification credits important to you?
  2. Is there a specific issue in your organization that, if you became more expert and returned with practical learning, you could improve or solve?
  3. Do you want a traditional conference experience or do you want a more participatory experience?
  4. Do you like smaller, more intimate learning environments or do you prefer the energy of hundreds of learners?
  5. Do you want a global orientation or a domestic orientation?
  6. Do you want theory or practical application?
  7. Do you want to be inspired and motivated or do you want to roll up your sleeves and learn new concepts and their applications?
  8. Do you want access to the speakers while you’re in attendance?
  9. Do you want to travel or stay closer to home?

Truly, there is something for everyone in the world of HR conferences.  Each conference organization has its own approach and style.  Most offer recert credits; some don’t.  Some conferences focus on one issue or area of learning; some cover the HR waterfront.  Most offer the traditional conference experience; some are experimenting and engaging their attendees in new ways.  Some will register as many as want to attend; some are beginning to limit the number of attendees.  Some have a global orientation from both content and speaker perspectives; many are domestically oriented by default.  Some feature academic presentations; others offer the practical application side of things from practitioners.  Some offer inspirational and motivational sessions to keep you mission-focused and energized; some are only focused on skill development and knowledge transfer. 

This may help you organize your thoughts as you sift through the ever growing number of choices you have.  Of course the big issue is your budget and the cost of attending.  More HR pros are having to chip in their own money to attend the conferences of their choice.  At the same time, it’s getting tougher and tougher for conference organizers to improve the conference content and experience without raising the price.  But trust me:  they’re all trying to do just that. 

So be discriminating.  Make sure the content meets your objectives, the learning style fits your personal preferences, the other attendees have something to offer, and that the total cost is within your budget.  Be thoughtful in your selection.  And be sure to provide honest and timely feedback to the conference organizers.  They desperately want your critical feedback!

Along the line of budget management and conference attendance, here’s a great deal!  If you’re considering attending RecruitFest! in Boston October 7-8, 2010, my readers can get a discount on the registration fee.   Early bird pricing ends on August 31, so now would be a good time to go to www.eventbrite.com/event/657023174 and register.  When you use my name – chinagorman – in the discount code box you’ll receive a 10% discount (including multi-ticket packages!).   Not a bad deal.  RecruitFest! is being sponsored by our good friends at Monster, so you know it’s going to be a great experience.   I look forward to seeing you there.  And if you attend one of my tracks, engage!  Be controversial!  Let’s get the conversation going!

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