There is always a sense of melancholy that overcomes me when a long-planned event comes to pass. And in those quiet moments of reflection, I start to deconstruct what happened, itemize what I wish I could have done better and define what I’d like to see for the future. After this past weekend’s HRevolution event in Chicago, this is exactly the process that’s keeping me awake at night.
It’s both simple and complex.
First the simple part — Approximately 130 human resource professionals, recruiters, pundits, consultants, executives and industry representatives converged on Chicago for an ‘unconference’. This meant a fun venue conducive to freeform conversation, an agenda emphasizing facilitation over lecture, and the freedom for attendees to make this experience their own. Like last year’s inaugural event, we all came with a different set of expectations for what we wanted to occur, who we would meet, what would be said and what would happen next. The bar was set high (perhaps too high) but minds were open and hearts in all the right places. Because of the gracious support of a variety of sponsors, the event only cost $100. Based solely on the standing ovation during the closing session, my sense is that most attendees felt like they received many times their fixed cost in value.
Discussions ran the gamut of the profession itself. These included branding, benefits, diversity, devices, recruiting, influence, behavior, learning, generations, technology, community and the future of HR. Since no one wants to read a 5,000 word post I’m going to skip the details for now. For the sessions I personally attended, I found people generally respectful to one another (although not always), including the right to disagree and/or voice their opinion. If you didn’t like a session, you were able to vote with your feet without anyone taking offense. It was a fluid, dynamic and unique experience.
As for the complex part — Change is painfully difficult and highly personal. The pacing is too fast for some and too slow for others. Public disagreement is uncomfortable with some voices loud and dominating over those who are soft yet serious. In the whirlwind of moving from room to room, conversation to conversation, session to session, we sometimes forget to pause and take stock. We’re frustrated and can’t explain why. We’re impressed but don’t know what to do. We simultaneously analyze and paralyze. And then as we get on our planes and board our trains we wonder whether it was worth all the pomp and circumstance.
I think it was.
What I Could Have Done Better
I was fortunate to have a senior role by serving on this year’s planning committee. This included a wonderful team of people you should know (if you don’t already), including Jason Seiden, Trish McFarlane, Steve Boese, Ben Eubanks, Crystal Peterson and Joan Ginsberg. These are passionate and dedicated professionals who decided to add to their already full plates by volunteering to organize an event whose primary reward is to leave the audience hungry for more. I’m proud to have served with them and admire their dedication and selflessness.
After last year’s event I questioned whether this is an HR evolution or HR revolution. Frankly, I’m still on the fence. My sense is that last year’s attendees would have hoped for more revolutionary talk whereas the new folks preferred an evolutionary approach. Which brings me to two things I could have done better.
First, I neglected to realize just how foreign the concept of mediated conversation is to both presenters and attendees. We are trained from a young age to show up on time, take our seats and listen to the person in the front of the room speak to us. As we get older some get comfortable raising their voices during the appropriate time and begin to confidently share their own wealth of knowledge and perspective. But we’re not trained or really even encouraged to do so, and as time goes on and we enter the professional world, the behaviors of old are simply reinforced. As speakers, the problem is frankly a bit worse as many lack the skills or training to extract insight or action as opposed to imparting one-sided wisdom.
So picture yourself arriving in a largely unstructured environment that is the antithesis of most everything that has come before. It’s scary and definitely doesn’t feel safe or even appealing. We missed an opportunity to make this easier on people. The good news is that now I know this is something to be addressed.
As for the second item, it’s a personal one. When you agree to jump into the fray and help organize it comes with a sense of responsibility and accountability that I take very seriously. As a result, I missed a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with those I admire and respect. Despite the hectic melee I should have taken the time to stop and meet each and every one of you. I didn’t do that enough and for that I’m sorry.
What The Future Holds
There have been a number of terrific posts on the event and it would be difficult for me to call them out here today. Fellow organizer and HRevolution co-founder Ben Eubanks will be hosting a Carnival of HR dedicated to all the HRevolution posts on May 19th. Be sure to read what others have said (good, bad or indifferent) about their experiences and perspectives as this will inform your thinking about what’s next.
HRevolution has a number of decisions to make and each one has serious implications for the movement. Do we try and build larger events with more attendees and offer more tracks to keep the sessions small? Should we take this on the road and hyperlocalize to cities and counties around the world? How about dividing by functional area? …size of employer? …topic(s)? Do we imbed HRevolution into traditional conference settings to attempt to offer an alternative for individuals who are attracted to the format? The permutations are seemingly endless and your feedback is strongly encouraged.
HRevolution exists for no other reason than to change the lens through which we view our roles and responsibilities. No one is going to hand you the answers so you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work necessary to break through the norm. It’s not for everyone and that needs to be okay. Those who disagree with the approach or find it unappealing have a right to voice their constructive criticism. A movement based on embracing the voices of all cannot suddenly quiet those in dissent. It’s counter to a healthy dialogue that improves the experience for everyone.
I leave you with the same feeling I had last year. I’m excited but dissatisfied. I see a need for this type of venue and sense a growing appetite for something new. I see discontent among those who have paused long enough to question the norm and feel their desire to effect positive change. I personally intend to fuel the flames in a constructive way and welcome your thoughts. No one can do this alone but we can do it together. Thank you once again to everyone who participated and let’s keep this extremely important conversation going.