HR Conferences: Reflections of #SHRM12

I had the opportunity this year to attend the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition for the first time this year. This year's event brought nearly 16,000 HR professionals to Atlanta, GA for four days of learning and connecting, and I was honored and privileged to be among them.

For our readers who were not able to attend (and even for those who were) I wanted to share my observations and take aways from the experience.

I quickly realized that at a conference as large as this one, it is simply not possible to do, see, and learn everything that you want to, so my strategy became focused on finding a few gems of wisdom to bring back. The keynote speakers offered many:

  • Condoleezza Rice spoke about role models and mentors and encouraged attendees to broaden their minds as they looked for theirs. To her, role models and mentors don't need to look like you, they simply need to have an interest in you. For us, the Women of HR, this is a useful message. Though it's beneficial to find successful women to emulate, that's not to say we cannot learn from and be mentored by the successful men around us.
  • Malcolm Gladwell spoke of the new generational paradigm and how Millenials have a profoundly different notion of how social organizations behave. Our role as HR professionals is to bridge the gap between the Millenials' flexible, decentralized, network focused view of the workplace, and the traditional structured hierarchical view. There are benefits and drawbacks to both; we must figure out how to harness the power of each.
  • Jim Collins challenged us to aspire to be the dumbest person in the room as that's what great leaders do. As we grow and develop in our roles as leaders, one of the wisest things we can do is surround ourselves with people who know more than we do; by doing this it challenges us to keep stretching our own capabilities and mak

    es our teams that much stronger.

  • Tom Brokaw reminded us that the latest generation to enter the workforce is coming out of school with a wariness for institutions and an entrepreneurial mindset. As HR leaders we need to figure out how to welcome them into our workplaces as encourage and motivate them to their fullest potential. He also said that the 21st century will be the century of women; some say it already is. Either way, we will have increasing responsibilities within our organizations and society as a whole.

But beyond the speakers, sessions, and nuggets of wisdom, the thing that struck me the most about being in attendance at SHRM was incredible feeling of being in the presence of so many fellow HR professionals with a passion for what we do. The camaraderie was palpable, especially if you embraced the opportunities to network and took advantage of the social engagements available to attendees.

We're living in a changing world and working in a changing industry, but being there, among my colleagues from around the country and the world, I couldn't help but to feel, in the wise words of Tom Brokaw, “we're all in this together.”

If you'd like to read about other attendees' and bloggers' impressions and leanings from the SHRM conference, you can search the #SHRM12 hash tag on Twitter or visit SHRM's Buzz site at

About the author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR is experienced in employee relations, employment/staffing and training & development. She currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry and is honored to be in the company of such talented and seasoned Women of HR bloggers. Jen is a fan of happy hours, hockey, traveling and connecting with interesting people. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn as Jennifer Payne, SPHR.


About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne is a 20+ year human resources leader with a focus on researching, developing, and implementing talent management programs. She is a believer in lifelong learning and self-development who strives to stay current in HR trends, technology, best practices, and the future of work by sharing knowledge with and learning from HR colleagues and thought leaders across the country and throughout the world through writing, speaking, and involvement in various industry conferences and events.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter...