As I was decompressing this past weekend after an amazing week in Las Vegas with 20K+ HR professionals at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition, I began to reflect and ask myself, “what took me so long to discover this amazing annual event?” I thought about the four days that I spent at #SHRM19 and realized that I had the time of my life there, even surpassing an incredible 2018 SHRM conference, which was my first ever. This led to me write this post by tracing the path that brought me to Las Vegas for #SHRM19.
For some perspective, I first joined the Society for Human Resource Management over fifteen years ago. I was in the midst of a career change from the financial services field to human resources and felt that joining SHRM would provide me with a good resource for HR information, help me to find professional development opportunities for my just completed PHR certification exam, and to be perfectly honest, would also add a nice line to my resume. Over the years, I would eventually become involved with my local chapters, attend some local chapter and state SHRM events, but the SHRM Annual Conference was never even on my radar for many, many years, that is until 2017.
What’s the significance of 2017? As I look back, I consider 2017 to be the most transformative year of my involvement with SHRM, of my HR career, and I’m starting to now believe, of my professional life.
I attended my first “national” SHRM event in March of 2017, the SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. As a SHRM Advocacy Captain since 2012 and involved in the legislative process for some time, this conference seemed to be a good fit for my career as well as my personal interests. Although much smaller by comparison to the Annual Conference (600+ vs. 20K attendees) I was still impressed by the overall event that SHRM delivered, the sessions and speakers, and especially enjoyed the opportunity to network with peers from across the country. As a self-described introvert, this was somewhat challenging to me, but I still managed to connect with a number of people that I still maintain contact with.
Shortly after returning from this conference, I noticed that the 2017 SHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition was being held in just a few months in one of my favorite destinations, New Orleans. I looked over the agenda, considered the expense, and unfortunately I quickly came to the realization that it would not be possible for me to attend #SHRM17, but I might consider the conference in the future. (Side note: I was very disappointed when I learned that the Tuesday entertainment for #SHRM17 was Harry Connick, Jr. I’ve been a longtime fan, have seen in concert five times, and even a member of his fan club…don’t judge! 😊)
While I wouldn’t be attending #SHRM17, I did notice on the conference web page that SHRM had named a number of “HR influencers” to a conference “Blog Squad”. Having not used Twitter to a great extent, I dusted off my 30+ follower Twitter account and started following each member of this blogger team and began viewing their content in my Twitter feed. Other than LinkedIn, I had never used social media within the workplace, and this was certainly an eye-opening experience by using Twitter. This led me to a discovery of SHRM #NextChat, the #HRSocialHour, as well as a few online interactions which would blossom over the remainder of 2017.
One memorable online interaction which I fondly recall involved a post with none other than Steve Browne (@sbrownehr). I had noticed that Steve had posted a picture on Twitter of a “Magic 8 Ball” in his office. For whatever reason, I’ve had one in my office since joining the HR field, and often used it to lighten the moment, referring to it when an HR question was asked of me. (Example: Am I eligible for a raise? “Reply hazy, try again”) I replied to Steve’s tweet with a picture of my own Magic 8 Ball on my desk and this started a snowball effect in following not only Steve, but many others on Twitter as I soon realized, “Hey, some of these people are quirky and like to have fun at work just like me!”
A few months later, I attended the 2017 SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. As a new volunteer leader with my local chapter board, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to learn more about the SHRM organization and how to be a more effective leader within my chapter. I decided to start the conference by attending an optional “Advocacy Hill Day” which preceded the official conference by one day and I arrived early for the opening legislative breakfast. This event couldn’t have started off in a more surreal way for me as I entered this nearly empty, massive ballroom set up for 300+ attendees and immediately see this tall man across the room make a beeline toward me and immediately say, “Jeffery, great to see you!” I was somewhat puzzled yet in awe since I had never met this man but soon realized that it was Steve Browne! I guess I was shocked that he would both know who I was and would take time to say “hi.” (I now know that Steve knows and talks to anyone and everyone!) This was the start of an amazing conference!
At SHRM VLS, I met volunteer leaders from across the country, connected with my own Wisconsin state council members, and most importantly, quickly realized the value of networking, community and connection that existed both within SHRM and the HR profession. I left this conference with new friends, a new perspective, new energy, new ideas, and of course, an author signed copy of “HR on Purpose.”
In early 2018, I began to again look at the upcoming SHRM Annual Conference and noticed that it would be conveniently located less than a two-hour drive from me in Chicago. If I was ever going to attend a national SHRM conference, this would be my best chance! I convinced my employer at the time to cover the conference registration and I would be on my way to my first SHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition. I won’t go into the specific details of this incredible experience at #SHRM18, (if interested, you can read about that in a previous blog post, “My First But Certainly Not My Last SHRM Annual Conference – #SHRM18”) but needless to say, after attending I was hooked for life and registered for #SHRM19 a few days after the conference ended.
Fast forward to last week in Las Vegas at #SHRM19 and I’m still amazed by my personal journey of the last two years. Attending the annual conference this year was like a reunion of sorts! There were so many people that I had met at #SHRM18 and had connected with online over the past year, that I literally could not walk from one end of the convention center to the other without stopping several time to chat with people that I already knew. What a difference a year makes, especially attending the conference as a member of the #SHRM19 Blogger Team!
I shudder to think about how much I would have missed out on had I not taken each of the steps along this journey to get to where I am today. During the past two years, so many professional and personal connections evolved that it’s still hard for me to grasp the enormity of all of this. Many of these people that I’ve connected with have made me a better person, and I hope that I have been able to positively impact a few lives along the way, as well. Here is a small sample of some of these connections from #SHRM19:
In early 2017, I thought that I was a pretty well connected HR professional, I had a few local contacts that I would reach out to if I wanted to bounce some ideas off of them, but now, just two years later, I have a GLOBAL network (yes, with contacts in Canada, Australia, India, South Africa…just to name a few countries) of professionals and even more importantly, some individuals that I consider to be dear friends that are accessible for a chat, support, or a laugh whenever I need them. Had I not taken this path and journey which has brought me to where I am today, I have no idea how life would be today, but I’m guessing much emptier and certainly less fulfilling. To all those that have touched my life along the way, thank you!
I’m sure that many others have reached a similar point in their lives through similar journeys, but hopefully they arrived there much faster than I did. I can only imagine how different life might be had I started this journey earlier in my HR career. But alas, I don’t’ have any regrets, only a bright and positive perspective by remembering and cherishing the fact that I do have this community and family now, and no one can take that away from me! I only see this journey moving forward, building momentum and breadth, and ultimately making me a better HR professional and better person as I connect with my fellow friends and colleagues at our annual conference, as well as during the 360+ days in between. I hope life’s journey takes you to San Diego in 2020 for #SHRM20…you know that I will be there!