Each November, SHRM has welcomed volunteer leaders from each State Council and from local chapters of all sizes to gather in Washington, DC to participate in what was known as the SHRM Volunteer Leaders’ Summit (VLS). I was fortunate to participate in my first SHRM VLS in 2017 as a chapter leader. As an emerging leader at that time, it was an amazing experience for me to meet so many committed SHRM leaders at this event.
Fast forward to November 2019, and I had the opportunity to attend this event, now as a leader from my Wisconsin SHRM State Council. We were told by SHRM that the event was “changing” to reflect the current direction and vision of the organization. The most notable change being the name of the event being changed to the Volunteer Leaders’ Business Meeting (VLBM). The name change would demonstrate that our gathering would be more aligned to the Regional Council Business Meeting, where state council leaders meet to engage and strategize with SHRM to together chart a future course for the association.
While I only have one previous Volunteer Leaders’ Summit under my belt to compare to, I immediately noticed a different “vibe” with event. There seemed to be more “energy”, more “flash”, visible and consistent branding, and an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for volunteer leaders throughout the event. While I cannot adequately document all that took place at this meeting, I wanted to share with you what were the five biggest takeaways that I left this meeting with.
SHRM is Moving at Warp Speed
I continue to be amazed at how quickly SHRM has evolved since my first VLS in 2017. It was during that meeting in 2017 that we were all introduced to the incoming CEO and President, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. At that time, we had no idea what to expect, but even during his first address to SHRM Volunteer Leaders, we knew that it was no longer “business as usual” for SHRM. Over the course of the past two years, the most noticeable change has been the overall visibility of SHRM. Through television commercials, marketing and media events, and various partnerships; more and more people now know the name “SHRM.”
Along with the name recognition, it is apparent that the organization is moving forward quickly. Change, particularly when it is done quickly, can create some anxiety and concerns, so I hope that while we continue to move forward as an association, SHRM commits to strong change management practices that includes communication, transparency, and a commitment to those longtime dedicated staff and members that helped to get the organization to the level that now allows us to take it to higher levels.
One message that resonated most with me was when Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. reflected upon his time working at Blockbuster Video. He remarked about how that organization skyrocketed to becoming the largest video store on the planet to becoming irrelevant in a short period of time. He mentioned that the experience stuck with him, and that the sustainability of any organization, including SHRM, relies upon the ability to be innovative, grow, and have a future vision that adapts to an ever-changing environment.
In Johnny’s closing keynote, he shared a long list of new initiatives for SHRM that will take the organization forward in 2020 and beyond. You can find a summary of his remarks here: SHRM’s Vision for 2020
SHRM is a Leader in Workforce Public Policy
My interaction and association with SHRM at a national level began many years ago through public policy advocacy. As a member and Advocacy Captain on the SHRM A-Team, I was very aware of the work that SHRM was doing to help shape workplace policies in Washington, DC. SHRM staff and members have participated in advocacy visits to the U.S. Capitol and statehouses across the country, contacted elected officials, provided input on important issues such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) updates, and even provided testimony during state and federal legislative hearings. Over the past few years, like the overall organization, SHRM’s involvement in public policy has also advanced quickly.
SHRM has maintained that they intend to adhere to a nonpartisan, “policy over politics” position when addressing issues. During the current hyper-partisan times, the visibility of SHRM has sometimes caused consternation among some members. Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. has been very open about his approach and the fact that SHRM will work with anyone to further the mission of the organization to promote important workplace policies regardless of which party is in control of Congress or the White House. In my view, having the CEO of our organization in the Oval Office or the halls of Congress as a voice for the human resources profession is a positive and certainly demonstrates SHRM’s commitment to the public policy discussion.
Seeing additions to the SHRM Government Affairs staff, the introduction of more advocacy programming, and the creation of a “Committee of 50” further demonstrates SHRM’s direction and points to greater involvement and public policy action at all levels of government.
SHRM Staff Are Dedicated Beyond Belief
Over the years during my involvement with SHRM, I’ve interacted with numerous SHRM staff members. At VLBM, it is a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with many of these staff members and really learn about how much work goes into maintaining an organization of this depth and size. I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into putting on massive events such as the VLBM and the Annual Conference each year.
As members, we rely on those SHRM staff members that work on our behalf whether in the Alexandria, VA headquarters or remotely to help us in both our “day jobs” and in our roles as Volunteer Leaders. Nearly everyone that I have worked with directly from SHRM has shown that they care about the members and the profession. While I’m afraid to single out some SHRM staff members for fear of leaving some out, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about two of the SHRM staff members that I was fortunate to reconnect with at VLBM.
I would not be a SHRM Volunteer Leader today if not for Meredith Nethercutt, who now works in Membership Engagement. Meredith was my first connection to SHRM during my involvement with the SHRM Advocacy Team which she led from its infancy to achieving over 10,000 members. Meredith has always been dedicated, responsive and made me feel like a valued SHRM member. I owe so much of my SHRM experience to Meredith as it inspired me to attend the SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference, and eventually move into government affairs leadership roles at the chapter and state levels. I was able to chat with Meredith a few times at VLBM and wanted to make sure that she realized that I would not have been at this event nor involved to this level with SHRM had we not connected many years ago.
Another SHRM Staff member that I haven’t known for as long as Meredith but has also been important in my development as both a Volunteer Leader and HR professional is Mary Kaylor from SHRM Public Affairs. Mary’s work with social media and in particular the SHRM Blog and #NextChat opened my world to the value of networking through social media. I discovered the SHRM Blog and began following the SHRM Blogger Squad for the 2017 Annual Conference in New Orleans. When I attended my first annual conference in 2018 in Chicago, I had been interacting with Mary and many others through Twitter chats and other social media platforms. This helped me connect with so many HR professionals that I had “met” online and eventually met in-person in Chicago. It was at the #NextChat reception that I finally met Mary in-person and thanked for connecting me and so many others through social media. This eventually led to an opportunity for me to join the 2019 Annual Conference Blogger Team in Las Vegas and many, many more valuable networking experiences since.
Although Mary was extremely busy during VLBM, several of us had the opportunity to connect with her at the Pinnacle Award Reception. It was a brief meeting, but we all told Mary how important her work has been for our careers and our lives to help initiate meaningful connections with our HR colleagues around the world. We all owe so much to Mary Kaylor and her work at SHRM.
SHRM Volunteer Leaders are Appreciated
One consistent theme of the Volunteer Leaders’ Business Meeting was a feeling of appreciation. Throughout the event, as Volunteer Leaders we were recognized, thanked, and appreciated by SHRM. It was a fulfilling feeling to know that as Volunteer Leaders, we were considered as “part of the SHRM team” and an important piece in furthering the vision and mission of SHRM. Much of the discussions that took place at VLBM were strategic, consistent, and included direction and expectations for leaders. This approach seemed quite different from my previous experience at VLS. At VLBM, it felt more like we were being given the road map, future direction, and the resources to take back to our roles with our chapters and state councils to move together in the same forward direction.
In terms of appreciation, everything from the takeaways (which included another pair of SHRM socks for me!), cookies, gift cards, and other gestures were very appreciated. For me, the most moving gesture of appreciation was the giant display that welcomed attendees as they arrived. The display was made up of a collage of photos of SHRM volunteers and included so many people that I have met over the past two years. I didn’t notice it at first, but when I saw several pictures of me as well as some of my closest friends (including our #StateLineCrew) this moved me. I shared a picture of the display through social media with those that were not able to attend, and they too appreciated this gesture by SHRM to recognize that we are a volunteer organization, and without volunteers, the organization could not exist.
Connections Within SHRM are Lifelong and Priceless
The most valuable and precious takeaway from this and every SHRM event are the connections that are made and rekindled. I am so blessed to have met so many incredible people over the past two years that I would have never met without SHRM. From a professional standpoint, I have the confidence and ability to reach out to human resources professionals from around the world, in various industries, from emerging professionals to CHROs, that I can rely upon for their ideas, expertise, and support.
With the knowledge that I cannot mention each and every person that I reconnected with at VLBM, some of the most special individuals and moments included:
- Bonding and connecting with my fellow Wisconsin SHRM State Council board members on Capitol Hill, at Fado Irish Pub, and over ping pong at SPIN.
- Reuniting at the Pinnacle Reception with a few of my fellow SHRM 19 Bloggers.
- Learning that SHRM would be dedicating a scholarship in the name of former SHRM Field Services Director and Wisconsin’s Own Callie Zipple.
- Reconnecting with legislative directors from New Jersey, New York, Iowa, Alaska, and several other states during the Advocacy Sessions.
- Sharing a few laughs with my friend, mentor, and SHRM Board Member Steve Browne.
- Enjoying a cold yet enjoyable evening monuments tour with my #StateLineCrew “sister” Mary Williams.
- Meeting so many others in real life (IRL) that I’ve connected with through social media
I don’t take these connections nor these moments for granted for one minute. I consider myself blessed to have made the choice to serve as a SHRM Volunteer Leader which has opened up my world to individuals across the globe that we share a unique bond with. At events like VLBM, Annual Conference, and others, the best return on investment for me will always be meeting new people and reinforcing connections with those that I have already met.
In closing, two years ago I attended the VLS as a self-described introvert, knowing only my fellow chapter board members and a few SHRM Staff. Two years later, still a self-described introvert (I’m working on that!), but this time I left VLBM having connected with countless friends, colleagues, and SHRM Staff members and you just can’t put a price tag on that experience. I hope to meet you in 2020 online, in Washington, DC, San Diego, or wherever our paths may cross.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brené Brown