Conference Culture and Local Flavor

Flavor FlavLast week I was fortunate to attend 3 separate SHRM conferences right here in Louisiana; the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference and Exposition, the New Orleans SHRM (chapter) Annual Conference and the Greater Baton Rouge (chapter) Annual Conference. All were excellent. And all were different.

I posted my thoughts on Facebook at the end of the week and, in a side conversation with someone, got accused of being mean-spirited and harsh in referencing particular aspects. Look…I’m not Gallup or Nielsen running a poll; I’m a gal who happened to go to 3 conferences in a week and noted the overall conference experience – as-I-saw-it. I merely pointed out how these three events differed, in my opinion. It’s why I write a blog for god’s sake.

Here’s what I said:

SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference – great energy and excitement; people from all over the country/world who “knew” each other; cutting edge conversations; provocative conversations that push the profession forward; networking and connecting highly emphasized

NOLA SHRM – strong existing personal connections among attendees; friendly and welcoming crowd; standard HR content (mid-level and senior level content) with nuggets from each speaker that offered opportunities for “ah – I never thought of it that way” moments; lots of humor and fun; vendors drawings were for gift baskets of booze; attendees stayed until the end; scheduled networking event afterwards for cocktails with a batch of HR folks and speakers who hung around for it

GBR Society for Human Resource Management – serious business with lots of suits; less personal connections amongst the wider group as people danced (sat) with those they came with; standard HR content (geared to entry or mid-level pros); less humor; a number of attendees left mid-afternoon; vendor drawings were for Starbucks gift cards; no scheduled networking or social

 

Every event was superbly executed by the organizers and appeared to meet the needs and expectations of its intended audience. The folks who came to see Daymond John and Chaz Bono would not, I’m venturing a guess, have been interested in attending a session on Labor Relations (NOLASHRM) or updates on the ACA (Baton Rouge).

And that’s…OK. The organizers at all 3 events knew the type of content their attendees expected and delivered it. I have friends who head to recruiting conferences who would have rather jumped in the Mississippi River than attend the vast majority of these sessions but you know what? They don’t come to HR conferences; they head to the events that provide what they need.

What intrigued me about the week is that the events all fall under the SHRM umbrella; we’re all part of the same ‘family’ yet Uncle Joe is a bit different than Uncle Sam. There are 60 miles that separate the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but, as anyone who lives here can tell you, it’s more than mere miles down the I-10.

And that was my point with the observations.

It’s a bit like working for a geographically dispersed company with a well-defined and articulated culture. The company’s mission, vision and values may be in alignment with employee behavior but, at the end of the day, there are variations in implementation by micro-groups. The needs and wants of sub-groups differ – even as they go about aligning themselves with the overall.

  • “Our company has a casual environment and culture but we still like to wear suits here in the Chicago office.” 
  • “Sure, we socialize here in Jackson. We go out to lunch as a team but I would never head to Happy Hour with my co-workers. I just want to get home at the end of the day.”
  • “The GM for our site added a foosball table in the break room for weekly tournaments. It’s a lot of fun and I go to support everyone but I’m just a bit more serious than everyone else so I never sign up to play.”

Mea culpa to anyone who thought I was ‘slamming’ their efforts or results.

It’s hard to sell snow shovels in the deep south and there’s really not a market for pirogues in the midwest.

And that’s…OK.

One comment

  1. Shawn Sharkey says:

    Robin I didn’t attend the conferences in those areas that you mentioned this year. I did attend the conference hosted by ASHRM in Lafayette,La. There were many attendees from other areas . It’s a mix of serious and humor. I agree with you that no matter how well presented, people will travel for the topics and CEUs that are needed; as well as, where their comfort level lies. I appreciate your posts as they help me to stay aware of things that are going on elsewhere.

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