Every year when I attend the big show (#SHRM14) I find myself focusing on one specific area. Occasionally this has been purposeful – such as the year when I visited HRMS vendors in anticipation of purchasing a new system or the year I threw myself headlong into lots of compliance-focused sessions as I was in the midst of doing a major revamp on policies/handbook. More often than not however I let the theme, as it were, organically emerge during and after the conference.
When I returned home at the end of last week I realized that what tickled my fancy and piqued my interest in 2014 were discussions and observations in the area of “recognition.” I spent quite a bit of time with Globoforce discussing social recognition (they hosted an HR Influencer Series Live event in their booth and I was thrilled to be asked to participate) and I also made a point of visiting my friends at Achievers who had World Cup coverage (smart!) streaming in their booth. I purposefully took a stroll through the section in the Expo Hall where the Rewards/Recognition/Incentive vendors were set up; I saw exhibitors working to convince HR ladies that the secret to productivity engagement retention is as simple as providing service/milestone awards, fresh fruit in the break room, gift cards, candy with the company logo, and jewelry.
Well…I do like jewelry.
Look…SHRM itself likes to play the recognition game. Embedded within the DNA of the conference is an enhanced awareness of shining the light, if even momentarily, on individual members and attendees. The writers for the Conference Daily (the magazine dropped off at hotels and handed out at the convention center) make a point of interviewing attendees and highlighting their individual experiences at the event. I saw HR practitioners going into apoplectic shock on the twitter stream with a hint of recognition: “OMG. I just saw my tweet up on the big screen in the general session! #shrm14” HR gals and guys paraded proudly with 15 ribbons dangling from the bottom of their conference badges informing each other that they were, in fact, “PHR” “Chapter President” “HR Diva”
Is it any wonder that HR practitioners, detoxing after caffeine and chocolate fueled delirium swag grabs in the Expo Hall, desire to replicate the heady rush of getting “stuff?” They stream back to the office after 4+ days living in a Cloud Cuckoo Land eager to hand out useless tchotkes to underpaid and overworked employees.
It’s much easier than doing the hard work required to truly understand organizational culture, values, vision and purpose. It’s not as daunting as educating leaders, empowering managers, and determining how to link recognition and rewards to business objectives. It’s the type of HR ‘metric’ that feels comfortable; measuring activities or efficiencies (“We only spent $5k and everyone got a tshirt on Founder’s Day!”) rather than outcomes.
Yet…I had numerous conversations with attendees around the “why” and “how” of recognition as opposed to the “what” which seemed to signal a shift in thinking and understanding. Even those who became submissive to the dominant vendors who exist primarily to promote shiny stuff (sexy technology, branded catalogs, badges – sheesh!) are stepping out of the fog and asking “wait…why are we doing this?”
On my way out of town I stood next to an incentive vendor in the TSA pre-check line. Upon seeing his laptop bag emblazoned with company logo (and thus knowing he was escaping #SHRM14) I struck up a conversation. As we wound our way between the stanchions the conversation progressed and he began to expound upon the need to recognize workers in different ways based upon their generations. “I speak at a lot of conferences,” he informed me. “I make sure people understand their younger workers need to be recognized differently. Older workers don’t need the same things.”
“That’s a bunch of crap and stereotyping the generations drives me mad,” said I. “If you were to run me through your ‘generational checklist’ I can guarantee my needs/desires for recognition will not fit your stereotypes; I’m a Boomer but I’ll look like one of your 23 year olds.”
And then, I kid you not, he rolled his eyes. “You need to be thanked 7 times a day? You expect to be told that you’re doing a good job? All the time?”
“You bet I do,” I replied. “I’m a human being.”
He couldn’t grab up his bag fast enough and get away from me.
Probably eager to get home and await the multitudinous phone calls from the conference attendees who bought his spiel … and will buy his goods.
image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons