It has been a week since #SHRM22 in New Orleans came to a close. After a long-awaited year in anticipation of seeing real-live people, reuniting with old friends, and making new acquaintances, it’s hard to believe that we’re already making plans for next year. It was a whirlwind week.
2019 was the last Annual Conference that I had attended in person, which also happened to be the year that I announced I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2019, I was most focused on meeting people and spending time with them because I was genuinely afraid that it would be the last time I was able to do so. Then we all know what 2020 (and 2021) delivered. We’ve all been transformed by the changing world around us.
My purpose in attending the Annual Conference each year is two fold. One, I want to learn. It’s important that we are life-long learners, and to evolve and grow so that we can continue to make a positive impact in our organizations. Two, I want to connect with others and learn from them. Each person has a unique story, and a unique perspective based on their own experiences and background. There is so much value in learning from and with others. This was a lesson it took me far too long to learn. (Last year when I attended the conference virtually, I realized that I learn so much better in the company of others. There is deep value in the dialogue that happens during and after the sessions.)
My perspective of just about everything has changed significantly since my cancer diagnosis. I appreciate tranquility. I listen more – to the sounds around me, to people, to my own breath. I like to take things slower than before. This year, I unexpectedly found myself observing far more than I had in the past.
Rather than sharing my takeaways from the sessions I attended, I want to share with you two observations.
First, there was a theme that seemed to be woven through almost every session, and at the forefront of conversations: HR professionals are weary. (I would strongly argue that everyone in almost every profession is weary, but since we are talking about an HR conference, I want to focus my comments there.) It wasn’t long ago that HR demanded a “seat at the table.” Well… 2020 came and whether we were ready or not, we were shoved into that seat (and glued down). HR had an incredible opportunity to lead their organizations through some extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Not only were organizations struggling to quickly pivot and do business differently, but every person was struggling, too – from challenges with virtual school, loss of childcare, caregiving for family members, not being able to see family members in long term care homes who were suddenly closed to visitors, losing loved ones to COVID, their own COVID diagnoses, loneliness, mental health challenges, psychological and physical safety, loss of jobs and income, access to healthcare, and on top of all of the COVID19 related challenges, communities have been facing relentless discrimination, racism, and violence…. HR was trying, gallantly, to keep it all together – support their organizations, employees and their own families. It has been a tough, TOUGH couple of years. I saw it on the faces of almost every attendee I met. I would ask, “How are you?” And, as expected, I would hear some variation of “I’m doing ok/fine/great…” Their eyes said something different. I would lean in and say more gently, “That’s excellent to hear. But how ARE you?” After a pause or two, their answers changed, and they would share what’s really going on, often from behind tears.
I often hear comments that “there isn’t HR for HR.” This may be true in most organizations. So while HR is there for its people, who is there for HR? HR professionals need an ear (a shoulder) just as much as any other human. Showing your humanity isn’t a weakness. Demonstrating vulnerability doesn’t make you less credible. We are emotional creatures. We get scared. We get angry. We get frustrated, sad, confused, and hurt. I encourage you each to reach out to your colleagues and peers and ask how they are doing – for real. And then give them room to answer. You don’t need to fix anything. Just listen.
The second observation is: HR people are good people. Certainly, there are a few bad apples (who often, unfortunately, can spoil the reputation of the good apples). And sometimes HR people can behave badly. At the sessions that I attended, most were packed - learning why DEI&B efforts were failing – and what to do about it; how to stop the retention bleed that may be a reflection of toxic work culture or a resistance to evolve the business and how it operates; how HR needs to evolve to be future-ready; how to think (and act) like an owner; and how to foster a people-centric culture. I heard laughter. I saw tears. I saw people. People who want to do the right thing and help others thrive. I saw people who are exhausted from trying to do the right thing, but often being accused of doing it all wrong.
We are in the business of people. Most of us are in this profession because we genuinely care for others and want to make the work experience a positive one. We want to make a difference in the lives of our employees, and in our communities. Over the course of five days, I observed 13,000+ HR professionals from around the globe coming together for a common purpose and shared values.
My hope is that each and every HR pro – in attendance or not – recognizes and cultivates the good in themselves and in others. That is one significant way we can #CauseTheEffect.
Part 3: Nicole Yeldell Butts - SHIFT: A Framework for Transformational Cultural Change in DEI&
You have extensive experience as a DEI strategist, coach and facilitator. Tell us more about you and what inspired you to dedicate yourself to leading organizations through transformational change.
Over the past 20 years I have served in various DEI roles, including Chief Diversity Officer. I have built three inaugural DEI offices and have, trained, coached and counseled senior leadership on DEI matters. What I have learned in my years of doing this work is that diversity, equity and inclusion must exist in the hearts of individuals. When it doesn’t, there is no law, policy or strategy that can create it. We have seen time and time again how laws are broken or interpreted so narrowly as to not honor the spirit of the law. How policies are ignored or reasoned away. How strategy is set aside as priorities change. DEIB must be in the consciousness and courage of individuals to create and sustain.
In this work I have seen organizations say one thing yet do another and the lack of trust and credibility that it creates. I have also seen organizational leaders sincerely struggling with their role in DEIB. Not knowing what it means, how to achieve it or what their personal role is in the work. I found that many leaders have good intentions – or think they have good intentions or want to have good intentions – but do not know how to turn good intentions into tangible action that positively impactful outcomes.
My inspiration is that I believe we as individuals and as a society want to do better and I believe we can do better. I believe that given the tools, we will do better and I believe SHIFT is one of those tools.
You mentioned in the session description that most organizations jump directly into DEI&B initiatives and strategy implementation, but that doesn’t achieve or sustain cultural change and improve outcomes. What is one of the major obstacles to sustainable change?
One major obstacle to sustainable change is losing focus on the “why”. Without a focus on and a commitment to the “why” of DEIB the ball gets held, passed or dropped when other priorities arise, and when push back happens. And both will happen. New priorities will arise. There will be push back to DEIB efforts. Both can derail organizational focus and commitment. Don’t hold, pass or drop the ball. Stay focused on why you are doing the work and keep the ball in motion.
Another obstacle to sustainable change is lack of measurable evidence of progress. One aspect of SHIFT is defining and measuring success. As with anything else, if we see progress, it motivates us to continue our efforts. This is no different. So we need to determine exactly how we define and measure success and continually monitor how we are doing. This ongoing monitoring of success helps support sustainability.
What have you learned are some of the beliefs and behaviors that create barriers to inclusive and equitable workplaces?
There are so many, we could write a full paper on the numerous barriers and how they show up but let me focus on four - the top two that I see from an organizational standpoint and the top two I see from an individual standpoint.
One of the greatest organizational barriers to DEIB is the belief that it is the work of a person or an office. DEIB is the work of every person in an organization and executive leadership must establish and hold true to the fact that it is the work of everyone. Organizations often hire a person to lead the DEIB effort and assume that is enough. They think of it as a job that a person is responsible to completing. DEIB is not transactional. It is cultural. DEIB is about shaping culture and culture determines the way everyone in the organization makes decisions, set priorities, acts and how we hold accountability. DEIB impacts every aspect of an organization and is the responsibility of everyone in that organization. Organizations can hire a person or create an office to lead this work, but they must understand that that person or office is responsible for leading overall organizational culture change, not simply doing DEIB work.
Another organizational barrier to DEIB is what I refer to as DEIB busy work. Just doing things because you think you are supposed to. Let’s create a Diversity Council. Let’s make Juneteenth a holiday. Let’s write a statement. Let’s provide implicit bias training. They are doing all these things, but those things are not getting them anywhere because they haven’t decided where they want to be. It’s like the old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” So, they are DEIB busy but there is no direction, no purpose, no defined outcome. And then they say, “Well, we have done all these things and they aren’t working.” So, they give up and say they tried.
The top two ways I see individuals create barrier to DEIB is a lack of personal recognition and accountability, and fear.
Individuals often believe that DEIB is not their responsibility – it has nothing to do with me. I treat everybody the exact same. I am color blind. I have not bias. All my decision making is objective. They don’t recognize that we all have bias and that our bias impacts our decision-making and behaviors. And since they don’t recognize this, they also do not hold themselves accountable for their bias, their bias decision making and their impact on people and the systems in which they operate.
The other barrier that comes up for individuals is fear. One fear is related to feeling personally threatened as they fear being excluded in this environment of inclusion and they fear being displaced. Another fear is related to a fear of speaking up. They may see differential treatment, but they are afraid of calling it. They may not know how to effectively call it out, they may not know how to advocate for themselves or others, they may fear being ridiculed for advocating for themselves or others. So the status quo goes unchallenged.
Your experience led you to the creation of SHIFT. Can you describe SHIFT and the changes you’ve seen companies experience by using this framework?
SHIFT is a five-point framework for transformational change which means it the change is effective, measurable and sustainable. Using the SHIFT framework, we begin with identifying the desired destination – the North Star, which lies in the answer to the question, “Who do you want to be as an organization?” After determining your North Star, you than assess where you are currently in relation to that North Star. Next we chart a course from where you are now to where you want to be – this is the strategy development aspect. If I am currently here but I want to get there, how do I close that gap? What things do I need to put in place to close that gap and how do I measure my progress? Fourth we implement the plan developed in step three. This is where most organizations start. They just start doing random things – DEIB busy work, but those things are not aligned with an overarching strategy designed to get you to a North Star. And last, you assess, reflect and determine next steps.
By using this framework, I have seen clients move from arbitrary DEIB activities to intentional, directional and coordinated efforts with personal and organizational accountability. I have seen them define the culture they want to create and develop very clear and concrete pathways for shaping that culture. And most importantly, leadership is personally and organizationally committed to the North Star.
One of the learning objectives is how to develop a strategy for determining the organization’s DEI North Star. How do you describe “North Star”?
The North Star is the clear vision or picture of who you want the organization to be as it relates to DEIB. To become you must first envision and as Stephen Covey says we must begin with the end in mind. The North Star is beginning with the end in mind – visualizing and defining the way you want the organization to show up in the world before you just start doing random DEIB activities – that DEIB busy work I mentioned earlier. In setting your North Star you must determine the organizational DEIB values, why those are important to the organization and how those values will be demonstrated by the organization. The North Star allows you to define who you want to be and how you want to show up. Without the North Star you are aimlessly floating through the galaxy.
What do you say to HR professionals who know they want to do something to change their culture, but aren’t sure where to start?
HR professionals need to understand that there is a difference between organizational stated values and lived values. Companies often have stated values but culture is what is lived. The goal is to turn stated values into lived values. Always start with values. What is important, why is it important and how do we demonstrate it and then stick to it. DEIB is about shaping culture and the shaping of culture and socialization of new norms neither happens quickly nor by accident but rather takes absolute consistency over time.
What are some of the ways that HR can support the organization’s leadership through transformational change?
HR can support an organization’s leadership through transformational change by keeping the focus on stated values and the why of those stated values. Here is why we said this was important to us. If this is what is important and why it is important, how do we demonstrate it? Continually hold leaders accountable to the stated values by asking “Does this align with our stated values?” “Does this demonstrate and support our stated values?” When decisions are made and priorities are set that are misaligned with the stated values and the why, HR can push back by asking “How does this align with our stated values?” or more directly, “This does not appear to align with our stated values.”
I am intentional about using the phrase “stated values” and not simply values because there is a difference between stated values and lived values. Using the phrase stated values - “this is what you said but it is not what you are doing” – holds leaders accountable to their words. Continual consistency to those stated values will shape culture and turn stated values into lived values.
What is one thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplaces?
The motivation and energy to continue doing the work of DEIB because now they have a clear roadmap for creating real transformational change.
Please be sure to add one of the two offered in-person sessions to your calendar. Additionally, take the time to introduce yourself to Nicole afterwards!
Part 2: Dr. Jarik Conrad: 13 Brutal Realities Stalling DEI&B Effort
Thank you for the opportunity to connect! I’d love to get to you know you a little bit. How did you start your career?
What’s important for people to know is I grew up in East St. Louis, IL. It’s a challenging community. I grew up having questions around why I was seeing what I was seeing - why were most of the people in my city black, why was there so much crime, and why was the community so distressed? It didn’t sit right with me at a very young age. So I started studying people.
I have always been a person who speaks my mind. I feel like I could say things in a way that connects with people differently, or in a way that connect the dots. I’m a problem solver. I like to say I’m a scientist by nature and a teacher at heart. That’s where writing and speaking come into play.
Human behavior is all about science. Talking about how the brain works - the amygdala, the wiring the contributes to behavior, our fight or flight response. I feel like there is an answer here. I’m compelled to ask why does this happen and what does it mean? I think about the impacts of it. If we understand this, there is a probability of change. I take that scientific framework as I try to diagnose what is happening with people and situations. I’ve been able to draw in audiences that don’t necessarily want to hear DEI&B. But when I talk about how the brain works, people are more interested.
DEI&B has been a topic in organizations for many years, and it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made in most organizations. What are the most critical challenges that prevent organizations from changing their culture and having a positive impact on not only DEI&B efforts, but importantly, addressing disparities and the experiences of underrepresented groups?
As a foundation, one thing that organizations are going to have to come to terms with is that we can’t just deal within the walls of the organization – not just the things that happen inside the business. There is an increasing appetite for how we interact in society. When people leave work, the have to drive home, and if they are more likely to get pulled over because of the color of their skin or go to a dilapidated community, it is deeply important that organizations have a broader sense of the societal issues that affect their business.
Organizations want answers. They want “what are the 10 things…” I can’t do that. If I can help you understand how you [the organization and society] got to this point, then we can talk about how we can change the system and can agree on how we can move forward.
It’s uncomfortable but the reality is that because we have a dominate population, for the math to work, you have to be aggressively intentional to bring in underrepresented groups. (I will talk about the math of this in the session!)
People can get behind the language and the narrative around equity and fairness. People know that certain people shouldn’t get ahead based on color. But the macro ideal sometimes comes in contact with micro realities. We have to deal with that.
How might HR be contributing to these challenges in organizations?
People in HR are well intended. They like people and they want to connect. But great intentions without awareness, education, and skill doesn’t necessarily move the needle. This issue isn’t about being kind. It’s about having a fundamental understanding of how we got to this place and how we can move forward.
We’ve done ourselves a disservice by focusing attention on unconscious bias. It’s like they didn’t know. Where is the accountability for that? That’s BS. These are unconscious behaviors that give away conscious bias. Behaviors are an extension of what you believe. We have to accept that we have people in our lives that we cannot excuse their bad behavior. We just have to be honest about that.
Where does HR begin address these challenges?
If employees are the life blood of the org, then HR has to be the heartbeat. HR is uniquely positioned in the organization to address these issues. But we have to understand this stuff – not just the needs of underrepresented groups. We also need to understand why people are resistant.
What is one thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplaces?
I hope it inspires someone to move. To do something. I hope that it isn’t the session that you sit in, it’s interesting, you get credit, and you walk away. I hope that people will focus on just one brutal reality, and commit to overcoming this in their organization.
The above was a snippet of our conversation. There was so much more to this dialogue, and I cannot be more excited to attend Dr. Conrad’s session - offered in person on Monday, 6/13/22 from 10:30-11:30am Central. Make sure you add it to your calendar!
Additionally, consider picking up his books: The Fragile Mind: How It Has Produced and Unwittingly Perpetuates America’s Tragic Disparities, and In Search of Humanity: Why We Fight, How to Stop, and the Role Business Must Play.
It’s not too late to register for #SHRM22 Annual Conference & Expo in New Orleans, from Jun 12- 15, 2022. Be sure to use this link when you register: https://shrm.co/shrm22-influencer
#SHRM22 #SHRM22Influencer #CauseTheEffect
Part 1: Stacey A. Gordon - Adapt or Die: When Failure is an Option
How did you get your start in human resources?
I started in recruiting. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed getting people hired. But I realized that there were problems in making that happen. At first I was thinking that it was the candidate’s problem. But then I realized it isn’t the candidates. It’s the companies. I was running into how to get people hired into companies that don’t value them. At that point, I moved specifically into DEI.
Tell me about the work you’re doing now.
We work with the leaders of companies. Most employees know they need to do better, but they don’t feel like they have any power. What’s baffling is often the executive team is surprised when I say, “you have the power to change this.” I help them to look inward – the problem is looking at them in the mirror. You start with coaching. They have to get to a point when they admit that something is wrong and needs changing. They have to see that this is literally happening in their workplace, and they have the ability to fix it. They have to take responsibility, and then be accountable.
Tell me more about making an impact in the world by making workplaces work for all.
I realized that policies and procedures work for some people, but not everyone. They work if you show up in the box they have created – this degree, from this school, with this hair style, etc. But if you don’t check the boxes, you’re not considered as worthy. It’s admitting that something has to be done. All is everyone. Including the people you don’t necessarily deem as worthy.
What is the failure your refer to in “When Failure is an Option.”
The failure is refusing to act.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that HR may be making that contributes to this disconnect?
3 things: Not admitting that something needs to be done, not taking responsibility, and not being accountable. Companies do that with sales or other areas. If you don’t meet the criteria, there is accountability. But there is a reluctance to putting metrics around DEI. They have to ask, what does that mean and how will we know when we’ve reached it?
How do you determine which metrics to use?
Do a survey. You can’t just stick your finger in the air and see which way the wind blows. How do you know what needs to change unless you ask the people? In addition, we also look at HR data (such as exit interviews, performance reviews, policies), and stakeholder interviews. We can then pull it all together to paint the picture of where to start.
How would you describe the role of leaders in creating workplaces that work for all?
They have to role model it. For many it’s hard because they don’t know how. They have to have a sense of what people in their organization are looking for. Good leaders know we have to evolve and change. Their job is to role model and demonstrate what it looks like to lead with openness and authenticity.
What are some of the ways that HR can have a positive impact – both individually and throughout their organizations?
They have to stop taking orders and start strategizing. Your role is to advise the people around you. You have to say, “Wait a minute – let’s look at crafting this differently to have a different outcome.” HR has to stop acting as an accomplice to leaders who are not doing their job. Step out of the compliance mindset and into the strategic mindset.
What is the #1 thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplaces?
It is their job and responsibility to be the solution. You don’t stop being who you are when you step into the office. It comes with you into the workplace. Our actions contribute to what the outcome will be. We need to stop searching for the “one big thing.” If it’s the one big thing, it’s so easy to wipe clean and dismantle with one word or one swipe of the pen. We need to look for the small individual things that we can all do that will eventually add up to the big thing. If we’re all doing our part, all contributing to the small things, it’s not possible to dismantle.
Be sure to add Stacey's session "Adapt or Die: When Failure is an Option" to your schedule (included on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Leadership & Personal Growth tracks). This session is offered in person and virtually on Monday, 6/13/22 at 3:30pm-4:30pm CST.
I was reminiscing recently about my first (solo) SHRM Annual Conference experience in Chicago many years ago. I recall vividly how gigantic the conference center was and how overwhelming it all felt. As a long-time conference veteran, I often see that lost look on the faces of attendees, and always stop to assist. I've been there.
For those of you who may be attending for the first time, I offer a few tips to help you make the most of your conference experience.
#3: Prepare Your Session Schedule
Visit the SHRM22 Annual Conference website to peruse speakers, pre-conference offerings, networking events, and all general/concurrent sessions. Click on “Program” at the top, then select “Full Schedule.” This takes you to a page where you can scroll through the entire conference from beginning to end. You can also search by keyword, the type of pass (Virtual or In Person), by day, by event type, by learning track, and by competency. Take each day/time in bite sizes. Consider your own career aspirations and professional development. What are some gaps and areas of opportunity that could help advance your career? If your company is paying for your attendance, think about the most critical needs of your company and what sessions you could attend to help support those needs. You may even find it helpful to sit with your leader(s) to discuss what options might be most impactful.
Also, it is helpful to have a backup to your first choice. Sometimes the sessions are full. Sometimes you just don’t feel like walking across the entire conference center to get to the next session, so it’s good to have a backup (or two).
#2: Wear comfy shoes
Speaking of walking, the conference center is huge. You are going to do a LOT of walking throughout the day. (I average 20,000-25,000 steps in a day.) You are going to want shoes that will not give you blisters or cause pain. I cannot stress this enough. I made the mistake of wearing high heels one year, and by mid-day my feet were killing me. From then on, flats, tennis shoes, and, yes, sometimes flip flops. Comfort is key on this topic.
#1 Invest in Your Professional Network
I wish I had had a mentor early in my career who stressed the importance of networking and intentionally investing in relationships with peers. Networking can be terrifying. I promise, you are not alone in not knowing where to start. It’s hard to connect in a sea of 18,000 people. Luckily, SHRM makes it a little easier by creating spaces where you can intentionally connect with others – such as the Networking & Virtual Experience Orientation, the SHRM Certification lounge, the Smart Stage and more. (If you’re attending virtually, check out the virtual Networking Peer Group Ideas Swap.) Everyone wants to connect and belong. Be intentional about those connections. The conference feels a whole lot smaller when you see a familiar face or two.
If you’re on LinkedIn, Instagram and/or Twitter, follow the hashtags: #SHRM22 #CauseTheEffect and #SHRM22Influencer. Engage with the author(s) by responding and sharing. There just may be an opportunity to connect in person with the folks you “meet” online!
The SHRM Annual Conference is an opportunity to grow your community, challenge your assumptions and mindsets, and leverage the knowledge and expertise to Cause the Effect in your workplace. I always say that our industry begins and ends with people. You never know what insights you’ll gain from others’ experiences and wisdom, or what friendships develop from a common interest. One of the most powerful tools in your HR toolbox is your network. Networking isn’t about exchanging business cards. It’s about intentionally building relationships.
There is still time to register for the conference experience that works best for you (in-person or virtual). Check out the SHRM22 Annual Conference website for a list of speakers, concurrent sessions, pre-conference sessions and networking events. Save $100 off new, full SHRM22 conference registrations* thru May 20th using the code SHRM22_INFLUENCER.
*This offer is exclusive for the full SHRM22 Annual Conference & Expo–in person or virtual– and is not applicable to Day Passes, special rates or other promotions. Promo code SHRM22_INFLUENCER must be used at the point of checkout. Offer expires 5/20/2022 at 11:59 PM ET. Offer not valid on previous orders and cannot be combined with other discount offers.
Inspiration. Bravery. Passion. Advocacy. Activism. Charity.
These are a few words that come to mind when I think of Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” At almost 95 years young, she owned the stage at #SHRM21 in Las Vegas and had the audience gripped by her stories about growing up in Texas and her dream of Juneteenth being celebrated as a national holiday. On June 17, 2021, that dream was realized as she watched President Biden sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day that Union forces arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln had issued on January 1, 1962, over two years prior.
She greeted the audience with an enthusiastic, “Hello, young people! And you are young people if you’re not 95!”
Ms. Opal Lee shared how in 1939, when she was about 12 years old, her parents bought a house in a mostly white neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. A mob of 500 destroyed that house. Her parents sent her and her siblings to stay with friends a few blocks away, and her parents left “under the cover of darkness.” That was on June 19th, a day that was a big deal in Marshall, Texas – as big as Christmas, she described, with fairs and parades and food (“and food and food”)! But it wasn’t a big deal in Fort Worth. She was surprised as she got older how most of the country had never heard of Juneteenth, and how it became her passion to make Juneteenth a national celebration. She was often asked, “Isn’t July 4th the day we celebrate freedom?” She would say in return, “My ancestors weren’t free on no 4th of July!” She feels that freedom should be celebrated from June 19 to July 4 because “none of us are free until we’re all free.”
Ms. Opal Lee has worked for over six decades – as a babysitter, teacher, school counselor. Even after she retired, she continued to work, starting a food bank that serves over 500 people. She’s seen drastic changes over the 60 years she has worked, but she has also seen older people brushed aside because people think they’re too old to work. Why would anyone work beyond retirement age? “Because we still have knowledge and ideas to contribute. Work brings us dignity and purpose, and it keeps us sharp.”
She acknowledged being in a room full of HR professionals, and humorously declared, “I am an HR Trifecta: I’m a woman. I’m Black. And I’m old.” She passionately articulated how diversity and inclusion is about making sure that everyone finds a place and a voice in companies where people can reach their full potential regardless of where they started in life.
After thousands of attendees returned to their homes and places of business, after the conference stage has been disassembled and stored away for the next big event, Ms. Opal Lee's words still ring: “If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”
She challenged each of us to take what we have learned back to our workplaces. “Please don’t let what happened here in Vegas stay in Vegas!”
As Ms. Opal Lee pointed out, we’ve come a long way. But we have a long way yet to go. “Change is possible if we just hold the course.”
#SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE #Juneteenth
I can count on one hand the number of keynotes that I’ve attended that have left a lasting impression. I’ve attended many that are entertaining, and some that were… seriously meh. But when someone stands on a stage with a message that strikes a chord with every word, leaving you standing on your chair, yelling "YASSS!" - that’s rare.
Enter Michael Phelps.
I’ve seen every Olympic event where he won a medal. And I watched as the world judged and condemned him after a photo surfaced of him smoking marijuana, and his very public DUIs. (We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?)
It was easy for most of us to sit on our couches, remaining anonymous, never remotely understanding the pressures and rigors that athletes face, and to hop on the judgmental bandwagon. Maybe you were like me and never really stopped to think what he may be going through. I certainly never imagined how anything he could share could make an impact on thousands of HR professionals.
One of the best outcomes of the last 18 months is that the topic of mental health has catapulted to one of the most important topics facing our organizations. Finally.
Mr. Phelps spoke so eloquently and openly about his struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. I was blown away by how candidly he was able to share that one of the hardest things he ever did was to ask for help – something that so many of us (me included) find almost impossible. He passionately advocates for treating mental health the way we treat physical health, and how we need to be prepared physically and mentally in order to show up at our best every day. He shared how showing vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign that you want to learn. He has used his experiences as an opportunity to help others so that, he hopes, they don’t ever feel what he felt.
Michael Phelps was funny, articulate, compassionate, tender, vulnerable and 100% relatable. And I hope that we continue to engage in this conversation so that we stand up to the stigma.
There was a lot to take away from this year’s Annual Conference. But I can’t think of anything more important or more relevant to our profession at this very moment than to help our employees be both physically and mentally prepared.
#SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #mentalhealth
I had the great pleasure of connecting through a Zoom with Greg Schwem, Business Humor Speaker, to talk about his session: Is It OK to Laugh? Understanding How Stifling Humor Can Also Stifle Workplace Productivity.
As I was perusing the speakers and sessions, I was immediately attracted to the topic of humor in the workplace. (Seems appropriate, considering I am the HR Shenanigator....) I immediately added his session to my calendar, and I reached out to see about an interview. I offered up an email Q&A, and slyly (that's a word, right?) offered to connect via recorded Zoom. He was agreeable, and I'm so glad! We had a great conversation, and I'm thrilled to share it with you.
Find the full video interview here.
Kyra: I have the great pleasure of speaking with Greg Schwem today - the engaging, funny, relevant and relatable speaker to talk about his upcoming session at SHRM21: Is It OK to Laugh? Thank you so much for being with me today, and on a Sunday, no less. I'm super excited to learn more about you and your session.
Greg: Well, I'm excited to be there. This has been three years in the making. I submitted back in 2019, I was confirmed for 20 and then, of course, you know what happened. There were cancellations and postponements and so forth. I'm not even sure I'm going to have a whole lot prepared; I didn't think we'd get this far! I might just come out and say, "Hi thanks for joining me." That's really all I came up with because I figured they'd pull the plug again, but no. It's finally here and I just cannot wait because I've really been looking forward to speaking for SHRM for a very long time. I've done other HR groups, but this to me is the Broadway of HR.
Kyra: What is it about HR that attracted you to SHRM?
Greg: I am a corporate speaker; I am a corporate humor speaker too. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about integrating humor into a corporate event or just a corporate environment, and that's really what this presentation is about. I thought it would be nice to deliver that presentation in front of who I call the gatekeepers. That's not an offensive term. It is important to add humor into the work environment, so this is a chance for me to do that both live and in a virtual setting.
Kyra: Where did you start your career and how did you make a transition into corporate comedy?
Greg: When I started, I was a journalist, back in a different life. That was what my college degree was in, and I was working in journalism. I was a newspaper and a TV reporter. I had been dabbling in stand up comedy since I was 16. When I was working as a journalist, it became more than a hobby and, eventually, I decided I liked entertaining people more than depressing them, which is what I was doing. I hate to say it, every night as a journalist, particularly a TV journalist, because you were on the air live telling about what horrible thing happened in South Florida. So I decided to quit my job and give it a whirl as a stand up comedian, as a club comedian per se. I started doing a lot of material in my comedy club act about computers and learning to work at a computer, and it was really resonating with people, and they would come up to me afterwards and say, "Can you come down to our office and do that bit about being on hold with tech support?" I started getting hired by these companies and I realized that I kind of had a knack for making them laugh at themselves; having some good natured fun with them. Eventually I just transitioned my entire presentation and, really, my entire career into the corporate sector and that's what I've been doing for the past 25 years.
Kyra: That is quite the transition! You had mentioned earlier about some misconceptions about humor in the workplace, what are some of those misconceptions, or some of the biggest challenges that you've noticed?
Greg: I think everybody has had a bad experience. It affects all of us who work in my environment. I always get the, "you know we had a comedian two years ago and we specifically told him not to talk about this, this, and this, and wouldn't you know, he went out and did it, " or "we took everybody to a comedy club and we thought it'd be fun, and the comedian just made fun of the CEO for 25 minutes." So, I think it's a misconception that it's going to be bad. You introduce humor and there's like a little bit of a trepidation factor. I have spent years trying to break that down.
Kyra: So why do you think that humor has gotten a bad rap in the corporate world?
Greg: Because of just different incidences that have happened, you know if somebody said something that offended somebody, and then they had to apologize, and things like that. Some of the biggest comedians in the world have had to go on apology tours because of something they said. And that's becoming more and more prevalent. I'm not saying it's becoming more prevalent that comedians are saying things, but I think it's becoming more prevalent that people are getting offended. I can't really explain why that is, I think we've become a very sensitive society to a lot of things. I mean obviously in HR you want to create a healthy work environment, you want to retain the best employees. I feel humor can certainly do that, but I think there's a misconception in a lot of cases that it does the opposite. It is going to be my job to kind of break down that misconception. I think the benefits of humor far outweigh any potential negative ramifications. I always think humor in a corporate meeting is the biggest hit and the toughest sell. I have to assure all my client, "Just trust the process; trust me. I'm not going to tick anybody off.' And then, everybody walks away and goes, "Man, did we need that. We never had something like that before, and boy did we need it, and thank you so much."
Kyra: Why do you think it's important to bring humor into a work environment and can you describe some of those benefits that you're talking about?
Greg: We've all heard the studies about how humor releases endorphins. That's been beaten to death and I'm not going to bring that up because we've all heard that, you don't need me to say that. But I feel like you're now seeing a lot of studies, in fact SHRM just came out with a study talking about how many people are burned out at work, how many people are stressed - not just in an in-person, environment, but virtual work has stressed people out too because they feel like they're never off the clock. You're doing all these zoom meetings and your kids are in the other room and it's 8:30 at night and why am I doing this? Humor has certainly helped an awful lot of us get through this situation. It has helped people get through the pandemic, and that is a proven fact. I don't for one minute want anybody to think that I'm going to come out here and make you laugh at COVID. COVID is not funny. There's an awful lot of stuff that we have had to deal with, as a result of COVID that we certainly need to laugh at. I believe you can find humor in any subject, even if you're not making fun of that subject - virtual school, zoom meetings, all of this kind of stuff. I think people desperately need to laugh, and that's what I've heard from an awful lot of clients and potential clients as well. We could sure use a laugh right now.
Kyra: Agreed, 100%! So, I'm going to go in another direction for just a second, and then we'll get back to SHRM. You also have a TV series called A Comedian Crashes Your Pad. What led you to start that show, and what is the premise?
Greg: The premise is that I got very fascinated a few years ago with the home sharing market - AirBNB and VRBO. I was intrigued with the idea of who opens up their home to strangers, and it has to be a very interesting person who can do such a thing. I mean it's one thing to be an Uber driver and pick up strangers. But to live with them, with no vetting whatsoever, just, "Oh, you want to come stay? Okay, perfect." I always loved that when they say you've been approved. You don't even know me! I mean I couldn't do that. I can stay at those places, but I couldn't let anybody into my house. But I am a people person - that's how I get material, that's how I write, I have to be out talking to people. So I thought, as long as I'm going to be in all these cities doing corporate gigs, why not take an extra day, find somebody who's kind of interesting - an interesting profile and interesting property? I didn't look for the most lavish or the most expensive. I wanted something or somebody who sounded unique. And I thought this would be just a fun thing to put up on social media, but the more I did it, the more I thought there's really something here. I started doing more episodes. Eventually, the episodes got a little longer. Eventually, I brought in a crew. I'm shooting one in San Antonio next month. I'm going to be doing my presentation for a group of funeral home directors, and no, that is not a joke. The funeral home bit will be hilarious. I guarantee you.
Kyra: You also have a couple of books that are published. Tell us a little bit about those.
Greg: My first one, called Text Me If You're Breathing, I published, during the market meltdown of 2008 when I had some downtime like everybody else. It's about observations, frustrations and life lessons from a low tech dad. I wrote that because my children were starting to get to the age where they were becoming very intrigued with things like cell phones and social media and so forth, and this was all completely foreign to me and I thought there's a lot of humor in here. And I started just writing about all my experiences trying to stay one step ahead of them. Then I wrote another one called The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar. (I'm going to offer a free audio download of that book to anybody who attends my presentation on Saturday live or virtually.) The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar is probably more for HR people. I was talking to one of my clients after a show, and he was talking about hiring people and he said, "You know, I wish I could observe all my candidates at a salad bar because if you watch people at the salad bar you really get an insight into their personalities; how they approach everything, how quickly they make decisions, are they prepared to move quickly, are they wasteful, do they thumb their nose up at everything?" I'm listening to him, and that's really kind of a cool analogy, and then I wrote a column about it because I write a biweekly column for the Chicago Tribune syndicate. And then I thought that could be a great book title. So the book is really more business related. It's just funny business stories that were a little too long to make it into my live presentation.
Kyra: Let's bring this back to the SHRM Annual Conference. You'll be presenting in Las Vegas this coming Saturday, and you know that your audience will be primarily HR professionals. Why do you think your message is relevant to that audience?
Greg: Because, as we talked about at the beginning, I do believe they are in some respects the gatekeepers. I think they are the most hesitant of including humor at an event, and that's, not to say that they're not funny people. I want people to know if you're if you're thinking about attending, or if you're on the fence, you will laugh harder than at any SHRM presentation. I don't even know what most of them are, and I still believe you're going to laugh harder. However, if you're coming to see a straight stand-up show, that's not what you're going to get. I'm going to make you laugh at HR because that's what I do, but the presentation is also going to be thought-provoking. I'm going to give them some suggestions on how to incorporate humor into their events and into their normal work environment.
Kyra: What do you think HR professionals can do within their organization to foster that spirit of fun and laughter?
Greg: I think you have to kind of almost let your employees drive it. If for a team building project, put different age groups, different generations together with one another and have them come up with a funny presentation Put them together; have them work together; have them find a common denominator of what they think together is funny. It could be a one minute almost like a Snapchat type of a clip. Let them work together, let them find out everybody has a sense of humor. More than anything, I think humor brings people together, just like good music can bring people together.
Kyra: What do you hope to be the number one takeaway that the audience will take with them back to their workplaces after your session?
Greg: Not to be afraid of humor. I think not to be afraid of comedy. I want people to see that the positive benefits of humor should not be overlooked, and if you're going to constantly look at humor as something that would be better left on the curb, you're doing yourself, you're doing your company, and you're doing your employees a tremendous disservice. That's what I want people to go away with. I want them to leave and go "That was really fun." I just want people to go away and say that we did get some good ideas from this guy and and obviously, I would love to come to any company and talk about it.
Kyra: Is there anything else that you'd like people to know about you or your session?
Greg - I think, know that you're going to see a comedian and that you're going to get a different perspective. This is not going to be a typical SHRM presentation, because 1) the subject matter, and 2) the guy that's doing it. I guarantee you, you're to get some surprises things you never thought about.
Kyra: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If people would like to connect with you, what is the best way for them to do that?
Greg: That would be GregSchwem.com. My website has all sorts of video clips. I want people to see me in a lot of different situations for a lot of different companies and also talking about the methods that I use to create a presentation for companies, so I hope people spend some time on my website.
It seems like it should go without saying (considering the name of my blog) that I love to laugh. Greg has such a fun spirit. Work shouldn't be void of laughter. I hope you will join me for Greg's session on Saturday September 11 from four to 5pm Pacific to learn more about ways you can cultivate a culture of humor in your workplace.
Also, it's not too late to register for SHRM21! Visit the Annual Conference website: https://annual.shrm.org/ for more information.
Additionally, if you use the discount code SHRM21Influencer, you can receive $150 off registration and a SHRM21 and Life Is Good co-branded T-shirt.
I had the chance to connect with Buddy Bush, an Executive Coach and Team Accelerator with JB Training Solutions. Buddy is presenting The Change Curve: Managing Uncertainty and Ambiguity Within Your Organization at #SHRM21 on Saturday, September 11, from 7:30-8:30 AM Pacific.
The topic of change has always been relevant to the workplace. As the old saying goes, "The only thing that stays the same is nothing stays the same." Change is inevitable. How we manage through change, and support our teams/employees through change is where the rubber meets the road. Buddy has identified the following learning objectives:
What were the factors that led you to speak on the topic of change?
Just like a black cashmere sweater, the topic of change management is timeless and looks great on everyone.
Why do you think change in the workplace can be so difficult to manage?
We are humans, not computers. We can not expect to run a system update overnight and think everyone will reboot at the same time. (Hummmm… it is sounding like I have an IT background with this analogy, but I do not.) We bring our past experiences, our current mindset, and our future priorities to each situation. This means that each member of the team is going to respond in a different way at a different time. This unpredictability makes change feel difficult to manage.
Do you think that organizations, leaders, HR and employees were ready for such drastic and swift changes to the way we work from the start of the pandemic to now?
Most of my clients were already moving towards more flexible/location-agnostic work environments. The pandemic acted as a rapid accelerator. What many leaders and organizations learned is that they could move faster than they thought and their people were far more resilient than they expected.
What are some of the main challenges that leaders face as it relates to change in the workplace?
Setting a tone of realistic optimism, prioritizing initiatives, managing the balance of empathy and accountability, taking the time to celebrate successes…. This could be a very long list.
What are some of the ways that HR can support their companies through uncertainty and ambiguity?
Constant updates, even when the update is that there is no update.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that leaders/HR can make in this area?
Spending too much time defining the future state and rolling out the up-front communication, but not adequately supporting their people in the transition. It is the transition that is challenging. Not the change.
What is one of the ways that HR can have the biggest impact on the change curve?
HR can help leaders think through the stages in advance. If we can anticipate objections, we can better cushion the fall.
What is the #1 thing you hope attendees of your session will take back to their workplace?
We can not jump from phase 1 to phase 4. We have to work the curve and the best way to deal with change is to help create it.
To connect with Buddy Bush, find her on LinkedIn, at www.JBTrainingSolutions.com, or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Buddy's session and other fantastic learning and networking opportunities at SHRM21 by visiting the SHRM21 Conference website.
#SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE #HRShenanigans #HRCommunity
The 2021 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition is a week away. **GASP** A WEEK!
Let’s go back for just a moment to 2020. There was so much anticipation and excitement around SHRM20 in San Diego – which started during SHRM19 in Vegas.
And then…. COVID19.
The world as we knew it completely turned upside down and inside out. The world of work was changed in an instant – forever. Leaders and HR professionals were trying to figure it out on the fly. None of us have ever seen anything like this before. Some companies were models to follow in their response to the pandemic. Some companies woefully failed in the way they treated their people. (I had a friend who was furloughed and subsequently laid off via an email after 20 years with the same company. Y'all, this is an example of what not to do!) Conferences were cancelled and/or postponed, including SHRM20. **sad face**
SHRM21 was originally to be held in June 2021 in Chicago. Sadly, this too was postponed. **sad face**
Now, here we are, just a week away from SHRM21 in Las Vegas. The conference is offered both in person and virtually. You can attend all. You can attend for a day. There are so many options! **happy face**
By the way, there is still time to register for whatever works best for you and your schedule. Check out the SHRM21 Annual Conference website for a list of speakers, concurrent sessions, pre-conference sessions and networking events. Use the discount code: SHRM21_ INFLUENCER to receive $150 off registration and a free SHRM21 + Life is Good co-branded t-shirt.
I will be attending the full conference virtually. This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make considering I’m an extreme extrovert and mingling in person is my jam. I’ve never attended a conference of this magnitude virtually. Additionally, I was invited to participate as an official #SHRM21 Influencer (previously the SHRM Bloggers). (I invite you to meet and connect with this year’s team: Now More Than Ever – Introducing Your SHRM21 Influencers. Follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter or wherever you mingle on social media, and buckle up for all of the amazing content they’ll be pushing out! Follow the hashtags: #SHRM21 #SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE to make sure you don't miss out on any info!)
I started to think about how I can make the most out of this experience. How would I engage with speakers and their content during general sessions and concurrent sessions? How would I meet new people virtually? How would I keep my energy up in a virtual environment without succumbing to all of the possible distractions?
In order to prep, I want to share a few action items that can help you make the most of your virtual conference experience - before, during and after. Here's a countdown of 5 ways you can prepare for a great virtual conference, share your takeaways with your team at work, make amazing life-long friendships, and continue to build that momentum long after the conference is over.
#5: Prepare Your Session Schedule
The SHRM21 Annual Conference website is a great place to peruse speakers, pre-conference offerings, networking events, and all general/concurrent sessions. Click on “Program” at the top, and select “Full Schedule.” This takes you to a page where you can scroll through the entire conference from beginning to end. You can also search by keyword, the type of pass (Virtual or In Person), by day, by event type, by learning track, and by competency. If you’re new to this, it can be quite overwhelming, so take it in bite sizes. Consider your own career track and professional development. What are some gaps and areas of opportunity that could help advance your career? If your company is paying for your attendance, think about the most critical needs of your company and what sessions you could attend to help support those needs.
The conference spans 4 days. There is a LOT of learning that takes place. Don’t feel like you have to attend intense learning sessions all the time. (I did that one year. I was exhausted! That’s a lot to take in!) Mix it up a bit!
On each session description, you’ll see a little calendar icon next to the event time. Click on the calendar icon and add the session to your calendar.
Here are a few recommendations:
#4: Prepare your space
Create your “conference space” in a way that makes you want to be there. Considering lighting (natural vs artificial, light tone, brightness), potential distractions (kids, pets, significant others, coworkers), audio/video options, and furniture.
With technology, there are ways you can simulate an in-person experience. Connect audio to a sound bar or external speakers so you can crank up the volume! (I’m all about the surround sound soundbar. We’ve had many a Taylor Swift concert in our living room!) Consider the size of your monitor – the bigger the better. Are you able to mirror your screen on a smart TV or large monitor so you’re not struggling to see a small laptop (or phone, eek!)?
Set up your furniture in a way that you’re comfortable – but not TOO comfortable. (Don’t lounge on the sofa, risking a mid-session snooze.)
How do you take notes – paper notebook, tablet,. or other device? Have everything ready – paper, pens, charging cords.
Limit possible distractions by placing your phone on silent, closing a door, placing a sign on your door stating that you’re unavailable until X time, and keeping your work apps CLOSED. (Don’t even consider opening work email until break times and/or scheduled office hours. That’s a sure-fire way to get sucked into work unintentionally.)
#3 Schedule Self-Care
Self-care is as important during a virtual conference as it is during an in-person conference. Make sure you’re scheduling breaks. Get up and stretch. Grab a snack. Eat healthy meals to keep your body and mind ready for all of the information you’ll need to process. Drink plenty of water. If you’re a coffee/tea drinker, have your favorite ready to go.
Also, vary your position during the day – sitting/standing. During your break times, go for a short walk. Do some mindfulness. Keep your morning/evening exercise routine.
#2 Protect Your Calendar
It’s understandable that even during an in-person conference you may be called away to attend to an urgent work matter. It’s even more likely during a virtual conference. This can be quite stressful in both scenarios. To the extent possible, prepare your team and your leaders for your absence. Let them know ahead of time that you are going to be unavailable during certain times. If you want to get really fancy, schedule office hours for when you can be available.
Avoid looking at your cell phone, responding to emails and text messages during sessions. You think you can multitask but you can’t. You will miss out on great nuggets of information and insight if you’re trying to do two things at once.
Protect your time. Protect those sessions that you feel are crucial to your professional (and/or personal) growth. Model this behavior for your team and your leaders – it gives them permission to do the same. This alone can have profound impacts on work culture.
Calendar creep has long been an issue. Prioritize this time so that you can continue to have a positive impact. It’s good for you. It’s good for your company. Go all in.
#1 Invest In Your Professional Network
I cannot stress this enough. Invest in your community. Before. During, After.
If you’re on LinkedIn and/or Twitter, follow the hashtags: #SHRM21 #SHRMNMTE #SHRM21Influencer. Engage with the author by responding and sharing. Consider attending the virtual networking events, as well! There are some entertainment/game options, as well as idea-swap options with others in similar industries.
Be intentional. Be curious about others. You never know what insights you’ll gain from others’ experiences and wisdom, or what friendship can develop from a common interest. Remember, you are in HR. HR is about (wait for it…) PEOPLE. (I know… shocking.) Take the time to meet your colleagues and learn from one another. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: One of the most powerful tools in your HR toolbox is your network. Networking isn’t about exchanging business cards. It’s about intentionally building relationships for the purpose of giving – not getting.
Make it a personal challenge to connect meaningfully with at least one person whom you do not know each day you attend. Schedule a virtual coffee break or happy hour. (I invite you to connect with me! I would LOVE to meetup for coffee/cocktails!) Keep those connections going after the conference.
Do not underestimate the power of human connection.
The SHRM Annual Conference is an opportunity to grow your community, challenge your assumptions, stretch your mindset, and take purposeful steps towards a more meaningful career. The workplace has changed dramatically in a short period of time. There is no “going back to the way it was.” (And why would we want to?) Now more than ever, our organizations need us (HR) to lead, model, provide sound counsel, and walk alongside the C-Suite to help guide the business. Our profession is on the brink of something wonderful. We are poised to be the business leaders we have wanted to be for decades. Take the bull by the horns and embrace the challenge!