SHRM Las Vegas 2: Yes, HR IS in the Human Nature Business

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Jun 29, 2015

Deep thinkers expressing deep thoughts seem to be the standard fare for keynote presentations on Day 2 at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual Conference & Exhibition.

Last year, SHRM attendees heard New York Times columnist and best-selling author Tom Friedman on Day 2 in Orlando. He’s most famous for the book The World Is Flat, a 660-page  magnum opus that is subtitled “A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.”

Friedman’s SHRM keynote was pretty deep and heavy, and so it was with this year’s Day 2 keynoter here in Las Vegas — author Marcus Buckingham, who is described on Wikipedia as a “best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant.”

Buckingham is a well-known speaker who can be seen frequently on the HR conference circuit, and he’s an author as well with books like Now, Discover Your Strengths and First, Break All the Rules.

Another deep thinking keynote speaker

The key point of his SHRM keynote presentation — that frequent interaction between a team leader and members of his or her team drives performance and innovation — is a good one even if it does seem fairly obvious.

Marcus Buckingham
Marcus Buckingham

But as Buckingham pointed out, many leaders both in and out of HR tend to get focused on a lot more complicated stuff that actually yields a lot less to the organization, and that simplifying things down to something as simple as frequent interaction between a leader and their team is the smart play for driving performance.

It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

The problem is that Buckingham’s presentation was pretty deep and complex as well, and it seemed to be a little more than 15,000 plus HR people early on a Monday morning at their annual conference in Las Vegas really wanted to absorb. I’m paid to sit and listen to him and even I found it a lot more than I cared to get so early in the morning so early in the week.

My advice: Less is more. A bit less of Buckingham’s deep and thoughtful insights, and perhaps a focus on more personal stories and anecdotes with a little more humor, would have made it a bit easier to swallow. It’s the old “spoonful of sugar” thing, and there’s a reason why that helps to make the medicine go down.

Buckingham did say one more thing at the very end of his presentation that was important, and I thought it was worth repeating: “HR is in the human nature business, and each person’s nature is unique. We need to help them (help each person that is) to turn it into something useful.”

That’s about as good a definition of HR as I have ever seen, and if nothing else, it was one thing well worth sitting through all the rest of his presentation for.

The Board Chair speaks

Day 2 of the big SHRM annual conference is also where the Chair of the SHRM Board gets up to give their words of wisdom on things, and sometimes it is good (as I thought Bette Francis was last year in Orlando), but mostly, the Board chair’s comments are pretty forgettable.

I’ve heard a lot of them over a lot of SHRM annual conferences, and rarely does one stand out as Francis did last year.

Brian Silva
Brian Silva

Brian Silva is current Board Chair, and he is also the Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior VP, Administration at Fresenius Medical Care in Waltham, Mass. He seems like a well-meaning guy, but I found his opening remarks here in Las Vegas to be more of the forgettable variety.

His big point: HR people need to embrace lifetime learning, and although he’s right about that, his answer to “how” to do that seemed to be to embrace the SHRM competency model — the “new gold standard for HR knowledge,” as he put it — and the new SHRM certifications.

Well, given that there are still 130,000 plus HR professionals who hold credentials from the HR Certification Institute, my guess is that there are a fair number of human resources people out there who might disagree with Mr. Silva. And, given the ongoing controversy over HR certifications and the way SHRM ended it’s relationship with former partner HRCI, Silva’s comments to the Las Vegas audience essentially amounted to marketing-speak.

It’s SHRM’s conference, so I’m not surprised they would be touting their own certifications. In fact, I sort of expected it.

But, save me the self-serving hype on the SHRM competency model being the new “gold standard for HR knowledge.” Regardless of what SHRM says, the jury is STILL clearly out on that one.