As a long time SHRM member and former attendee of the national and regional conferences, I’m pleased to report that SHRM18 did not disappoint! There’s certainly no better chance to take in the best, brightest and most current trends and resources for HR pro’s than the annual conference, and I am deeply grateful to Raleigh Metro SHRM and the awards committee for providing me with the honor and opportunity to attend and represent our chapter this year.

I’ve just passed a great milestone—the first anniversary of launching my independent HR consultancy! As a new business owner, and one that is expected to be up to date on all the latest and greatest in all things HR, I knew it was important to stay abreast of current trends, practices and laws in the profession. As any business owner can attest to, your non-client facing time is precious and limited, so being able to get a ton of information in a short amount of time, and in one place, is ideal—enter, SHRM 2018!

I really wanted to attend, but again, #newbizownerprobs, it was tough to fork over the money, especially since I was previously fortunate enough to be accustomed to my full-time employer paying for training and education. I was super excited to have the “wait, there’s a scholarship opportunity!” light bulb go off…prompted by those “apply now” emails, of course! After taking the time to request recommendations (which, bonus, makes you feel really good about yourself!), and writing an essay outlining my interest in being considered, I was so pleased and honored to learn that I was selected! I know our chapter is full of a lot of accomplished professionals, so I made sure to use this opportunity for free travel, lodging and registration to its fullest by attending—proud moment here—every single possible session available (yes, even the early bird ones which I can’t say I was so diligent about in past years!).

I could write a novel about what I learned, from new developments in handbook case law to what to expect in benefits compliance, but I’ll save you the reading and hope that my favorite is a good takeaway for today. I HIGHLY recommend reading or listening to anything by Adam Grant. Not only is he fun and engaging, he is spot on about what the future of HR must look like, and makes you really feel empowered (even as a li ol’ department of one!) to take the lead in making a big difference in your organization.

My favorite recommendation he made is to get in the custom of not only welcoming, but creating an expectation of candid feedback in your organization. We all know that people have set expectations: the money and benefits can be found in many organizations. What makes people join and stay, especially millennials, is knowing that they’re valued and making an impact. One entertaining story he told was of a huge financial company whose president was not so subtly informed after a client meeting that he was rambling on like a lunatic and that his lack of preparation and knowledge would not be acceptable at future client meetings. Could you imagine? As a sales director, telling your president that he was basically a babbling idiot?! He has my attention. What did this executive do? He forwarded the email to the ENTIRE COMPANY! He asked to be graded on a scale of A-F, and apparently received no A’s. He then made an acknowledgement of his shortcomings and a commitment to work on the most significant ones. He created an atmosphere where “open door policy” wasn’t just a section in the handbook, but a notion truly expected of all staff.

Sure, it might take some time to get our presidents, CEOs, etc. on board with this radical change, but show them engagement and retention statistics from companies like this (Warby Parker was cited as a specific example), and you may get some headway. What I took away? Don’t hide behind the “we’re perfect, it’s all part of the business plan” shield. Be open about what could be better (hint: it’s no secret to your employees anyway!), then use your power of running the people function by making plans to address them one by one. Even small steps count. Even better, involve your employees! When referring to Warby Parker’s successes in what I’ve found to essentially be a culture of vulnerability, he said that they apparently have a Google Sheet that any employee can contribute to, that collects feedback and suggestions company wide. Each month, the leadership team reviews and selects a few to be tackled—not just by planning in the executive suite and sliding new practices down, but by opening the fix back up to employees. Not only do employees have a voice, but they also have an opportunity to engage their skill sets by tackling those challenges. Apparently three out of five of their highest revenue returns came from items prompted within that Google Sheet.

Well, the novel I promised not to write is off to a lengthy start so I’ll just conclude by giving a HUGE THANK YOU to RMSHRM for the support. It was my pleasure to represent the chapter at SHRM 2018. I had a blast exploring the expo and getting to know new vendors, learning from the best and brightest in our profession and, of course, networking with my HR friends—we all know who staffs the most fun department in the company, am I right?! My sincerest gratitude.

Christin Johnson, PHR, SHRM-CP
Principal People Whisperer, iStartupHR