I don’t know man, I have come to believe that SHRM Annual is just about what it needs to be. It is a big ass conference where a lot of HR folks come together with a lot of vendors; some people make new connections and some people get valuable information and some people have a lot of fun and some people do all three.
I do believe that SHRM needs to work really hard toward putting the right content in the right formats for their agenda, and I think you and China both have valuable ideas for them. If I were SHRM, I would value your input. But they are never going to please everyone with this conference. I am a speaker, and I will probably always be mildly irritated with the agenda until it has me doing a pre-conference workshop on Sunday, a keynote on Monday, and six breakouts on Tuesday. And, ultimately, this conference is not for me.
SHRM Annual is a monster, it is a battleship and battleships do not turn very tightly, it just is not what they are built for. As battleships go, I think this one is done pretty well and I think it is moving in the right direction. It is one of the things at the center of the HR ecosystem and the center is not where a lot of innovation and disruption and experimentation are to be found; it is where tradition and stability and affinity are found…which also have their value.
I think that where we need to have higher expectations for change and disruption and experimentation is with the stuff that is closer to the edge.
There are today no shortage of events that claim to be unconferences / anticonferences / upsidedownconferences, etc. They position themselves as alternatives to formal conferences …but most of them are not any different from formal conferences other than in size. Same kinds of formats, same kinds of agendas, same kinds of topics. A lot of events out there that talk like they are saving the world from giant SHRM conferences that are actually just junior varsity SHRM conferences. These events should be on the bleeding edge when it comes to formats and topics…and a few of them are, but most play it pretty safe.
There are a lot of speaker / writer / consultant types (like us) that take shots at conferences for their traditional 75 minute lecture format, yet we continue to give 75 minute lectures. While I personally think that you and I give a pretty damn good 75 minute lecture, this makes us part of the problem as well.
SHRM touches a lot of people in and around the profession and what it does with its conferences (especially the battleship) matters. We should pay attention, we should have high expectations, we should provide feedback. We just need to make sure we are applying those same kinds of expectations closer to home.