I’m blessed again this year to be attending the SHRM Annual Conference. Yesterday I spoke with a friend that I haven’t seen at a SHRM event in a while. I asked him about what he was most looking forward to, and he had a quick response for me: the people.

Yes, the content is good.

Yes, the general sessions are motivating.

Even the expo hall has a great set of vendors and providers to fill every possible need in the HR world.

But the people—that personal connection—is what drew him in more than anything else.

That made me pause, because I can remember a point in my career when I desperately needed the content. FMLA, 401k planning, and compliance sessions were my go-to for staying on top of the latest developments and information. I planned my agenda months in advance so that I could take full advantage of the experts available. But in this season of my life, I have begun to put more and more emphasis on the personal relationships around me as the main reason to attend SHRM.

But therein lies a problem.

For many attendees, the difficulty comes in translating that “relationship building” to a business case for someone to pay for you to attend the SHRM Conference. Saying, “I want to go make new friends” is a surefire way to get yourself laughed out of the room when you’re asking to go to the event, but there is an answer that makes sense. The true value lies in the ROI of the relationships you’re building. Here’s what I mean:

  • Several years ago I met Mike Haberman at an event. The guy is a whiz when it comes to compliance in simple, non-legal terms that we in HR can understand and implement. When I have questions, I reach out to Mike for help.
  • Someone recently reached out to me online to help her with a compensation issue within her organization. We had connected briefly in the past, and she was interested in getting some help to make sure her company did the right thing for the firm and its employees.

In each of these examples, we see that initial relationship paying off. That has true financial value. If we assume an HR consultant makes $100 an hour (round figures), and you save twenty hours a year in consulting costs by building out a network of competent, trustworthy people, then you can justify the cost of attending an event like the SHRM Conference.

Some of you might be wondering if this applies to you, even if you’re not a social butterfly. As an introvert, the social/personal connection is one that is tough to pull off for me personally. It has taken some time to get there, but now I have a set of experts ranging from employer branding and culture to compliance and regulation. And like a true HR pro, I look for ways to help my friends and colleagues in the industry by putting them in touch with these people as well.

I’m not saying you need to completely bail on the sessions or give up on the content piece, but you do need to make an effort to talk with a few people that you wouldn’t have a chance to meet for the other 364 days in the year. We’re all in this together, and the stronger the relationships are, the better we all become. As the great quote says, a rising tide lifts all boats. So take a few minutes today to connect with someone and start building a relationship (AKA networking). You’ll be glad you did.

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