This week I’m in Atlanta for the Microsoft Ignite event. Yes, I see the puzzled expressions. Microsoft? IT? What am I thinking?

conferenceNo, I’m not making a career change. I’m perfectly happy where I am.

Here’s the deal. I have been to tons of events over the years, and what always surprises me is the fact that I get something out of the most unlikely places. A stray comment from a 7:00am 401k administration session at SHRM 2013 still rings in my ears when I talk about workplace retirement plans. Yes, there is something of value in pretty much every interaction, and getting outside of the normal routine is a valuable practice in general.

This week I’m going to be talking with some of the team at Microsoft, but I’m also going to be seeing sessions and exploring concepts that relate to the HR world. I’m looking for the perspective from IT leaders and one of the world’s biggest technology firms around concepts such as collaboration, productivity, and delivering business results. Hopefully all three of those ring a bell for you, since they are key pieces of creating a valuable HR function.

Now, I’m not saying you need to pack up and join me, but this ties in with a valuable concept that I’ve been advocating for quite some time. HR needs allies in the workplace. Here’s a tip for you if you’re new:

If it’s only an HR initiative, it will die.

It might seem a bit cynical, but it’s true. People have had enough of the HR programs and fads. The needs of the business rule. And HR is often seen as a blockade. A problem without a solution. A challenge or hurdle to progress.

What to Do

So you need to find some allies. Create some influence. Network a little within your organization’s walls.

One great way to get started is to find some time together with other key people in the company, and that includes people leading your technology team, your accounting/finance team, etc. Those individuals can be your most vocal detractors or your most staunch allies, depending on the time and effort you have taken to understand their needs, support their goals, and deliver high value service.

Take these people to lunch. Find out what their challenges are. Learn about their best plans and their worst fears.

This is an investment in your own influence within the organization as well. Just to clarify, this isn’t sleazy-car-salesman influence. It’s the ability to speak in a language that matters to the audience you’re with. It’s the knowledge of key issues going on that currently or will eventually have an impact on the people side of the business. It’s in your best interests to be on top of these relationships and to make them a priority.

Now, as I said, I don’t expect you to head to an IT conference or jump on a plane for the next whatever-the-heck-it-is that accounting folks go to. But you can walk down the hall and start a conversation today. Here are a few quick and easy ones:

  • I’m facing some challenges with xyz. What sort of things are keeping you up at night?
  • How are you handling xyz? It seems like it would be challenging and I want to understand your strategy.
  • What is the biggest people-related challenge you see in the next 12 months? Hiring? Development? Retention?

Everyone’s situation, company, and relationships are different, but these are just as blunt as I would put them in a forthright conversation with a peer. In fact, I’ve used several of these to create those conversational opportunities to understand the other functions within the business, what their priorities were, and how I could align the HR practices to support them.

Funny enough, that’s what we call strategic HR. I wrote a while back about one of the best leaders I ever worked for and how that relationship helped to truly clarify what the HR strategy had to look like in that organization. Remember, if it’s an HR initiative, it will die.

What relationships are valuable to you in the workplace? What do you do to offer value in return? 

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.

One of my friends forwarded me this private message they received from someone on LinkedIn. This was an unannounced, out-of-the-blue message from an HR person at a company they previously worked with. Check it out:

What is your employee headcount and who is your HR leader? I used to see Pinnacle in the news quite often, but have not recently.

Um, really? You get a limited number of characters to reach out to someone, and that’s what you put into the message?

Sigh.

In case you didn’t know, that’s not really the appropriate way to approach someone that you don’t know well. It’s insulting and falls solidly into the “rude” category.

Thankfully the person who received the email is a good friend and laughed it off. She likes her HR leader. :-)

If you’re using LinkedIn for networking and connecting with others in your industry, please keep this in mind as a great example of how not to connect with others.

Have you seen other issues with LinkedIn etiquette? I’d love to hear some other stories…

My friend Stephen Harrison from the HR Florida state council is hosting this week’s SHRM Blog Carnival on leadership and engagement. He is an amazing resource and was the first person I talked to before starting the RocketHR blog for NASHRM, because he already had established a popular blog for his own local chapter in Florida.

The SHRM Blog Carnival is a way for the volunteer bloggers writing for SHRM chapters and state councils to share content, build connections, and increase the chapters’ social media footprint.

Check out previous editions of the SHRM Blog Carnival at the links below. Please click through and read some of the posts to support the other volunteers around the country!

It surprised me where HR knowledge fell on the list of core competencies for senior HR leaders, because you’d think that it would be higher. Having a core knowledge of HR isn’t the most important thing once you get to the senior ranks, I suppose. Let’s dig in.

Email subscribers click through to see the video.

Missed a video in this series or not sure what it’s about? Click here to learn more.

Why would I take a few days away from my precious family to attend the SHRM Leadership Conference? It\’s simple, really. I wanted to see and hear from other people in the SHRM volunteer community. I created the SHRM Volunteer Leaders LinkedIn group to help connect and collaborate with these people. But that was just the first step. Now the Rock Your Chapter eBook is out there and I want to keep the conversation going about how to make chapters better.

I\’m looking bigger than my own little chapter. Yes, I\’m dedicated to helping them and have already set aside 2011 to serve as the Social Media Coordinator/Webmaster for NASHRM, but I want to connect with other leaders to learn and grow (them and me).

A few good examples

The LinkedIn Group: Mark Christensen initiated a discussion about having a time to talk about state best practices during the Leadership Conference. The discussion received a lot of comments, and (surprise surprise!) SHRM then added some time to talk about it. If that doesn\’t make you feel good that they are paying attention (somewhat, anyway), then I don\’t know what will.

Chapter director collaboration: My friend Bobbi Wilson found out recently that she was going to be the Certification Director at NASHRM for 2011. In an effort to help her get started on the right foot, I reached out to my network to find other certification professionals at other chapters. I gathered some names and email addresses and passed them along to Bobbi.

Now tell me this. If this is her first time as our chapter\’s certification person, do you think she\’ll do a better or worse job now that she has 5-10 people to brainstorm with? Yeah. That\’s a micro example of what my eventual goal is with this SHRM volunteer leader stuff.

Connecting isn’t optional

LinkedIn connections HR

I tweeted this last night during a conversation, and it started a great discussion with some of the people I was sitting with. At one point earlier today, someone actually said the words: “I\’m connected enough.” I had to roll my eyes at that. There\’s no such thing. Just because you can do what you do now without a solid network in place doesn\’t mean you\’ll always be able to handle what comes your way.

Networking is a great way to prepare for those “Ahhh! What do I do?” events. Just like in the job search, by the time you\’ve lost your job it\’s too late to start networking. Same with this. Don\’t wait. Join in. Use some of the tools and see what you can do. Need a hand? Here\’s a social media mentoring program.

Let\’s stop living in our little bubbles. It just doesn\’t cut it anymore.

Today we have a guest post from Steve Browne, an HR pro who I’ve recently come into contact with and have already developed a respect for. I recently joined his HR Net group, and after you hear what he has to say, you might want to do the same. Hit him up in the comments if you’d like to know more about the group. In this post, he’s sharing his thoughts on HR’s isolation and how we need to be getting out there. Enjoy!

Human Resources is one of the most fulfilling, challenging, uplifting and… lonely professions. You see, almost any position within a company has a place they can go to and vent (HR) or complain about employees (HR) or grouse about Senior Management (HR). Where can HR go?

Often it’s to a bar. I mean really! Since we are the bartenders (with no copyright infringement to Sharlyn Lauby) in our own organizations listening to every story of woe and sense of frustration from our employees about other employees, we’re just missing the long wooden bar and the stools. (That would be a cool office for HR though!)

People are tough. However, that’s why most great HR professionals are in HR! They truly are “people” people. So, where can they go?

The great voices in HR that are flooding the waves of Social Media forums such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter are sending out great messages… But, more often than not, it’s to each other and their great thoughts never reach practitioners.

Why? Continue reading