Over the last week I’ve read just about every #SHRM15 recap post. In 99.9% of them (ok, I just pulled that statistic out of the air but it’s pretty close) the author opined something like “networking is one of the greatest benefits for attendees of the big show.”
I do have to say, after attending the conference for well over a decade, that I’ve seen a marked increase in the interactions, meetups and blossoming relationships that occur amongst peers and professional colleagues. I certainly give some credit to the increased usage of social media channels and technology platforms that allow people to connect before, during and after the event. Jan tweets Carol during a session, they meet face to face in the SHRM bookstore, grab a cocktail together at some law firm’s networking event that night and BAM – next thing you know they’re LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends.
That’s a good thing.
Here’s the issue though…often times this “let’s network!” mantra only gets trotted out at events or conferences. People turn the idea of connecting into a 4 day goal as opposed to an ongoing dedicated belief that there is inherent value in continuously meeting new people, learning new things and indulging in new conversations.
Obviously the thought of purposeful networking is as horrifying to some people as is the idea (to me) of encountering a spider in the bathtub or a clown at my front door. The fact that articles about its importance continue to be shoved down their throat just makes them even more reticent and unwilling to indulge in activities that appear to be about mindless chit chat or conversations with strangers.
I get it. But I also find it disheartening when members of professional organizations don’t take advantage of networking opportunities; especially in a small community where, for better or worse, everyone will some day either work or collaborate with everyone else.
I’m a member of two SHRM chapters; New Orleans SHRM (NOLASHRM) and Baton Rouge SHRM (GBRSHRM) and the approach to networking is strikingly different between the two chapters. The NOLASHRM chapter holds monthly evening networking events and earlier this week they hosted a get-together at a wine bar/store/restaurant. 50 HR ladies and gents showed up to enjoy a cheese and charcuterie spread and, of course, wine. This attendance number represents but a fraction of the members but the events are held whether 5 people attend or 100.
The GBRSHRM chapter, on the other hand, hosts no dedicated networking events nor is anything done in the evenings except for the annual Holiday Party at which spouses/guests sit awkwardly, watch HR ladies line dance, and silently vow to never attend again no matter how much their wife/husband pleads. There’s a little history to this that I can speak to (having been chapter president 7 years ago); even though chapter members regularly state in survey after survey that they want networking opportunities, whenever events are held attendance is dismal.
It’s become abundantly clear that HR professionals in Baton Rouge don’t want to attend anything outside of work hours. Reasons I’ve heard have ranged from “the Baton Rouge traffic is so bad that I just want to get off the roads and get home” (understandable) to “I use my evenings to spend time with my family” (I get it) to “I really don’t want to spend time with any of these people.” I kid on that last one. Sorta.
Over the years the BR chapter has attempted numerous times to get local HR people together; we’ve done crawfish boils and picnics (zoo and water park). We’ve done a golf outing. We’ve put together a walking team for charity events and volunteered at the Food Bank (6 people showed up). We’ve done “meet ups” and “tweet ups” and post-seminar happy hours. An HR friend of mine started a non-SHRM affiliated “HR Special Interest Group” a few years ago and built an email list of 100 or so HR folks to whom she mails monthly invites to gather at Venue A on a given date. Over the course of almost 2 years we have had about 20 different people show up with a core group of 6-8 regular attendees. At this stage it’s merely a gathering of friends that, while fun, is not a networking event.
Is it a local community thing? Perhaps. When I lived in Milwaukee we did all our SHRM chapter meetings at night and they were packed. I spoke at a Cleveland SHRM DisruptHR event last year and there were 40+ of us who first descended on a local bar at 9PM (well past the bed time, apparently, for Louisiana HR ladies).
Is it an HR thing? Maybe; although one certainly doesn’t run into this reluctance with the HR Technology crowd or with Recruiters, subsets, to some degree, of the greater HR world. No wonder I like recruiting conferences better than HR conferences; the best conversations, learning, and information sharing happens at the bar after the day’s activities have concluded.
Maybe purposeful networking isn’t for you. Maybe a mad dash once a year to grow your professional connections seems like enough effort. That’s OK – go ahead and stay home. Resign yourself to hanging out in the same circles, with the same people, talking about the same stuff.
But I’ll be over there having a conversation.
With a twist.