“Conference” HR vs. Real-World HR

For many years now I’ve lived simultaneously in two separate and distinct HR worlds. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world attending and/or speaking at events and conferences focused on HR, Recruiting, Technology and the Future of Work. I’ve also continued to meet and work with human resources professionals and businesses that, to put it mildly, operate much as they did circa 1993.

I love the fact that I have a world-wide community of friends and colleagues who are on the cutting-edge; people doing smart and innovative work who drive conversations about change and HR’s role in meeting workforce needs in the 21st century. I also appreciate how I get to discuss and observe (and fix) the day-to-day realities of running a people operations function in this day and age. These interactions include working with HR professionals from small companies to large enterprises and (here’s the not-so-secret-dirty-little-secret) many of them feel somewhat chagrined they’re not rocking and rolling with ALL the bells and whistles they believe are expected of a modern HR team. Oh sure, some of that is based on a reluctance (or fear) to change or innovate but quite often it’s due to budget, priorities, type of industry or the desires of the company CEO/Owner.

Now one of the reasons we (the collective we) like to attend conferences is to gather ideas; I’m certainly a firm believer that one can hear the most crazy, outrageous and disruptive idea, strip it down to its essence, and get some take-away that can be applicable back in your HR shop.

However, and here’s the part I find amusing, there is often SUCH a disconnect between the content delivered at events (onstage, whitepapers, podcasts, etc.) and what the typical HR professional discusses that it may appear we are operating in 2 entirely different professions.

What does this look like?

Conference HR: ”Implementing broad workplace flexibility will improve business performance and increase employee engagement, commitment and retention!” Real World HR: “Our attendance policy issues points; if an employee has 2 tardies (clocking in more than 1 minute late) in 90 days we start progressive discipline. Are we being too lenient?”

Conference HR: “Strategic use of advanced people analytics and large data sets means your HR Team can improve overall business performance!” Real World HR: “At the end of each month I run a report for the leadership team showing hires, terms and transfers; they seem to like it”

Conference HR: “The gig economy provides flexibility for businesses and workers!” Real World HR: “Can I change a W2 employee into a 1099 Independent Contractor? My CEO wants to save money on benefits.”

Conference HR: “The use of AI and augmented intelligence will provide for proactive hiring and better determine candidate fit and future performance!” Real World HR: “Does anybody else work for a company that doesn’t have an ATS or HRIS system? If so, how do you track data? Excel?”

Conference HR: “To nurture a culture of communication and transparency at all-hands meetings make sure to revisit business goals and discuss results and strategy!” Real World HR: “The topics we cover at every all-hands meeting are safety training and the attendance policy requirements. Oh; and we remind everyone to turn in their timecards.”

Conference HR: “The resume is dead; you can source candidates online and find everything you need to know!” Real World HR: “I refuse to consider an applicant’s resume unless they’ve followed directions and included a cover letter.”

Conference HR: “The Future of Work is NOW!” Real World HR: “Someone is smearing feces on the walls of the men’s restroom and we’re unsure how to go about investigating this…”

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2 thoughts on ““Conference” HR vs. Real-World HR

  1. Bingo ! The conferences have become a series of Gyan sessions with no connections ton pragmatic realities. A whole bunch of enthusiasts preaching ‘What to do’ sermons succeeds with a whole lot of attendees leaving the place unable to figure out ‘How to do ‘ . Well written and articulated.

  2. I really enjoyed this Robin! It’s a bit like taking my SPHR class back in the day when I figured there was the “textbook” answer I had to use to pass and the the “real world” answer HR practiced in the factory world I lived in. Reading each of your “Real World” responses brought back those memories and I just left left manufacturing in late 2014! Now the only one I struggle with is not having an ATS or a robust HRIS that goes beyond our ERP system used to house basic data and run run payroll. I do get to pick some great ideas and uses pieces of things from conferences and enjoy the connections made at them, so in that way, the “WORLD” get a little better . . .

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