The Insider’s Guide to Selecting Your Conference Sessions

Originally posted on LIVE HR:

So you’re going to the 2015 HRPA Conference and Trade Show…woo hoo! Prepare to be educated and inspired, all while surrounded by other engaged and in-the-know HR folks. So, now what? With an ever growing menu of compelling topics, choosing the right sessions to go to can be overwhelming, but getting it right is critical to your conference experience. You can be fairly certain that the keynotes are going to be motivational and inspiring, but the sessions are the meat between their pillowy bread slices (yes, I am comparing the conference to a sandwich. Yes, I am hungry, and thanks for asking). Sessions are the ‘choose your own adventure’ part of the conference experience, so don’t mess it up people! See below for my super-secret, hard-won tips on picking the best sessions, garnered from 6 years of conference attendance.

selecting sessions1. Chase the lawyers
Anything presented by a lawyer will…

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Under the influence

How easily influenced are you?  If you are like most people who I know, you will think that you have out-grown the tendency to do things just because everyone else is doing it.

In fact, I would put myself in this category – I would like to think that I have my own set of values and principles that guide me and prevent me from doing stupid things like lining up the night before at the Outlet Malls because I have the chance to save money on something that I wasn’t planning on buying in the first place.  Just because it seems like the thing to do.

But I’ve realized that my ability to be influenced is still very much there, but it’s not the overt and 2 x 4 to the head things that get me.  It’s those subtle and practically undetectable things that I fail to see have affected me until it’s too late.  And what gets me almost every time?  Reading fiction.

I’m serious.  Whatever I’m reading influences me innocently and insidiously.  It seeps into my brain, influences my word choices, determines my food and drink choices.  It’s like I become a book zombie.

I’m a big fan of Mad Men and I take great delight in mocking the advertisements on the television and in print.  (As if I think eating your brand of  yogurt is going to solve my digestive issues, make me a belly dancer AND taste good).  And beauty products…please…

But give me a novel where the main character is always drinking coffee and BAM…I’m lying awake at 3:00 am because I too heard the siren call of the java.  Any Scandinavian-based book is sure to keep me up for days.  Not because of the actual story line, but because they drink so much damn coffee and I’m powerless to not join in.  It’s like a sick and twisted drinking game that I’ve unwillingly joined.

And so, because of this, I will not read HR-related books.

I’m afraid that I’m so easily influenced by the written word that I’m apt to jump on to the latest and greatest idea.  Employee engagement…HR analytics…performance management programs…recognition rewards…team-building…leadership excellence…who knows what dangers lurk in those pages.  There is way too much loaded potential that I’m afraid I might be overcome and start blindly applying them.

So no way I’m going to risk falling under the influence…I will stick to sitting back and watching it unfold in front of me.  All the better to openly mock and judge.






Why interviews are important to HR

We have a new HR grad working with our group on a contract.  She is awesome.

She is awesome because she is still really keen on doing good HR.  She is awesome because she asks a million questions.  And she is awesome because her filter isn’t fully formed, so she says some pretty memorable things.

She is similar enough to my daughter than I feel comfortable around her, but not enough that I want to start lecturing her.

As with many new grads that I encounter – I am only too happy to have my brain picked about HR, about jobs, about careers, about life.  I enjoy sharing what I know and asking them questions that will make them think about their own lives.

When it comes to HR, I’m a big believer in getting as much experience on the other side of the desk.  Nothing will help develop your brand of HR faster than experiencing it as a candidate or employee.  You will go through things that will stay in your head and you will not forget them when it comes times to be on the other side of the desk.

This is especially true for the whole recruitment process.  The young woman I’m working with is actively looking for work and has been going to interviews.  We typically debrief afterwards and there are usually two streams of thoughts: 1) about how she did and whether she thinks she will like it there and 2) how they did and based on that whether it’s the right place for her.

She is learning so much about how to treat candidates by being one.  So far, she has realized:

  • What it’s like to be left waiting past your scheduled interview time
  • What’s it like to be speed interviewed
  • How much the physical workplace can influence your impression of the company
  • How disconcerting it is to have an interviewer not have questions in front of them or make any kind of notes
  • How big a deal fit is
  • How not hearing anything is the worst
  • How having a disorganized process, where the various interviewers don’t appear to have any clue what the others are doing can make you feel lost
  • How utterly frustrating it is to hear no and not get any kind of feedback

Like a kid that vows that they “will never yell at their kids” when they are parents – she is starting to form her commitment to what kind of HR she is going to provide.

Of course this isn’t realistic, I mean we all slip – workloads increase, resources are decreased, pressure is applied… it’s hard to maintain perfect service 100% of the time.  However, the experiences that we go through and the knowledge we develop can become empathy.  And empathy is the lifeblood of good HR.

So while it’s a great idea to go to a lot interviews to practice your presentation skills,  hone your answers, and ultimately find a job.  It’s just as important to go to these so that you learn and remember what it’s like to be a candidate.

For every reaction…there’s an equal and opposite policy or protest

Hey, did you know it’s almost Christmas?  Really – I think there needs to be just a few more reminders out there.  The retail industry and media are failing us.

I would like to reassure you that I’m not going to talk about Christmas – I came out of the Grinch closet last year, and this post still accurately reflects my feelings on this time of year.  So enough about that.

I lied.

I am going to say something: People, simmer down. Stop over-reacting.  Stop buying into the hype and go back to how you were feeling 30 seconds before you heard that radio announcement.

You know what?  This goes beyond Christmas and all it’s related chaos.  This goes for work.  This goes for HR.  This goes for the world in general.

In the workplace, we call it being “best in class” (a term I’m not overly fond of).  One company comes up with an idea that works for them and suddenly your VP is asking how we can be more Google, Zappos, or like anyone on the Top 100 Employers of 2014.

The idea is that if it works for them…it will work for us.  Except that we are a not-for-profit service-based organization of 90 people with extremely close ties to the tax-paying Canadian with cubicle layout that bear a striking resemblance to a maze in a mouse experiment.  I’m really not sure where we would put the foosball table…but we need to get on-board.  Now.  Make it happen…right-size it and put a bow on it.

Stop over-reacting and over-generalizing things.


Hey, on the list of things I’m grateful for, I would add that I’m not working in the HR department at CBC right now…seriously, no one wants to have to deal with the sideshow that the whole Jian Ghomesi situation has become.

Oh yes – there are takeaways.  What the situation has created is a dialogue and awareness on topics that needed to happen regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, the stigma and blame-culture that surround victims, and the roles and responsibilities of employers that are in the know.

But what this situation should not have created is a knee-jerk reaction by every other employer to throw together and implement an exhaustive policy by the end of the week.


And protests?

I know I’m treading on dangerous ground with this one, but protests are becoming the ultimate in over-reaction.  Bear with me a moment before you go calling (do people still call people…I mean texting) all your friends to organize a sit in to protest my blog post.

First of all – I don’t mean that people are over-reacting in terms of being frustrated, disgusted, outraged, or devastated by recent events.  Particularly those who are directly impacted – I cannot imagine how they feel, but I would think that they might have a burning desire to do something.  To say something.  To take action.

What I have a harder time with is when this “action” becomes an automatic reaction.  When things become automatic, they start to lose their impact.  When an action becomes predictable and expected, it has become diluted and controlled.  Some will say it is a show of solidarity.  I’m not sure that’s always the case.

An immediate response to an issue, a concern, or a situation should not be a canned, right-sized version of a best in class.  Nor should it be a knee-jerk-but-that’s what-everyone-else-I see-on-CNN-is-doing.

So I repeat myself: People, simmer down.  Stop over-reacting. Stop buying into the hype and go back to how you were feeling 30 seconds before you heard that radio announcement.




Generally speaking

One of the most difficult questions for me to answer is in what areas to do want to develop, learn or want training.

It’s not for lack of wanting to develop, but rather from a fear of boxing myself in. I have a hard time choosing – I want to learn and dabble in just about all areas.

Of course there are things I prefer to do more than others. I mean, I am happy to watch from the sidelines when the compensation team hits the field; however, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to understand the rules of the game or player stats.

And then there are areas that I dive in and don’t climb out of those waters until I’m seriously waterlogged and have prune fingers.

Every Christmas (well to be truthful it’s really in August) my mother starts hounding me about gift ideas. I refuse to cooperate until around mid-October and even then I’m stingy. Perhaps this speaks to some lingering adolescent petulance (and that might be the case), but it’s also because I get almost paralyzed by coming up with a few ideas.  I don’t even know what I want to get myself…how can I possible tell someone else what I want them to get me.

I’ve been very frank about my feelings around Christmas, so you can only imagine how my head spins around performance objective setting time.  It is really challenging for me because it’s just so damn hard to narrow my choices down. How do I pick only a few – there’s so much out there ?

I often wondered whether it would be better to specialize or remain a generalist in HR. I had an inkling that I should find some key area, latch on to it, and rock the shit out of it. After all, “generalist” sounds so sale, so ordinary, so middle of the road.   So I made my pro / cons lists, weighed my options, evaluated my motivational level, and did a bit of soul-searching and realized that I’m cool with staying in the Generalist role.

After all, as The Pretenders so aptly put it, “in the middle of the road you see the darndest things”.

Undoing kindergarten: You don’t have to share everything

There was a time when information was THE ultimate currency.  It was so precious that it in some instance “a little knowledge’ was considered “a dangerous thing”.

Today – information is like a Starbucks.  You can find it anywhere and in ridiculous combinations and sizes.

Big data?! Whatever.  You can have Venti data.

And because of this over abundance of easily accessed information – there has been a serious devaluation.

People treat information like it means nothing, particularly when it is of the personal nature.  Oh I am sure there are many who will call it knowledge-sharing.  All in the name of the greater good.  More often than not, I see it as one-upping.  As in, who can provide the latest and greatest news before anyone else.

Today, if I so desired, I could share just about anything I wanted with my immediate circle or the whole wide (connected) world in a matter of seconds.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, this blog, Instagram, email, …. click, click, click. Shared

What I ate for breakfast, where I am standing, who I’m with, my state of mind, my opinion, a photo of someone else, my opinion on the photo of someone else, the weather, self-promotion, promotion of someone else, someone else’s opinion, my opinion on someone else’s opinion, love, hate, frustration, anger, melancholy.

All of it.  All of the time.

No boundaries.

You know, I could also re-paint the exterior of my house hot pink. It would take a little longer, but it would be out there for all those that pass by to see. I would be sharing it – whether they want to see it or.

Of course I’m not likely to repaint the house (at least not hot pink) anytime soon – it takes effort and quite honestly the novelty would wear off pretty quick and I’m stuck with my Barbie house until I undo the damage.

Sharing my information via the interweb however…well that takes no effort whatsoever.   I don’t have to even think about it.  However the lasting effect and impact is a lot longer.

And before anyone feels like I’m about to launch into an after school special about the dangers of posting things online, I’m not.  If you are reading this blog then you are likely an intelligent adult and know all the playground rules about social media.

What I’m trying to establish is that we have become so incredibly accustomed to sharing information that I think we are losing touch with  whether or not it should be shared.

It never ceases to amaze me when employees share personal information about their pay, about their performance reviews, about conversations they had with others.  Think it’s all just hearsay? Nope – I’ve seen the texts that back it up. It boggles my mind.

A transparent process or workplace does not mean that you should draft an email about what your colleague told me she got as a performance review.  An equitable and inclusive workplace does not mean ensuring that you share everyone’s information equally.

Repeat after me: ” I do not have to share everything.  I am not obligated to pass along every tidbit of information I overhear or come by. It is not necessary to reveal every last detail about all aspects of my personal and professional life.”

Now copy and paste the last statement and post that on all your accounts.




Attention. Attention please.

It goes without saying that if I’m aiming to write an HR blog, then I should be the one giving advice, telling people how it is, and griping about the reality of things.

Oh and where’s my seat at the table?

And how about them engagement scores.

To clarify, this isn’t a formal HR blog (fortunately for me), it’s a blog that frequently refers to HR-related things.  This variation allows me a ridiculous amount of freedom in saying stuff like…I think management has it backwards, it’s not the employees that have an over-developed sense of entitlement, it’s themselves.  Really – you pay people to work.  You don’t own them.  You are not entitled to every ounce of time and attention that they possess.

It makes me think of the scene in The Social Network where Mark Zuckerburg zones out and is called on it by being asked, “Do I have your full attention?” and his rebuttal includes this gem “…you have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount…the rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook…”

You have to understand that a some time or another that’s how most of us feel.  Some week’s it might be more than less.  Sometimes that’s how we feel at work.  Sometimes it’s how we feel at home.

Picture this : You are sitting in yet another meeting and your mind is back in your work space thinking about the 150 emails and requests that are coming in, how you need to get the day-to-day done, what glorious objectives we are going to set for yourself this year, and well, whether there will be a next year.

Meantime, you catch yourself zoning out and realize that when you re-join the meeting 15 minutes later, nothing has happened.  So then you zone out again, but this time you are thinking about what you are going to make for dinner, how you are going to be in two places at once at 6:30 pm, and whether or not your teen is just going through a “phase” or whether it’s something more serious.

You are then snapped back to reality when someone asks you a question and you don’t know what it was – so you ask them to repeat it.

Do you have an opinion on the project?

Yes, you have concerns about a few of the keys functions that will not meet your requirements – sure they look good and might do part of the job, but it won’t necessarily be more efficient – it will be the same, in a fancier box….

(Blank looks, blinking eyes)

Okay – Alright then. So it’s go then.


And THAT is why employees check out.  That is why their focus is easily diverted to other areas and concerns that have seemingly more meaning and impact in our lives.

Presuming that you deserve your employee’s complete and full attention at all times is unrealistic at best.  Particularly if the attention that is given is disregarded.

Happy Monday.