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Tailoring SHRM to Your Needs

June 19, 2008

When it comes to HR’s biggest annual conference, one size doesn’t fit all.

    Newbies to human resource positions, midlevel HR professionals and senior leaders in the field will benefit from different sessions and events at the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition.

    To help HR professionals at different career levels achieve an optimal SHRM show experience, here’s what could be called a conference customizer. We hope this set of suggestions assists you as you try to take what can be an overwhelming event—with more than 150 concurrent session topics and various other programs—and tailor it to your needs.

    The core of the show is the set of concurrent sessions taking place Monday, June 23, through Wednesday, June 25. Those sessions are broken into tracks that largely correspond to HR disciplines, such as total rewards, HR and the law, and "employment," which covers HR generalist concerns.

    Those disciplines, of course, include HR professionals with vastly different levels of experience and authority. Total rewards, for example, encompasses everyone from a beginning benefits manager at a small company to the vice president of compensation at a Fortune 100 firm.

    To some extent, though, SHRM’s 60th annual conference is set up to recognize the various strata of HR professionals. The sections you see here point you to experience-specific content, as well as highlighting other promising events.

Beginners
   "Essentials of Human Resource Management" is a two-day course designed in part for entry-level HR professionals. The program, according to SHRM, "provides participants with a basic overview of the human resource function and some of today’s critical HR issues."

    This course is one of a number of conference offerings that add to your total cost. While SHRM charged its members $1,070 for a "full conference" registration purchased by January 18, the "Essentials" course costs $1,695 (the price includes the conference registration).

    There are, however, many concurrent sessions that make sense for entry-level HR practitioners. And these sessions do not involve added fees.

    Randy Pennington, a former HR professional who now works as a consultant, recommends that those new to the profession attend one or two sessions focused on their area of responsibility. But rookies also should get to seminars with a "broad, strategic view of HR," says Pennington, who is leading two sessions at the conference. "One of the challenges is to get out of our silo," he says.

    A session that may not immediately stand out to beginning HR professionals is "Five Ways to Increase Your HR Effectiveness Starting Today." But the workshop should offer important lessons for both beginning and midlevel HR folks. Session leader and business consultant Nan Russell says the presentation concentrates on how HR practitioners can increase their influence and build credibility. Russell herself was in the HR trenches and once was put in a position of having to tell her company president "the truth or what he wanted to hear." She chose the former, and earned a promotion. "There’s a lot about courage in this presentation," she says.

Midlevels
   Last year, at least 55 percent of attendees at the SHRM conference, held in Las Vegas, had a "director" or "manager/supervisor" title. With so many at the show in midcareer positions, it’s not surprising that many conference events are targeted to them. Among the offerings carrying extra fees, there are business education courses in areas including finance, organizational change and "strategic management of mergers & acquisitions."

    For the concurrent sessions, SHRM is adding a new international track this year and continuing its strategic-management track. These sets of sessions correspond to the way the HR function is moving to consider higher-level business issues and to the increasingly global nature of organizations.

    Pennington’s "mega session" at 2 p.m. Monday falls into the "employment" category rather than the "strategic" bucket. But he argues that the session, "Yes, but How? 12½ Ideas to Build a Culture Focused on Results, Relationships and Accountability," can help midlevel professionals gain a bigger-picture perspective—a key to strategic thinking. "They don’t always see the connections," Pennington says.

Executives
   One of SHRM’s challenges has been to serve not only lower-level HR practitioners, but the workforce management executives at the forefront of a more strategic profession. In a sign that SHRM is keenly aware of the issue, all the new features highlighted at the beginning of the official show brochure touch on senior-level HR topics: the international track as well as new executive education programs in executive coaching, HR challenges in China and "Strategic Persuasion & Talent Acquisition." The latter three seminars each run over four days and cost members $2,595, which includes the conference registration fee.

    A number of the concurrent sessions also stand out as good bets for upper-level HR managers. On Monday at 2 p.m., Wal-Mart HR chief Susan Chambers leads a session on "Discovering and Developing Talent in Global Organizations." Unfortunately, this presentation from a key executive at the world’s largest retailer has been scheduled at the same time as another tantalizing session: James Jianbo Li, Cisco Systems’ vice president of HR in Beijing, will speak on "winning the talent war in China."

    A session likely to be intriguing doesn’t initially seem suited to senior HR leaders. "Caution! Using the Internet and Social Networking Sites to Screen Applicants" will highlight the potential pitfalls of employers using popular sites MySpace and Facebook. HR executives may not dabble in the sort of recruiting or background checking activities that can be done on the sites, but the session will help those leaders get an overview of land mines like learning too much about candidates, says presenter Lester Rosen. "It gives senior practitioners an idea of new problems created by the Internet and cyberspace," says Rosen, president of background checking firm Employment Screening Resources.

Get out of your room
   No matter your level in HR, it also pays to think "outside the session." Network, network, network, suggests Sandi Spivey, director of HR at restaurant chain Taco Bell. "Make sure you don’t go to your room and hibernate during the breaks," she says.