Published: Jun 27, 2018

It’s been about a week since the conclusion of #SHRM18 and I’m finally sitting down to reflect on this years’ experience. Starting with the stunning opening from Kechi Okwuchi, to the overflowing breakout sessions, to the buzz in the expo hall – one thing was obvious – it’s a new time for human resources. Sure, we’ve been saying that for a while now, but the new CEO of SHRM captured the essence of it best, “enough with getting a seat at the table, what are you prepared to do with that seat when you get there?” Here are my five key takeaways from #SHRM18 this year.

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1. Being authentic is now a requirement.

With the rise of review sites, social media and instant communication – the game has now changed for employers as it relates to managing their brand and image in the marketplace. The employer-employee relationship has also changed, and employees expect more from their organizations than ever before. They want open, honest communication, a foundation of mutual respect, and a culture of empathy. The authenticity factor will be used to judge whether or not someone will choose to work for your company in the future.

2. Policies must leave room for flexibility and empathy to build trust.

The HR profession at large is in a rebuilding state. We’ve all had that watercooler conversation where someone says, “I called HR and they did nothing” or “HR wouldn’t make an exception”. There is a place for policies and procedures in the workplace, after all we need them to ensure compliance and safety. But there was a tone at the conference nodding to the idea that that situations are not always black and white, and that HR needs to make room for some of the gray. Remember the human side of the equation and allow for creative problem solving while maintaining consistency, transparency, and adherence to regulatory requirements.

3. Culture as a mechanism to empower employees.

There is a lot of talk about the importance of culture as a component of your employment brand, to create a sense of belonging for employees and as an indicator of values. What stood out to me was when culture was talked about as a framework for someone on the front line of the organization to use to make decisions.

I know there are mixed opinions about that idea. One company talked about how they traditionally were a culture of operational efficiency and policy making to ensure safety for their staff and customers. That thinking was so embedded in their employees that when it came time to make in-the-moment decisions, employees were leaning a little heavy on the side of efficiency and policy and not factoring in the human side of the equation. This company ended up in headlines across the country for some controversial decisions that were made at the expense of their customers and decided that a change needed to happen. They launched into a project to redefine their culture and added an element to it that spoke to being human-oriented. They’re now rolling out their new culture framework to all employees globally and positioning it as a way to think about the decision being made in-the-moment. Does it align with the company culture and values?

4. The rise of the small (but mighty) HR team.

The small to mid-size business market is a force to be reckoned with! Not only were there a number of sessions focused on the “HR department of one” like I talked about in my pre-conference blog, but the few I did attend were overflowing with people…like filled up an entire additional conference room. Time management was a core theme for this audience. When you’re a smaller team, or even flying solo, you are pulled into so many different directions that it’s hard to make headway on the things that are critical to drive the business forward. As a starting point, smaller teams should do the work to really understand how much time each task is taking, yes that means tracking and metrics. This is really the only way to determine if the amount of time spent on a task is the best use of time. If not, now you have data to help determine alternatives for getting that work done. And by the way, data helps with building business cases, and determining ROI, which is vitally important in smaller organizations when vying for budget.

5. Technology isn’t just to automate or accelerate, it’s to anticipate.

The more you embrace technology, the more you will start to understand that its purpose is evolving from purely helping HR teams automate and accelerate the work they’re doing. There were lots of conversations about people analytics, the use of artificial intelligence, chatbots and more. These innovative technologies are now able to help organizations anticipate trends in their business, so they can get out in front. Think about how technology can serve you by anticipating trends and issues that are happening in your organization. Things like hiring trends, or understanding absenteeism and how it relates to unscheduled overtime, potential burnout risks, and turnover indicators. It’s really not that hard to get started.

Overall, a lot of similar conversations around engaging employees, addressing the skills gap, regulatory updates, and workplace flexibility at this year’s conference. But there was a new call to action I heard – exercise your influence as HR leaders and lead with authenticity. If you start there, the rest will fall into place.