SHRM Tech Conference 2019: Recap

aI am yet to attend an HR conference where I have not learnt something new. 89% of the time, it is through conversations with the myriad HR professionals that gather at the melting pot. Every single time I walk into a conference environment, I cannot help but be surprised at the different orbits we all revolve in, on how different our worlds can be and yet are so alike. However, it wasn’t until a fellow blogger asked – ‘Why do you attend these conferences?’ did I realize that I was tapping into less than 25% of the potential that conferences hold.

My usual flippant answer was – ‘I come to these conferences to meet all my fellow bloggers and other industry stalwarts. To make new connections and learn via conversations. Listen to the talks and see if I learn something new via them.’ Even as I said it, I realized how vague I was being. So, I asked, why do you attend?

His response was straight and easy – ‘I do not come to find clients (he is a freelance consultant). You do not find clients in places like these. Nor do you learn something drastically new at conferences; it is a bonus if you do. However, the talks and the vendors give you a very good indication of where the conversation in the world of HR is heading. They tell you what are the key themes that the profession is discussing and the space they are looking to innovate in. It gives you a sign of things to come and that is why I attend.’

I was flabbergasted. While I do pay attention to the themes that stare out at you, I rarely look for the sublime undercurrents nor do I intentionally thread all the conversations together to gauge the future. Hence, unlike usual conference wrap up posts where I talk about my favorite talks, I will share my notes on the top three themes that stood out for me. My only regret is that I had the above conversation on Day 2.

  1. Looking at technology as a whole: There is much more to technology than just machine learning and artificial intelligence. You and I have known it forever yet we questioned our belief every time we attended a tech conference especially since these two terms made inroads into every talk. This year, for a change, not all talks took on the goal of mentioning ML/AI (or the like). It was a welcoming change to observe speakers looking at the benefits or the downside of technology as a whole to solve current and emerging problems. Vendors too stayed away from using buzzwords to promote products but focused on the solution. Some even said that they do not use terms like AI/ML since the technology they leverage is much more complicated than just those two terms. On the other hand, some vendors chose to say that their offering focuses on solving the problem via simple algorithms vs jargon driven complex technology. Now isn’t that refreshing!
  1. Increasing organizational accountability: Employees, authorities and the world in general has begun to expect more from organizations than ever before and rightly so. An employee spends a large amount of time connected to work – be it via email on phones or work calls from home. In our ‘always on’ day, the organization plays a very powerful role. With great power comes great responsibility. Thus, there is a larger responsibility placed on organizations to educate employees about laws, play a greater role in healthcare, acclimatization while moving to a new city and more. These conversations lingered through many talks and came to the forefront when in one talk organizations were requested to play a greater role in battling cyber security.
  1. Entrepreneurship and startups: This was a surprise. We know that the role of an HR in startups vary and that entrepreneurs have varying views of the profession. The conference put a spotlight on entrepreneurship and the role of the government in enabling them. There were also a large number of startups in the exposition hall (this was not surprising) and talks where startup evangelists exchanged thoughts with HR veterans. However, what was new for me was a glimpse into the entrepreneur way of life and the challenges and joys associated with. I noticed that my extended circle now consisted of many HR entrepreneurs. I spent time in conversation with two of them and got an educational view of what life could be down the path. It is great preparation for when maybe, at some point, I steer into that course. Who knows?

As with most conferences, there were many more themes covered. I made a promise to myself to watch for the undercurrents more closely the next time over. I can’t wait for the annual conference. The countdown to October has begun.


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