Cheers to SHRM17

There’s a potlatch in New Orleans next week, a throwback of sorts into this final belch of the Mississippi and its nearly 400 year history of celebration, music, wild tales and plunder. So let us conference in the true spirit of the word.  Conference, the word imbued with a history beyond the button down let your hair down and get down, doubles down as training and boondoggle both, and is ultimately a time to let go, to explore new things, gain fresh perspectives, even open one’s self to the damascene. Argument,  chat,  confabulation, colloquy, gabfest, ventilation, groupthink, palaver and let’s not forget chitchat are all synonyms for conference, this artifact of the latest age of human endeavor.

CFO’s may want to take note too as conference affairs are subsidized by the paltry donations sanctioned by your ‘Training – External’ budget line item — kind of a life line, no exaggeration. Association Managers everywhere will want to give a listen too as memorial services are being arranged as we speak.

But this year, let’s conference and celebrate at the biggest confabulation in the HR space, perfectly hosted by New Orleans, church emeritus of the jazz funeral. I have been to two SHRM shows, one a long many years ago in Las Vegas and the other the 2004 affair in  New Orleans. I remember little of either event, only the good parts. My favorite memory is taking over down front with friends, in front of the association’s executive team, and riding the rail at the opening night Doobie Brothers concert. It is fun demonstrating the power of the flat organization.

In honor of these memories I do not have, this imagined salute to the events of June 15 — 21, is both tribute and virtual presentation covering ageless organizational themes, bizarrely contemporary with a wink and a hug for life in these our curious times. Enjoy and feel free to forward to a friend in need of distraction or direction, either one.

Many years ago, before I discovered the joy of chiltepins, the potent little peppers native to North America and my garden, alone in their phylum,  I worked summers as a field hand. It was hard work. One July in Iowa, almost exactly 50 years ago, it was sweltering like we invented the word. Girls were allowed but only on the de-tassling crews and it was there in the sweet black loam of Plymouth County I learned the joys of working in an organization. You might say it was my first conference.

Aeschylus noted long ago the relation between learning and pain, and naturally Zeus gets the credit?

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Some of the lessons I earned that summer, memorialized and consecrated in the school of life experience, are excerpted below for your enjoyment, and edification, sort of a pre-read to prepare you for next week and beyond. Don’t forget the pain!

  • Meetings — yeah, we were doing morning and mid-day stand-ups even out in the field back then so meeting management is first on the list.
  • Kings — some people are meant to lead, others should be forbidden. Would that we would have the wisdom.
  • Red Queen   — in honor of Queen Noor of Jordan who improbably delivered the keynote address to the 2004 SHRM conference, also in New Orleans. Plus for every King there needs a Queen.
  • Opus Gropes  — let’s just say that de-tassling corn is hard work and requires a firm grip; this long read covers some 50 years of sex in the workplace and makes for some gripping reading. It concludes with constructive and actionable thoughts for a healthier organization. (Uber should have called me. All respect to Eric Holder’s team. It’s true!)
  • Selecting a Consultant  — our POTUS has a tough time getting his team in place, even months into his term, so this advice may be in order, or it might even explain his problem.
  • Appraisals — it would not be conference without a healthy discussion of performance? Even a sharp appraisal of the meta of appraisal.

Enjoy. I promise I won’t tell your CFO where you are this week.

Work is work
Pay is wages
Play is free
As we should be.

Words make poems.
Choice is yours alone,
Poetry or something less.
Many before have gone.

Many more will follow.
Where they have gone,
Where you will go,
If clues were answers?

Meantime here we are
Waiting for the boss
The one from above
Or the one we know because?