Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Vacation at SHRM Leadership

Our guest blogger is Danny Ryan. Danny is on a mission to more effectively educate and empower principled leaders. As such, he is currently employed for the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity (PIKE) as the Director of Online Education and Innovation. He graduated from the Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, Missouri with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is an avid runner, golfer, and ice hockey player. He currently resides in Memphis, Tennessee with his long-time girlfriend Shahd and their long-haired, miniature dachshund, Zeppelin. You can find him on LinkedIn or Twitter .

Not many folks would take a vacation to a Human Resources conference, yet I was a “tourist,” in every sense of the word, for the Wednesday and Thursday of the 2012 SHRM Leadership Conference. Since I work for a membership-based organization that is similar to SHRM, it was much like a visit to another country.  Luckily I had a “local,” my father, Dave Ryan, who could help show me the sights and sounds during my journey. These are a few of my observations (relative to my own experiences with membership-based organizations) while diving into the unknown world of HR professionals.

Danny in front of the Gaylord National - the Conference Hotel.
The venues used to entertain the SHRMites were unbelievable! The hotel that hosted the event was extravagant beyond belief. I have been to numerous conferences before but the size and scope of the Gaylord National took conference hosting to another level. I could not tell at first whether the conference attendees demanded a place with such extravagance or if it was simply a way for SHRM headquarters (the equivalent of “Fraternity Nationals” in the world that I work) to reward volunteer leaders, because this was the conference for those in leadership positions, but as I met more attendees I started to believe the latter more than the former.

Moving on, the SHRM headquarters was a site to see in its own right. The headquarters was a substantial five story office building that looked very new and housed numerous employees, which I did not quite expect from my experience in non-profit membership organizations. It was great getting to explore the headquarters because it allowed attendees to not only view the grounds, but, thanks to some added flare, advertising the upcoming SHRM national conference in Chicago, it also put some personality to the SHRM staff, which is rare in my experience.

In addition to visiting SHRM headquarters, I was also able to attend a few other sessions on the action-packed conference agenda. A highlight of the agenda was visits to Capitol Hill for groups to meet with their state representatives and senators. Despite me skipping this occurrence to be a tourist in our nation’s capital, the visits seemed well-organized and heavily attended. I was not unfamiliar with these visits since my industry organizes similar trips, but it did make me question the effectiveness of these visits since the politicians are more than likely bombarded with different visits weekly, if not daily. I suppose that it cannot hurt to continually fight for their attention though.

The opening session was very typical of conference openings with the excitement and array of introductions, but it also offered an opportunity for conference attendees to network. Granted the grouping of people by regions limited the initial networking and the rock-paper-scissors exercise later did not really produce actionable networking conversations, the fact that networking was incorporated into the first session was something that I had never seen. While I am on the topic of networking, I want to discuss the best part of the conference – the attendees. All of the “locals” were more than welcoming to me as an outsider. They brought me in as one of their own and allowed me to participate in everything. It was great getting the opportunity to meet so many people who are driven to excel in their profession. I noticed that the more successful/driven people were in their field, the more likely they were to have the most during the conference. I am unsure what each of the individuals is like in a normal day but it seemed like most of the people were so excited to be at the conference to be around others who have the same passion and drive (aka they drink the kool-aid) for their profession that they simply wanted to celebrate – and that they certainly did. I like to call this a “work hard, play hard” mentality that I believe is consistent within most volunteer organizations.

This was interesting but not surprising to me; at least not as surprising to me as the lack of my fellow young professionals (yuppies). It may be because this was the SHRM Leadership conference, or because most attendees of these types of conferences are established in their career, or perhaps because everyone my age is still struggling to find their profession but there was an apparent lack of young professionals at the conference. I am not sure how to fix this but it was certainly something that caught my attention, and I am sure the staff at SHRM headquarters is working to address that issue.

In addition to that surprise, I was also surprised about the language barrier. The attendees spoke the same language as me, yet they seemed to communicate in a very different manner. Many of the attendees seemed to be glued to their phones. They had much to say but it was as though the “natives” could only communicate via Twitter. And if that weren’t enough to confuse me since I am not a heavy Twitter user, I felt like a tourist frantically flipping through his pocket dictionary trying to translate the HR language as I experienced tchat (should that be hashtagged?). Needless to say, I hope I am able to correct my language inefficiency prior to my next HR conference.

Overall, the SHRM Leadership Conference was a tremendous experience. It went by too fast and I wish I could have experienced more, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience it, and, more importantly, meet, what my mother calls, my father’s “imaginary friends” he frequently talks about. I am unsure if and when I will attend another SHRM conference but I will certainly not forget the relationships I made. I will not list everyone I met but I cannot thank you all enough for making my journey into the HR world unforgettable.


  1. Shout out to Danny Ryan who made our experience as meaningful and enjoyable as we apparently made his! Hat's off to you Danny and thanks for tagging along with the ole' folks in HR!

  2. Great blog post Danny! Reading it made me even more proud to be part of SHRM and the HR profession! Plus, we are all luckier to have met such an enthusiastic young professional!

    Please join us any time! :)

  3. It was great meeting you Danny! I'm glad you saw the values of SHRM and the leadership conference. You made some great observations and suggestions. You are definately a future leader and I'm hopeful that your PIKE conference was just as succesful.