#SHRM21 Wrap – What I learned at @SHRM Annual this Year!

It’s a wrap! The largest HR conference in the world happened this past week and weekend, with around 8,000 in-person HR pros in attendance and another almost 4,000 online virtually. SHRM’s Annual Conference is one the most attended conferences in the world each year, so it was fun to see it back live.

What I learned from SHRM Annual 2021:

– The 8,000 in-person attendees really wanted to be in person! I’ve seen a few people online be very against in-person conferences, The HR Technology Conference has also seen its haters, but the reality is, we will be facing Covid most likely for the rest of my life, like the flu. SHRM and LRP, and many others are doing the work to figure out our new normal. The people who showed up were active and excited, and the live conversations were fun and needed for a lot of people’s mental health. The SHRM crew was vigilant around masking and tracking, and most likely we’ll see this kind of thing at conferences for a while.

– SHRM is making some big advances into the HR Technology space. They had an HR Tech startup pitch fest, which ran through regional SHRM chapter competitions with the finalist pitching at Annual and they even brought in Shark Tank judge Daymond John to sit as a judge. SHRM also has started SHRMLabs around technology and is attempting to have some impact on the HR Technology space. Also, SHRM CEO, Johnny Taylor, commented publicly that SHRM will continue to build more knowledge in this area. Shout out to Guillermo Corea, who is leading SHRMLabs and I’m excited about the future of SHRMLabs under his direction.

– The SHRM Blog Squad is no more, and the replacement is the SHRM Influencers. Those that accepted the assignment were active and awesome! SHRM kind of dropped the ball in terms of setting them up with some special things. The Influencer lounge was sparse and not something you would want to hang at, and I would expect this to evolve as well in the future. Most of the social push SHRM gets at Annual is done by this small group of really dedicated pros.

– SHRM got kind of stuck with dates, so it wasn’t awesome having the conference run over a weekend and end on a Sunday in the west coast time zone. Most attendees took off early Sunday to get back for work on Monday, which made it fairly lightly attended on Sunday. Not much they could do, having to change dates and venues, you kind of take what you get. Everything will be back to normal in June 2022 when SHRM Annual is going back to New Orleans!

– The SHRM members I spoke to, especially those who have been to multiple SHRM Annual conferences were super impressed with the content and speakers. We’ve had some crazy times since SHRM 2019, and there was a lot of knowledge sharing and ideas floating around. The first-time attendees I spoke to all seem to really love it as well. I find the vast majority of SHRM members who come to the Annual conference really like the experience and feel like it elevates themselves as professionals.

– The SHRM Expo was smaller than the past few years, which was expected, but still very big. My biggest takeaway was the lack of TA and Recruiting technology companies there when every single attendee is desperate for help in hiring! Hiretual was one of the standouts and it seemed like they were consistently running demos. The number of Health Tech companies there almost seemed odd. It seemed like every other booth was Health Tech. The SHRM audience definitely trends SMB to Mid-enterprise, where most of these “HR” titles are buying for everything across their stack. Recruiting tech that caters to those HR shops that have 1-10 HR and TA users definitely could kill it at SHRM Annual.

– There is a very small but vocal group of Johnny Taylor haters, who also happen to be non-SHRM members, on social media, but I find that SHRM members love JCT! I spoke to many members and specifically would ask, “Tell me, what do you think of Johnny and the job he’s doing at SHRM?” 100% of just normal SHRM attendees I spoke to have really high praise for Johnny and the changes at SHRM. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the membership believes he’s the guy.

– SHRM Board Member, Steve Browne, the “people’s” board member, is done and moving on to other career things. It seems like just yesterday that the HR social media crew pushed a campaign to get Steve voted in, and we felt like we finally had a voice on the board of the world’s largest HR association, and he took that role very seriously. With Steve stepping down, Paula Harvey is our new board member for the people! I hope Paula gets voted in and I think she’ll be an awesome replacement for Steve. Steve will be missed, but I know he’ll stay active within the SHRM community.

At the end of the day, I always leave SHRM Annual feeling fulfilled emotionally and mentally. To be surrounded by thousands of HR pros who are all working to make themselves better is an uplifting experience for our profession. To see our community sharing with each other and being so thankful for the knowledge they are getting is a very cool feeling. It’s an investment to attend to be sure, but I think it’s an investment that pays for itself for those to attend and get involved.

Congrats to the SHRM staff and volunteers for pulling off another SHRM Annual event and maybe the most challenging event ever. Shout out to Damona Barnes who will lead the volunteers for SHRM Annual 2022, I got a chance to finally meet her in person and she and her team are going to kill it in New Orleans!

6 thoughts on “#SHRM21 Wrap – What I learned at @SHRM Annual this Year!

  1. Thanks for the summary, Tim.

    I missed you there and I specially looked for your name in the program but didn’t see it listed. I bought your book at the store and have already begun challenging my hiring beliefs formed by Alder & Lazlo. I agree the content and speakers are very good… but noticed some speakers plugging their product & services more than previous conferences. I get speakers believe in their product, services, and want to make sales from their investment, but this needs to marketed passively. SHRM folks can connect the dots from there. And, I would hate this to become a HR-NASCAR speaking event with company logos tattooed all over the room. There’s an Expo, sale their product there. Speaking of which, I was overwhelmed by all the BG check companies at the Expo. Good Lord! That industry is either the most profitable or most competitive industry in the HR world, I haven’t figured it out yet. As for JT, he grew on me a little with his sit-down talk with Michael Phelps; he came across a little less polished and more authentic. Anyway, maybe next year I can meet you and who knows…might even get a fist bump or hug.

  2. Nice recap!
    I also appreciated how there wasn’t much waiting that happened. Shuttles, registration, lunch, etc. kudos to everyone helping, very smooth. Excited for next year.

  3. Tim, my friend, I’m here to take issue with your comment above about the “Johnny Taylor haters”. Keep in mind that many you’ve lumped into that group are long-time SHRM volunteers at the highest level who have devoted much time and treasure toward the organization. In my case, I only left after seeing it begin to transform into an entity that had as a primary mission the promotion of its CEO at the expense of other great things (and people). While the “100% of just normal SHRM attendees I spoke to have really high praise for Johnny”, you know as I do that the vast majority of people do not look deeper and imagine what could be of a great HR organization.
    There is still an element of missing being part of SHRM that I feel deeply and I still hold out hope that things will evolve someday that will bring me back. There are still some great people I know and respect who work for the organization and I recognize that there is great volunteer work at local chapters and state councils that still brings value.
    Here’s hoping our paths cross soon somewhere here in the Mitten.

    • Brad,

      I hear you. JCT definitely is a different CEO than SHRM has ever had in the past. He does like to be front and center, and honestly, he’s good at it. It’s one of the things I think SHRM members, who are still members, like in his leadership style. He’s bold and gregarious and likes to push change. For those who have been around SHRM for a long time, this doesn’t always feel good, but I see a very modern change happening at SHRM that I had hoped for so long! I wasn’t a fan of old SHRM, I have hope for the new SHRM.

      We definitely need to catch up live!


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