I just returned from the SHRM Volunteer Leader Business Meeting in Washington, D.C. This is the year-end “thank you” for volunteer leaders from around the country. I’ve been going to this conference for many years, and it’s honestly my favorite one !! The reason it’s my favorite is that I get to be around my peers – HR professionals who also happen to volunteer their time and talent to the profession.
Years ago when I was the State Director of Ohio SHRM, I broke the norm that happened at this gathering. Typically, when people go to conferences and events, they hang out with the people they know. I get that. It’s comfortable, and it’s also a time to catch up and get to know each other better because most SHRM State Councils and chapters meet here and there. It’s nice to get away to build your team so you can be effective when you return to your part of the country.
It seemed odd to me that people who shared the same profession as well as the same connection as volunteers rarely reached out to meet people from other geographic areas. We had several opportunities to do this in sessions, but even there people sit in their cloistered groups. I wanted to see this change, so I invited people from all over the country to a local Irish pub after hours to get to socialize, network and continue “conferencing.” It stuck. I got to know peers from almost every state. That breaking with the norm set a new path, and now people go out of their way to connect and see each other on purpose.
Back to this year’s event . . .
After countless warm greetings and hellos with many people right as I entered the conference hotel, I saw my friends from New Mexico SHRM. They were more geeked than usual (which is a pretty high bar). The reason for their excitement is that their State Council won a Pinnacle Award – the highest recognition a group can win for efforts above and beyond their normal work. They were all wearing a new lapel pin that was the shape of the State of New Mexico. I loved it and was jealous because I dig getting all types of local pins and buttons from SHRM chapters. I congratulated them and we went our separate ways.
When all of the attendees gathered, all of the volunteer leaders from New Mexico were sitting in one row with their lapel pins, blinky rings and small New Mexico flags. James, their incoming State Director-Elect, beckoned me over and handed me a pin. “You’re one of us. You always have been.” I was moved and instantly added it to my lapel.
It was so humbling to hear James say this, and he mentioned how I had reached out years before I knew him to get folks from New Mexico SHRM connected with others from outside their region. He thought it was great to make sure that I was affiliated with him and the folks from his State. Now I had a visual symbol that tied us together.
How simple was this act? He reached out and gave me a token to make sure to let me know that we were connected. It made me wonder why we don’t do this more as peers. What would HR look like if we were more intentionally connected as a profession? I think it would mean that human resources and, in turn, our organizations would be better.
People want to connect. People want to affiliate. The heart of all that SHRM has to offer is it’s members. It always has been and it always will be. We need to recognize that and make the move to break down the invisible, geographic barriers and come together as HR professionals.
When we’re connected, we become resources for each other both personally and professionally. There’s no good reason to keep in our own geographic areas. This week, be like James and reach out to ask others to affiliate. Let your peers know that they belong. They always have.