SHRM, Richard Branson and April

by Frank Roche on June 27, 2011

in Communication, Interviewing

I’m at SHRM’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a big confab — 14,000 HR people are here. [HEY, WHO’S MINDING THE SHOP?]

One thing about having so many HR people together is that you get all the types: Strategists, Comp Specialists, Benefits Specialists, Recruiters, Generalists…and Hall Monitors.

I got yelled at by an HR Hall Monitor only two minutes after I arrived. You see, HR people are like Brits: We love lines. We love standing in lines. We line up like dutiful school children just because others are.

And I have some magnetic pull for Hall Monitors. Remember my story about Lime Cat HR Lady at WorldatWork? Her sister came to SHRM. There were two huge lines to pick up our badges and bags. Sarah was in line and I caught up to her. Then, Sarah realized she needed to be in a different line and left. That’s when Lime Cat HR’s sister pounced.

As I stood there looking, Lime Cat HR’s sister darted in front of me.

“Really?” I said.

“She cut in front of me,” said Line Cat HR’s sister, pointing in the direction of Sarah.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Please, go ahead.”

“No. No. You go ahead. But she cut,” she said. Then she started complaining about me to her friend. Something about lines and rules. Hall monitors. Ugh. Time to listen to something more uplifting than Lime Cat HR’s sister. Time for Richard Branson.

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Richard Branson was the scheduled keynote speaker. It was advertised that he would talk from 2:30 to 4 pm. Nope. SHRM people like to talk. For 41 minutes. Using all the special HR words: war for talent, place at the table, chips are down. They rambled. Somewhere in the mix they announced that the new CEO would be the same as the current one. Three people stood up and applauded. I golf clapped. After a while, the Virgin! Virgin! Virgin! chant from Rocky Horror Picture Show was bouncing around inside my head. Bring on the CEO of Virgin Enterprises.

Yep, we waited 41 minutes. Sir Richard Branson came out. He was smashing. Smiling. Rrrrrradiant.

Then the first question(s) by the moderator: “So, I’ve seen your name as Sir Richard Branson. Or Richard Branson. Do I kiss your ring? What do you like to be called?”

Ugh. Could we embarrass ourselves more? Good thing Branson is a great interview. Even with the vapid questions, he still made big points. He said that work/life won’t be solved until Americans can figure out that we work too much and don’t take time off. He said that every person in an organization matters. That no one organization should have more than 100 people so that they all know each other. To expect big things from people. That even the sky’s not the limit.

Then the moderator took texted questions from the audience. One went something like this: “What’s the unique value proposition that HR brings, and what should a CEO tell HR that HR doesn’t know, and where are the strategic alliance opportunities for HR vis-a-vis the CEO?”

Branson paused. Laughed. And said, “I have dyslexia. And I don’t much like puzzles. What do you mean?”

And therein lies the crux of the matter: We had 14,000 HR people in a room, and have a chance to ask one of the most innovative and fearless businessmen in the world about his take on people and creativity, but we ask him about value propositions for HR. As I said to Lime Cat HR’s sister: Really?

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When the talk was done we walked the floor. Got some tsotschkes. Ran into some nice people we know. And I got a chance to meet April in person. She was kind enough to say she reads KnowHR and we talked about Snickers the Wonder Dog and her recently-deceased Golden. And we chatted about the Amazon Tax in Illinois. Hi, April!

That’s the best kind of stuff for me. It’s nice to connect with people. To say hello. That’s what HR is for me. Really.

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