by Matthew Stollak on Monday, September 20, 2010

Pardon me while I go "Inside SHRM" for a bit.

We are currently in the heart of conference season for many SHRM State Councils. Illinois had a successful conference last month. Florida and Ohio just wrapped up their strong events. Wisconsin and Texas are about to embark on their conference adventure. For most state councils, the state conference is THE primary mechanism for raising dollars to support many of their state HR activities. For many local SHRM chapters, conference support is a strong economic driver.

For my state, Wisconsin, this is definitely true. The state council receives 50% of whatever profit a state SHRM conference generates. The remaining 50% gets split up in a variety of ways. The co-chairs each get 20%, which goes to the professional chapter they belong to, committee members each have a certain percentage that goes to their respective chapters, and a certain percentage gets shared with the chapters based on the attendance of their chapter at the conference. All in all, some significant dollars exchange hands.

This all serves as prologue to a Twitter conversation I had with the inestimable Steve Browne over the weekend. He was making a valiant effort to try to bring state conference volunteer community together over Twitter, writing, "After a successful #OHSHRM, would like to personally connect w/ folks who are w/ other State #SHRM conf so we can promote each conf, DM me." I replied, saying it ought to be SHRM directing this effort.

In a little under two months, I will be attending the SHRM National Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA. for the 11th straight year (You'd think I would know more about Leadership after all this time, but I must be a slow learner). As always, it is an excellent opportunity for various state and local chapter leaders to get together and learn how to benefit their respective groups (and Dave Ryan does a fine job discussing it today). In exchange for their dedication, a significant number of leaders get to attend for free, and SHRM has always been commendable in their efforts in this arena. However, one group is conspicuous in their absence - State Conference Liasions and Conference Co-Chairs.

I've served in a variety of roles on the WI SHRM State Council (Foundation Director, College Relations Director, District Director), and have served on our state conference planning committee for the past four years (including a stint as co-chair). SHRM does an excellent job in bringing together similar Core Leadership Areas together to share best practices in those areas. However, in my 10 years attending the SHRM National Leadership Conference, I recall very little time or energy being dedicated to building a successful state conference. Even with sessions dedicated to high performing state councils, the voice of the state conference liaison or conference co-chair was seldom heard.

I understand that the SHRM National Leadership is already significantly large. I also understand that the Volunteer Leaders' Resource Center has a number of items to help organizers put together an excellent conference. But, is it time to provide the similar support that is given to Core Leaders to those that provide the biggest economic impact to the State Councils and professional chapters - the Conference Liaisons and Conference Co-Chairs? The call for support and community is there.

ADDENDUM: One point I didn't emphasize enough earlier is that the entire conference committee is made up of VOLUNTEERS. It is volunteers who put together the programming slate. It is volunteers who work with exhibitors and vendors to fill the exhibit hall. It is volunteers who help put together the conference publication. It is volunteers who work with the hotel and convention center to make sure rooms are correct.

As Mark Stelzner suggested in his excellent piece on "the Conference Economy," costs are often exorbitant, and you may have volunteers who are new to the committee trying to negotiate and work deals out with the host site. In Wisconsin, one has to have served on the conference planning for at least a year before taking the reins as co-chair (though more time on the committee is preferred). It is also hoped that you have some staggered terms on subcomittees (such as exhibits), so that there is someone experienced in a support position, and there is continuity, but this does not always occur.
We hold a transition meeting every December, but is that sufficient? Where is the training and support from SHRM to help in the process?


Matthew - I love this suggestion and think it's a way to continue to build a bridge between Conferences, SHRM and chapters.

As membership continues to be an issue for many states and chapters, as well as SHRM national, the State Conferences provide an incredible vehicle for messaging, communicating and showing the value of the various bodies.

Thanks for the shout out and for continuing to push this forward.


by Steve Browne on September 20, 2010 at 10:25 AM. #

Back when I did a survey on SHRM chapter leaders and their frustrations, one of the recurring issues was that SHRM wasn't helping them with this kind of thing. I think if they won't we can still make it happen as a group of individuals outside of SHRM. I've reached out to a few people to see what their thoughts are on how to take this further, and I'm really glad you brought this up, Matt!

by Ben Eubanks on September 20, 2010 at 10:45 AM. #

This is a terrific post Matt and thanks for making reference to my recent piece.

I think one of the reason that State Conferences don't get proper airtime is the competitive nature of conference dollar spend. I would suspect that SHRM National would prefer that members join their annual live events over yours, and therefore they are operationally and financially disincented to make your lives easier.

by Mark Stelzner on September 20, 2010 at 4:46 PM. #

Matt - I've been chatting about this topic with a few people today after reading your post this morning. As a state conference we are asked to track and report, back to SHRM, the number of at-large members who attend the state conference. Of course we want to increase attendance so we work to invite at-large members, and naturally SHRM encourages us to engage the national members who are not involved with their local affiliate chapter. But I think that these at-large members view their state conference as an outgrowth of/ benefit of their national membership... and probably never fully realize that it is a state-run/volunteer-led effort.

SHRM could provide great assistance by helping volunteer leaders connect with each other on this very important topic. Whether our state's focus be revenue generation, education for the HR community or some combination of the two - we can all learn from each other.

And on a personal note - I've been able to ask-questions-of and pick-the-brains of conference committee members from a handful of other states. The result? Sharing that info and cascading it out amongst OUR state's committee will ultimately benefit attendees and SHRM.

by Robin Schooling on September 20, 2010 at 5:03 PM. #

Ok so I am a day late. Matt, thanks for the kind words. In the scheme of things I am Johnny come lately to the State Conference scene. There is a lot of push/pull associated with this whole conference scene, when in reality everyone is just trying to do a good job for thier organization - (taking off work from thier day jobs to do so).

Mark has been out there a lot, especially lateley and spoke to this whole dynamic.

Ben, the consumate rebel, is going to fix all of this and take out anyone who gets in his way. Ben - I love your passion. Perhaps you should be SHRM's next CEO -what do you think?

Steve you just came off of a great confernce and obviously have a lot to add to this conversation. I will continue to look to you as a resource.

And lastly Robin you have been on the scene too and are wise beyond your years. I will look to you to for help in my role as a state council representative.

What do we all do about this - I don't know. There is a lot going on with SHRM State conferences, the big box National SHRM confernce, and our poor little old chapters. How are us volunteers suppose to apportion all of this out?

I wish I had the answers, but I don't. So Matt I will look to you to figure this all out and let the rest of know what we should do!m :-)

by Illinois State Council of SHRM on September 21, 2010 at 9:00 PM. #

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