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#ILSHRM12 – Engagement is #1 on Their List


Just now I’m starting to process everything I saw, heard, did at the most recent state SHRM conference I attended. The Illinios SHRM conference was held in Oakbrook, outside Chicago proper Monday and Tuesday of this week. 650+ HR pros all in one place.

First things first – John Jorgensen (@jkjhr) and @SabrinaLBaker and the entire TEAM did a fabulous job keeping all of us in line and engaged. The hotel and conference center at Drury was the perfect place for the work that needed to be done. I say work because if you do a conference right, it is work. Going to sessions, checking the exhibitor floor, networking and connecting – it isn’t easy. And John and his team made the work fun.

Engagement Is Still #1

The one thing I took away from the event was that employee engagement is high on the list of most HR folks. Whether they truly have an engagement problem at work, or the overwhelming press, blogging and twittering about engagement has influenced them – Engagement is the thing.

As Forrest Gump put it so well, “I think it’s a little of both.”

Yes engagement is critical, and, engagement is over-hyped in all the news outlets. Those two things have conspired to make it top of mind for most HR pros.

I participated in two different formats over the course of the conference and in both cases the goal was – drive employee engagement. The first was a panel discussion on employee engagement and the second was my own session on how to influence behavior in an organization.

TalentNet Panel on Engagement

I had two roles this week. First, I was on a panel for #TalentNet on Sunday with @JohnSumser and @Seiden about “engagement.” It veered a little off course as we got into the whole “social networks” discussion and how HR can manage and monitor social media participation on the part of their employees. It was interesting to me because from what I could gather from the attendees HR is in this no-man’s (no-woman’s?) land between knowing something is good and knowing it could be bad.

The HR pros in the room know connecting and allowing employees to connect to Social Media is a way to get employees engaged with others inside and outside the company and be more well-rounded. The tension is that the organization exposes itself to risk when that happens. Where is the sweet spot between the inherent risk and the benefit? I don’t think we answered it. I left thinking the question still hung over the room like smokey haze at a bar at 3:00 am.

My advice HR – creep up on social media for your organization – start slow, learn the ropes, keep it inside at first. See how your people use it and see how they use it poorly. Like anything new with risk you need some time with training wheels. We don’t throw our kids out onto the highway with their first two-wheeler and expect it to have a good outcome – I don’t think you can do the same with social media as an engagement tool for your organization. Start small, learn how to manage it, let the employees learn how to use it. Then add a little more here and there to make it easier to merge into the big, bad highway of full-metal jacket social media.

Engagement and Influence

My second gig at #ILSHRM12 was as a speaker. I did an hour+ on how HR can use influence and reward techniques to get their employees to change behaviors. Based on the fact that we filled up the 150 seats quickly and had many more on the floor and standing in the back, AND no one left before I finished, I’d say it was a success. I had some great comments on from the audience and I think I gave some of the group some good ideas on how they can be more influential in their organizations. Overall though, the goal was influencing behaviors to get more engagement.

As I reflect on that I think we may need to look at this from a different vantage point.

Engagement Is Natural

Engagement is the natural state all employees want. Left to their own devices employees will try to engage with and organization. The problem usually (IMHO) is that organizations (and by extension the PEOPLE in them) put up roadblocks and hindrances to that engagement.

We keep talking about how to “get employees engaged” – I suggest we change that sentence to “how can I remove barriers to engagement” – this forces the organization to remove problems rather than create new processes and procedures.

  • Instead of bribing people enable them.
  • Instead of talking about how the problem children in the organization, talk about the stars.
  • Instead of blocking networks – enable a few.

I think HR wants engaged employees. I think employees want to be engaged.

I think companies need to get out of their own way – and the employees’ way – and just connect. Quit worrying about what you need to DO – focus on what you need to stop doing.


I always learn more than leave when I go to these conferences and I always appreciate the opportunity to chat with smart, dedicated HR professionals. Please keep pushing the envelop, keep making progress and keep asking questions.

Thanks to everyone at #ILSHRM12 for a great time and for helping me get better at my passion.


Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

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