Observations from Day 1 2013 SHRM Annual Conference

Yesterday, June 16th was my first foray into an annual conference of SHRM. Yes, it’s huge and Chicago is a fun place to be for a conference. Below are some thoughts from the Opening Session with both Fareed Zakaria and Hillary Clinton that I jotted down for friends in the media since they were not allowed in to hear the former Secretary of State.

Fareed Zakaria spoke extensively about the rise of the global economy and how it is not going to be dominated by the US or the West. The combination of political stability, economic convergence, and technological innovation has produced an environment that can allow people from around the world to prosper and experience economic vitality that until now has been limited to those in the Western world. Despite the gloomy feeling in the economy, there is reason for optimism because of the continued emphasis on globalization and the possibility for growth. In the late 1970′s, only 30 countries were experiencing growth of 3 percent or more. Now, even in the depths of the current economic crisis, over three times that number are seeing that level of growth. Optimism should be higher, it’s just hard to see it when we are in the middle of building the new global economy.

Dr. Zakaria ended his section of the opening by talking about the importance of lifelong learning. Because college costs in the US continue to rise, the escalator to the middle class that college once provided is now much more limited. As a country, the United States must find a way to be more ambitious and aggressive in boosting all members of society if we (in the US) wish to remain globally competitive. Quite a message to a conference that has attendees from 78 countries around the world.

Following Dr. Zakaria, Hillary Clinton came to the stage obviously well versed on her audience. Her speech was tailored for the audience and she got shouts for the Blackhawks reference. Her speech focused on 5 lessons that her travels as Secretary of State taught her. They are:

Good decisions are based on evidence, not ideology

Leadership is a team sport.

You can’t win if you don’t show up

A whisper can be louder than a shout

Follow the trend lines, not the headlines

Within each of these areas, Ms. Clinton provided examples of where these lessons were applied and how they can influence our work in HR leading organizations. I especially liked her emphasis on the importance of building relationships. This aspect was woven throughout her speech but was hit upon most strongly when talking about the importance of showing up and how relationships can allow the whisper to be as effective as a shout. Ms. Clinton talked about the importance of bringing people together who can make a difference and the impact that can have through a foundation like the Clinton Global Initiative. She gave a great shout out to SHRM and its partnership with FWI promoting flexible workplaces. She also talked about the importance of feeding young minds and providing the brain nourishment as so much of our brains are developed by the age of 5.

The session with Ms. Clinton ended with Hank Jackson, the CEO of SHRM, asking some “softball” questions. These were good natured but still provided Hillary the opportunity to share more of what she learned. The opportunity to take on challenges is very daunting. She spoke about her decision to run for the Senate and how a basketball player introducing her at an event whispered to her “Dare to Compete Mrs. Clinton” was such a strong influence on her decision to run. Of course, the closing questions from Hank (well done I might add) tried to get her to commit in 2016. She of course, did a nice job answering with a non answer!

There was great energy in the room for both speakers and excitement was certainly felt by having speakers with global perspectives on the challenges facing HR.

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