I recently went down to the Bayou, joining 1,100 HR practitioners and leaders in downtown New Orleans for the 11th Annual Great Places to Work Conference. It made sense that this super event was held in the Super Dome, because, in my opinion at least, China Gorman and her team did a super job putting on an event worth two thumbs up. I’m pretty sure most other attendees would agree.
Matt, ever cynical, recently asked me what, exactly, makes an event worth two thumbs up instead of a thumbs down, and that’s a fair enough question. In fact, it’s one we should be asking at every event we attend – and in this industry, that’s a whole lot of conferences.
After all, our time (and money) are precious – and we’re all under pressure to return from these events with a few goals and objectives to justify us being out of the office and away from home. While getting the chance to connect with and learn from our professional connections, clients and colleagues is great, let’s be honest: the price tag is often too steep to just have a great time without getting some great takeaways that result in ROI and actionable information and quantifiable impact. And no, a sponsored bar doesn’t count.
As you likely know, I’m something of a veteran in the HR event space, having put on quite a few of them myself over the years, and that means I attend every conference with something of a critical eye – call it a professional liability. Sure, I evaluate events through the most common criteria – the content of agenda and caliber of attendees count – but I realize there’s so much more to an event than meets the eye.
There’s no second chance to make a first impression, so what attendees see when they first arrive is of critical importance in setting the tone: the look, feel and even smell of the venue itself; the registration process; the conference bag, collateral and contents; the printed program; the event staff and volunteers; the amount of traffic and the movement of attendees; the expo hall and the sponsoring companies – the list literally goes on and on.
At the Great Places to Work Event, I was lucky enough to stay more or less behind the scenes courtesy of a press pass, and had the pleasure of conducting some behind the scenes interviews. What I came away with in conversations with Victoria Mars, Chairman of the Board at Mars (yes, the M&M lady! – more on that to come), Anita Grantham, VP Cultural Development at Infusionsoft and Laurel Smylie, Great Places to Work Consultant, I was reminded that no matter what industry or company you represent, having enthusiasm and passion about your work really does make all the difference.
This should extend throughout the life cycle - Infusionsoft’s Grantham addressed “dignified, respectful off-ramping” when cultural goals and individual goals no longer match – which was a first for me, but shows that the best brands know the importance of employee experience from hire to retire. - Check out the key note presentations here: http://www.greatplacetowork.com/2014-conference-keynotes.
So, I know you’re probably wondering what, exactly, my ROI was for spending a few days out of the office and in New Orleans. I had some great conversations with some great talent and business leaders; made several new connections as well as strengthened existing ones – including getting some invaluable 1:1 time with the inimitable Elaine Orler, and learned that what we do every day at RecruitingBlogs is really the same as what it takes for an employee brand to work: putting the right people in the right place with the right expertise. That’s where the magic happens – no voodoo required..