#SHRM16: Breakthrough Moments and 3 Must-Read Takeaways

June 23, 2016 Sarah Payne

U.S. Capitol BuildingI’ve just returned from the annual SHRM Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., where the theme was Breakthrough—an ode to the ‘aha’ moments of clarity that we experience in our professional careers.

While other HR bloggers like Mary Faulkner and Ben Eubanks wrote great posts about the value of the relationships and connections we make at SHRM, my breakthrough came in a moment of complete silence, stillness, and peace.

It was Monday morning during #WorkHuman speaker Pandit Dasa’s Master Series session on Mindful Leadership. At the start of the session, he simply had us close our eyes and take three deep breaths, and at the close, he led us through a ten-minute guided breathing meditation. This wasn’t my first foray into meditation, but I was struck by how restorative those few minutes were in the midst of the harried hustle and bustle of the conference. I think it was the only ten minutes I was able to peel my eyes off my phone—not worrying about my email, Twitter or which session I would attend next. Which brings me to my first big takeaway from SHRM 2016.

Just be more more human. Start by focusing on what Pandit calls mindful leadership.

According to Psychology Today, each person has between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts a day. If we don’t make a conscious effort to silence the mind, it can create false perceptions, leading us to, “turn grains of sand into mountains,” according to Pandit.

A mindful leader is a servant leader, one who:

  1. Leads by example to inspire their people, rather than letting others do the difficult work. Pandit shared an example of the Japan Airline CEO, who worked alongside flight attendants and even knocked down the walls of his office so anyone could walk in.
  2. Focuses on appreciation and recognition. “A paycheck is good, but it’s not always enough. We have a human need to be recognized.”

“A paycheck is good, but it’s not always enough. We have a human need to be recognized.” @nycpandit
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#WorkHuman speaker Amy Cuddy

In a similar way, #WorkHuman speaker Amy Cuddy also talked about how to be more human in her SHRM keynote on Monday morning. She shared her secret to being more present—the 2-minute power pose that is proven to make you feel powerful, confident, assertive, and in charge. And when leaders can access their own presence, it liberates others around them to be present, too.

Finally, to be more human, we must practice civility. A prime example of this was the general session that featured Paul Begala, CNN commentator, and Tucker Carlson, Fox and Friends anchor. Each sits firmly on the opposite end of the political spectrum, but they listened to each other and had a civil conversation about the presidential race. What a breath of fresh air!

My second takeaway from SHRM is that culture is still king. I wrote about culture in my SHRM wrap up last year, and it’s clearly still top of mind for HR professionals.


David Almeda, chief people officer at Kronos, led a session on, “How Workplace Culture Can Drive Business Results.” He stressed the importance of surveying employees more than once a year: “Why wait a year to figure out what’s going on with your people?” When Kronos started focusing on their people, their Glassdoor ratings went up and they landed a spot of the Great Place to Work® list—which is now the top driver of traffic to their career page. People want to work in admired cultures.

People also want purpose. What is the greater good of your organization? Matt Kaiser, employer branding & digital recruitment at Ericsson, shared the Japanese concept ikigai, which means “reason for being.” Every organization needs one, beyond just making money. At Ericsson, they focus on the humans behind the technology they sell. Their Ericsson Response team helps to re-establish communication in areas hit by natural disaster.

My final takeaway from SHRM is we need to better coach the coaches. This is a trend that came up at WorldatWork’s Total Rewards conference a couple weeks back as well. Why? Because we all realize that the annual performance review just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to get better at feedback.

Sheila Heen, lecturer at Harvard Law and bestselling author of Thanks for the Feedback, led a fantastic session on Tuesday afternoon, outlining three kinds of feedback:

  1. Appreciation (keeps us motivated)
  2. Coaching (main engine for learning)
  3. Evaluation (tells us where we stand)

Employees need all three types of feedback in order to learn and grow—even evaluation. If an employee isn’t being evaluated, Sheila said that they’ll begin to look for it in other places and potentially misinterpret well-intended appreciation or coaching.

David from Kronos also touched on this in his session, arguing that ongoing feedback and a focus on performance can actually become a differentiator for your organization: “Top talent wants to work with top talent.”

Did you attend SHRM this year? Which were your favorite sessions? Let us know in in the comments!

#SHRM16: Breakthrough Moments and 3 Takeaways #workhuman
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Micro-interview with Pandit Dasa

Back from Florida: WorkHuman 2016 Highlights

Top 6 Takeaways from Total Rewards 2016

R.I.P. Annual Performance Review. Now what?

The Art and Science of Coaching

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