Knowledge shouldn't Be Locked Away Behind a Conference Pass

Today’s post is from Kristen Stine, Director of Human Resources at The PETA Foundation, who describes herself as “a total HR Geek.”  There’s a sign in her office (made by a PETA staffer) that says "Work Hard & Be Nice to People." which, as Kristen likes to say, sums up her strategy. You can connect with Kristen on LinkedIn or Twitter.


The list of things that will get me out of bed at 5 AM is short. Very short. Luckily, meeting up with Ambrosia and Lars at the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference and Exposition is on that list. Armed with as much coffee as a human can safely consume in a two-hour period, I joined a group of intrepid comrades and settled into a seat in the back ready to soak in all the wisdom they had to offer.

At approximately 7:05 AM the words “get up and gather together; we’re going to do an activity” were uttered. Did I mention this was at 7 am? Woah, guys, this is not what I signed up for; I’m here to learn. I really should have known better. For the activity we were asked to partner up and share one thing that we’ve done in our work of which we’re proud. Second step was to ask for help with some sort of conundrum we’re facing.  

Ten minutes later everyone in attendance discovered what HR Open Source is all about - the sharing of experiences and increasing our collective knowledge.  

We were all better for the discussion.

This may sound blasphemous in the “strict-confidentiality” world of Human Resources. But here’s the thing my friends - our playbooks have been w-i-d-e open for a while. In an age where you can readily locate what a “competitor’ had for breakfast (spoiler, it was probably avocado toast), do you think they can’t find out your strengths, weaknesses, and pay philosophy on Glassdoor, Google or by sleuthing around the deep dark crevices of the internet?

Here, by way of example, is a story of my own...

Several years ago I came across the hashtag #NPRLife and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I appropriated it for our organization (@ThePETALife and #PETALife) before my twitter feed could even refresh (I don’t know if you noticed - but I’m not the only one who borrowed that phrase), we threw it into a few companywide e-mails, and it took off. Fast forward and today we’re sharing the Tagboard for the hashtag on our recruiting page so our applicants can see in real time what our staff are saying: the good, the bad, and the hilarious - we don’t censor.

Oh was absolutely terrifying at first and our lawyers hated the idea, but it has worked. We took an idea that was out there and we added to it. And now I encourage you to take what we did and make it better and then, what the heck, I’ll probably use your idea too!

A good number of the employees at our organization affix a particular quote to their email signature: “It takes nothing away from a human to be kind to animal”.  In much the same way, opening up our HR playbooks to other professionals takes nothing away from our work. Let’s stop thinking of it as “stealing” and start realizing we’re “sharing” our ideas.

But back to that #SHRM16 session.

The irony wasn’t lost on the group when Lars told us that we don’t need to get our information from “Thought Leaders” at conferences. All of us have the ability to share what we know, learn from others, and move our profession forward - at a rate much faster than the next issue of HR Magazine can be printed.

True to form, Lars and Ambrosia live streamed their session; and guys...that was huge. I had to agree with Tim Sackett (as I usually do) who made the comment “I’m surprised the SHRM police didn’t shut it down!” But, after all, the key principle of the open source concept is that knowledge shouldn’t (and can’t!) be locked behind a conference pass.

I learned a lot from the conference this year from several really impressive, motivating, and accomplished speakers. Later, when I shared an Uber pool with another attendee, we spent time in traffic discussing different ideas for increasing diversity in our workforces. That conversation really gave me actionable items; things she had done that I could tweak for our environment. As we pulled up to her office, my Uber companion said, “The conference was good, but the majority of speakers were all consultants who have been telling other companies what to do for a long time, but they haven’t been in the trenches implementing and testing these concepts.”

I smiled and said, “I know a Facebook group that you might want to join…”

Robin SchoolingComment