HREvolution and Bersin Impact

On May 10, 2011, in HRExaminer, Reviews, by John Sumser

HREvolution and Bersin Impact Review
I spent the last week of April at a couple of conferences that you should be aware of.

The Bersin & Associates Impact conference, held annually in St. Petersburg, Fl is a gathering of senior HR Executives. The crowd reflects the roots of Bersin’s consultancy and is heavily peppered with Learning and Development execs. It is ground zero for the distribution of information about best practices in Talent Management. The firm is making great strides as it expands into Talent Acquisition and the broader terrain of HR beyond the training silo.

Bersin’s Impact is an on the books experience. I cannot imagine that there were any attendees who weren’t on an expense account. It’s held during the week, in the middle, so that all travel is on company time. It is a profit maker for Bersin.

HREvolution is a tribal gathering of the young, upwardly mobile HR leaders of tomorrow. While the name is slightly misleading (little revolutionary HR was in evidence), the assembled network is the embodiment of the new face of HR. The upstart attitude feels like a revolution. The content (which is the excuse for the gathering, not the reason) leaves something to be desired.

More like a class reunion (or Harley convention) for a certain type of up and comer, the HREvolution conference involves a group of people who are happy to spend their own time and money to play. It’s held on the weekend so that work is not impinged by the event. It’s not clear that the idea of a profit ever surfaced in the central planning committee.

Both conferences are examples of what the professional association of the 21st Century might look like. Both involve self-selected subsets of the overall profession. Both involve the presentation of best practices and interesting ideas. Both involve the collection and dissemination of ideas, tactics, techniques and data.

One of the most notable differences is that the people at HREvolution really, really like each other. Where the Impact crowd networks in that polished upper echelon manner, HREvolution is a gathering of people who can’t get enough of each other. The composition of the audience in each HREvolution session had as much to do with who wanted to sit with whom as the actual topic.

Hands down HREvolution is the better party. Where the Bersin bar was nearly empty at last call, the HREvolution partiers were looking for the next late night joint when the hotel bar closed. The grassroots feel of the event extended into neighboring bars and restaurants. The laughter rarely stopped at HREvolution.

The difference in emotional tone is a primary indicator of the quantity of learning that is going on. The Bersin presenters shoveled huge volumes of cost justification information down the open throats of execs who might propose change initiatives. The HREvolution attendees were hungrily lapping up anything that looked like it might offer an on-the-ground productivity improvement. I’m tempted to describe one as data-waterboarding and the other as information-waterskiing.

After two days in the Bersin data flow, it’s hard not to see other conferences as weak in content. The presenters (who were generally researchers from Bersin’s team) had a strong command of the underlying theory and data. Notes were scribbled furiously in every session I attended.

There was less note taking in evidence at HREvolution. The conference was more about knowing who to call than knowing what to say. The conversations were vastly more interactive and acted as opportunities to understand the audience members as well as the presenters.

In the front of the beautiful brochure that describes the conference and its speakers, the Impact organizers make a big point of saying that “this is not a trade show’. While there are plenty of vendors in evidence (and anyone who wants to hobnob with real decision makers ought to consider sponsorship), they are tightly managed and kept to the side. Booths are minimized in the vendor hall.

At HREvolution. you’d be hard pressed to tell who was or wasn’t a vendor. Everyone in the network is tightly aligned and integrated. There is no vendor ghetto and a given presentation was as likely to be from a consultant, a vendor or a practitioner. Those distinctions are far less important than the vibrancy of the network.

There was no paper brochure.

Eric Winegardner, Monster’s ever-present public face, provided a great deal of support for the HREvolution conference. Grassroots shows are a perfect place to build (or rebuild in this case) a brand. His approach to the conference, which included financial support, prizes and a Sunday morning breakfast, should be the textbook case study about grassroots brand development.

That sort of thing simply isn’t possible at the Bersin event where formality is as important as informality is at HREvolution.

So, one week with two extremely complementary events. If you were betting on money and deal flow, you’d head to the Bersin event. If you were building long term relationships with the next generation of leaders, you’d focus on HREvolution. Smart participants in the industry need to do both.

While each event could learn a lot from the other, it’s wonderful to have such clear extremes to choose from.


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  • I really wanted to post a quote or two about HRevolution from this, but there are too many. I think you capture the feeling of the event perfectly!

  • Trisha McFarlane

    John, it’s very interesting to see how HRevolution stacks up compared to more traditional events. I think you capture the spirit of HRevolution which really is about building a network of relationships that provide continuous learning. The only add I have is that when we created this, we enjoyed the play on the title in that it is about “evolution” as much as “revolution”. As a practitioner, I certainly focus more on the evolution of the HR industry. Great article and so glad you experienced it with us!

  • I think you make an interesting point (that Josh LeTourneau is probably
    thinking about). One of the things that happens when you push for big
    ‘content’ from outside of the network, the network itself will get less
    informal. There is some sort of direct relationship between formality and
    external expertise. That doesn’t, in itself, invalidate the content gained
    from within the network but it does point to a concern.

    The risk at HRevolution is that content will sink to the lowest common
    denominator. While it’s possible to encourage a segment of the network to
    develop deep professional expertise and presentation skills, it comes at a
    price: more commitment to the network from and more preparation by anyone
    who delivers content. Else, you risk being marginalized over content issues.

    My take is that HREvolution is at a crossroads. It thrives on informality
    and the strength of the ties between members. This has allowed the forum
    (and its amazing organizers) to experience astonishing growth. From here,
    its more and more work to deliver the same value.

    I’m not saying that it’s impossible. The Grateful Dead were the highest
    grossing band of all time and it was because the audience loved being with
    each other. There’s room and need for a vibrant network of new leadership to
    take the center of the industry. What I am saying is that the next couple of
    steps may be neither obvious nor easy.

  • Wow, China. Loved your piece. Thanks.

  • Pingback: HREvolution Session Notes | HR Examiner with John Sumser()

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