There are more than 50 small organizations that offer peer to peer networking (in the old fashioned sense) for HR Executives. From the Conference Board and the Recruiting RoundTable (whose parent offers a number of similar forums) to analyst firms like Bersin and Associates to a slew of academic operations (Cornell’s ecosystem is particularly interesting). There are consultancies built around academic figures, Institutes for the Future, and a host of exotic, nichey operations. Some (but not many) vendor user groups accomplish the same end.
There are a number of things that these influential groups have in common. They are:
- Intimate (a handful to forty members in the most effective groups)
- Relatively vendor free (and always vendor neutral)
- Designed to combine networking and education
- Focused on helping members become more effective (in one way or another)
- Loosely facilitated
Some have a greater emphasis on Research (Analysts tend to chart their own courses while larger groups tend to answer the questions of members). Others focus on conversations about what is working and what isn’t.
Most interestingly, there is no central repository that compares and contrasts service and pricing. These are tony groups who don’t really like a lot of attention. There doesn’t appear to be any consistency in the price value equation.
That said, customers are often rabid fans of the service they use. Virtually every Fortune 2000 HR Executive belongs to one or more of these small groups. The networking and cross-competitor information transfer gives members a real edge when it comes to innovation and execution within their companies.
You can think of this arena as ‘the trade show business for real HR decision makers” or “the HR Industry’s Think Tanks”. The institutions are amorphous and live in the shadows. They provide a fast information distribution system while shielding members from an avalanche of sales calls.
One of the more interesting operations is called the Learning Forum. With about a dozen “councils“, LF members meet in groups of 10 to 15 participants about three times a year. A look at their website tells you that these folks are not interested in slick marketing.
The Learning Forum is a network of senior executives who join together for direct, peer-to-peer dialog and sharing of “better practices”. We focus on Leadership Development, HR Strategy, Workforce Planning, KM, Innovation, Wellness and Sustainability. We also run executive level workshops for top teams using Gettysburg, Normandy and other key historical sites to teach timeless lessons of leadership and human nature.
At the heart of the Learning Forum is Brian Hackett. A former Towers-Perrin consultant and director at the Conference Board, Hackett is one of those people (nodes) who are spectacular at making connections. A long time student of evidence based decision making, leadership, innovation, knowledge management workforce planning and a host of eclectic topics, Hackett runs the Learning Forum as a self organizing network. The members set the agenda and the rules.
Hackett is the archetype of a kind of networker not usually covered in the tomes about social interactions (yup, that means Malcolm Gladwell). At the heart of many small HR / Recruiting networks is someone who loves research and experimentation. The ability to make and develop connections comes, in part, from having something interesting to offer in conversation. The essence of real connectors is that they are profoundly curious. It doesn’t take long, when talking with Hackett, to see his wonder unfold. He loves learning and creating environments in which others can learn. What makes Hackett’s connecting work is the fact that he is content rich as a character trait.
Five years ago, Hackett co-founded Apex Performance, a small consultancy that provides what he calls neuro-leadership training. The idea is that performance can be measured and improved scientifically. The firm routinely trains high-end military teams and athletes/teams who want leadership and performance improvement.
Hackett shares our distaste for best practices. Doing the best with what you have is a better formulation for the peer to peer education he facilitates. The learning Forum is all about conversation and adaptation rather than a stream of copycat “best practices”.
Hackett is an advocate of conscious capitalism (as practiced by Patagonia, Whole Foods, Southwest Air) and is fascinated by the economics of trust in and between organizations. At some point during each of our conversations, he recommended Firms of Endearment, the seminal book on conscious capitalism. Integrity, subdivided into keen self-knowledge, project candor and maturity as the components of marketplace love. Love, says the book, distinguishes the great companies from the rest of the best.
When asked for advice to HR professionals just starting out, Hackett said, “Go into business, don’t go into HR until you have some sense of the business. Learn politics and get good at it. Develop financial acumen and expertise (overcome your fear of math). Find a mentor and be a mentor. And, if you want access to the boardroom, do a stint in the executive compensation department.”