Postcard from Chicago…Be Yourself and Spread The Message

Sitting high above the Atlantic Ocean on my way back home from a whirlwind 48 hours in Chicago seems like a good time to reflect on what I heard, what I learned and what I’ll share when I get home.

I can’t really begin on the learning takeaways though without saying a big thank you to the committee who pulled off a wonderfully slick, well organised event in which everything happened as it should, when it should. From location to food, from drumsticks and dollar necklaces (you had to be there) to transportation and agenda, nothing was overlooked or left to chance. Massive thanks to Trish, Steve, Ben, Jason, Mark, Crystal and Joan.

A second big thank you to Nobscot, who provided the scholarship that enabled me to get there. I really enjoyed spending time with Laura who gave me a great insight into the organisation and its products.

There is a third big thank you…but more of that later!

So what did I take away? Well here are some of the things that initially stood out from the different tracks that I participated in, I’m sure there will be more later:

Employee Brand vs Employer Brand – it’s not enough to have one or two people, micro-celebrities if you like, who effectively are the employee brand in social media. Those who are blogging, tweeting and posting on Facebook about their organisations may be ambassadors, but you need more…it may well be down to those individuals to spread the word and encourage others to participate, though the word ‘encourage’ is probably the key as ask, suggest, cajole or demand may not get the required outcome! In terms of content, there was much debate across different tracks as to how companies can ensure that their employees are not putting a negative or misleading message about their employers into the public arena. There was much use of the word control (more on this later) and guidelines but personally I prefer the notion of ‘guiding principles’ and trusting your people to deliver a message that is honest and shows that you have talent who are thoughtful,  insightful and passionate.

Mobile working is still working – I helped facilitate the Mobile HR track and it soon became apparent that for HR the need to be mobile and visible to all your clients is paramount. It was interesting to hear of initiatives that encompassed mobile learning as well. We have the technology that means we can now operate from a variety of locations, yet there still seems to be a mindset that a day spent working ‘on location’ isn’t really a proper day’s work…several attendees would talk of an expectation that the ‘day job’ would somehow be done in the evening or at weekends! A lot of this can probably be dealt with by educating the office based functions…work isn’t something that you just do at a desk or in an office.

Don’t call it Social Media – call it anything but!! Communication, Social Learning, Information, Learning Library…many suggestions were made in an attempt to overcome negative connotations around ‘social media’ or ‘blogging’. The message I took away was that it was the information learned, and the contact made, that was the key…as we say time and again, social media is a platform through which we communicate. It’s the message, not how you get the message, which will bring others onto the platform.

Top Teamwork is often more important than Top Talent – a really interesting track on sports and the lessons that HR can learn left me with that thought. Steve Boese used basketball as the example…a moderately successful team became a great team by trading its star player (as per the measurable statistics) and replacing him with a not so star (by the stats) player. They key, the secret to this happening was that it wasn’t basketball ability alone but teamwork and team spirit that carried the team through.  A simple message, but so often overlooked in our day to day business lives…it’s not just about having star performers, but about having performers who make those around them perform too.

I hate the word CONTROL – seriously, I know I’m a libertarian but every time I heard the world control – control the message, control social media, need to control what employees say in blogs and on twitter, need guidelines  –  I felt myself get more agitated!! During one track I asked if we could just forget CONTROLLING social media and start EMBRACING social media! It’s my belief that if you try to control what people say, whether through a policy or strict guidelines, then you stifle the creativity and spontaneity that, I believe, are at the heart of social media. You need to trust your people…I know it can be tough in a company of, say, 30,000, as there will no doubt be some who will give a negative message, but I think that they will usually be outweighed by the ones who give a positive image. People do respect those who give them freedom of speech…drive it underground and  it then has the capacity to become more damaging.

Gen Y – I know I’ve written about this a lot in the past, and as always it was great to hear the irrepressible Sarah White talk so passionately and enthusiastically about her generation, but there was a difference this time…the format was much more conducive to debate. Previously Gen Yers were preaching their case and taking on the audience, but this time we had a panel of 1 Baby Boomer, 1 Gen X and 1 Gen Y and I certainly felt that more came out of it – less argument, more understanding. Certainly some great points were made around the shift in benefits, security and stability within companies which often gets lost in the ‘which generation is better’ format.

And the third big thank you??

To all the wonderful people I met and who all made me feel so welcome!! I was very privileged to meet some really intelligent, articulate thoughtful, genuine, honest, caring people and the thing that struck me most was…

that everyone was exactly as I thought they would be!

For all the doubters and cynics around social media, those who believe that the message can’t be trusted, there was proof that if people are just themselves then their personalities will come through! Here were people who I only know through Twitter, blogging and Facebook and yet their characters and personalities were exactly the same as those that shine through the words they write (whether in 140 characters or longer) and the way they interact.

That was the biggest message of all for me…if everyone uses the platform as a conversation, a way to connect, share and learn, in the same way that they would do if it was face to face, then you can trust both the medium and the message.

Be yourself and spread the message.

I just can’t wait to do it all again…

26 thoughts on “Postcard from Chicago…Be Yourself and Spread The Message

  1. Mervyn, it was wonderful meeting you. I really appreciate your participation and I am thrilled that you had a good time. While distracted by your fantastic accent 🙂 I still took some good points from your input in the mobile HR session.

    Glad you had a safe trip home!


    1. Thanks Ben, events like this really bring home to you how HR issues are the same wherever you are..US or UK! Tank you so much for your part in organising such an exciting and vibrant event!

  2. Your last paragraph summed it up perfectly. That is what it’s all about and is hard to get across to others. Nicely done!

  3. You have a beautiful soul Mervyn, and that is what shines through, and as a friend, I love you dearly. I look forward to meeting you again. Keep the wonderful blog content coming; we learn so much from you.

  4. I think it’s hard for those who are using social media to connect with others and build relationships to “get” what you so eloquently stated:

    “their characters and personalities were exactly the same as those that shine through the words they write (whether in 140 characters or longer) and the way they interact.”

    In my experience, that’s been so true – and I’ve built some of the best professional and personal relationships in my life using these tools (and following up with in-person opportunities to connect). I’m so glad you were able to make it across the pond for HRevolution. It was great to meet you in person!

    1. It was great to meet you Jennifer, and you are so right, it’s the tools that lay the groundwork, but the face to face interaction that ‘seals the deal’. Hence the importance of being true, open and honest in online contact as well as offline. I wish you the best of luck with your new business!

  5. Mervyn,

    It was great to spend some time with you this weekend. Our conversations really resonated with me. And yes, isn’t it refreshing to know that everyone is who they appear to be. 🙂

    Glad you made it across the pond safely, and I look forward to further conversation.

    1. Me too Tammy, our conversations meant a lot. I can’t stress how refreshing it was, as a visitor from ‘over the pond’ to find everybody genuinely to be the people that I have built an online rapport with!

  6. Mervyn,

    All very well said. You are a testament to social media (or new media) and how it can build bridges and relationships. It was nice to see you once again, and I hope you have a safe trip back.



  7. Nice post Mervyn. So good to spend time with you at HRevolution. I really enjoyed our conversation and wish we had more time. Please stay in touch.

    Warm regards, Chris @HRBuoy

  8. Mervyn-
    It was wonderful meeting you and spending time with you. Looking forward to continued conversations. So happy you had a wonderful time, and made it home safely!

    1. Thanks Shennee, it was great to meet you too. I think we were honoured to get the scholarships, and I believe we both made the most of our opportunities.

  9. Mervyn, my TRUE friend. Your post actually brought tears to my eyes. You state quite eloquently why I do what I do, why I spend the time networking using new media, and why taking that step of meeting IRL (in real life) is critical. I cherish our friendship because without using new media platforms, our paths would have never crossed. Thank you for coming to HRevolution, for sharing your knowledge and passion, and for supporting the efforts of bringing our professions into the future. I can’t wait to see you again.

    1. As always Trish, you are way too kind!! ;o) It was an absolute pleasure to be with you and the team in Chicago this weekend…I’ve been enthusing to anyone who will listen all day! I just love the way that social media has enabled so many of us to meet both online and offline and to find that not only do we have so much in common, but we get on so well! Likewise, I can’t wait to see you again!!

  10. Mervyn – it was so good to see you again and to get a chance to talk about HR, recruiting, and Arsenal! So happy you were able to make the trip, and I echo the thanks to Nobscot and Beth Carvin for their gracious support. Hope to see you again very soon.

    1. Thanks Steve…going to Chicago to talk soccer and Arsenal sounds like heaven to me!! It was really good to see you again, my only regret was that I didn’t hang around long enough to get on HR Happy Hour…one day I will! Maybe you should get a link up for the England/USA World Cup game! Or straight afterwards for analysis!!

  11. Hi Mervyn,

    Interesting juxtaposition of your two points:

    Don’t call it Social Media
    Top Teamwork is often more important than Top Talent

    If teamwork is so important, then surely we do need to change perceptions of ‘social’, not just hide it under the carpet.

    People are social, teams are social, organisations are social. Social media plays a part in helping take advantage of this. But the bigger win is tolerating, accepting and embracing the fact, and the word too.

    1. Thanks Jon, there seemed to be much debate on how to engage a wider community to participate within Social Media, particularly people within the same organisations. There will always be those who shun it…there are plenty of people who won’t connect to colleagues, or join their company’s fan page, on Facebook…but whatever we call it I firmly believe that it will eventually be an integral part of busines communication and connection, both internally and externally.
      Eventually I believe that people will focus on the message and not the medium or platform that delivers the message.

  12. @Mervyn

    So glad we got some time to sit and chat on Sunday morning. I thoughtyour insights into the Hr/social media space in the UK were great, and I look forward to more opportunities for dialogue. Nice post as well.

    Cheers, and here is hoping you can get over to #TRU Amsterdam. Good luck with your own events as well!


    1. Thanks Mike, it was a real pleasure meeting you and hearing your insights too. It’s easy to see why your blog is so well respected, in the UK as well as the US. Look forward to seeing you at future events!

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