Over the years, I have shared with my human resources colleagues that my favorite annual SHRM event is the SHRM Volunteer Leaders’ Business Meeting (VLBM). While it doesn’t have the sheer grandeur and breathtaking excitement of a SHRM Annual Conference, SHRM VLBM brings together the most engaged, active, and enthusiastic volunteer leaders from across the country. The attendee numbers for SHRM VLBM are typically not as high as with some other events but this is usually made up for by the energy of the attendees.
As recently as this fall, we all remained hopeful that in November 2020 we would be gathering in Washington, D.C. as we have every year however, this year the pandemic would have other plans. In the interest of health and safety, SHRM made the responsible but I am sure difficult decision to go fully virtual with this year’s SHRM VLBM. I was disappointed that we would not be gathering in person, but I was intrigued to see how SHRM would deliver the same quality conference in a virtual setting that we as volunteer leaders were familiar with in the past.
Having just recently completed the SHRM VLBM, I am happy to report that the event was incredibly well run and far exceeded my expectations for a virtual event! As SHRM has always done, we as volunteer leaders were well prepared prior to the event and felt welcome and appreciated throughout the four-day affair.
Some of the SHRM VLBM highlights included:
Event Platform – SHRM partnered with Social27 to create a full-featured, interactive and easy to use event platform. Creating your event agenda, previewing sessions, and planning your entire schedule was a simple process. An online Solutions Center served as a “virtual exhibit hall” and allowed us to interact directly with sponsors and SHRM solution providers. Sessions were easily accessible through the platform and provided attendees to interact via live chat, respond with emoticons, and immediately complete a post-session survey.
Networking Opportunities - In my opinion, the most valuable feature of the platform was the ability to connect and interact with our fellow SHRM volunteer leaders. Attendees were able to customize their individual profiles, connect with other attendees, create and post video greetings and messages, and create online roundtables (with up to 6 participants) or boardrooms (with up to 16 participants) to interact via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or the Event27 video conferencing platform. This helped to further connect us with each other without having the ability to meet and connect in person.
Speakers/Sessions – With a focus on this year’s theme of “Partner. Adapt. Lead.”, SHRM created an agenda that included valuable networking opportunities, SHRM staff-led conversations and presentations, and as is the norm, dynamic and inspiring speakers. The Opening General Session: “Partnering Together for HR Resiliency” featured a trifecta of speakers that included: Dr. Willie Jolley, Sel Watts, and Andrew Mellen. All three speakers shared their personal experiences of resiliency, which resonated with so many. This was a perfect way to kick off SHRM VLBM. Likely the most dynamic and moving speaker of the event was on day two with Magie Cook. Magie took the attendees with her as she described a journey from an orphanage in Mexico to completing a college degree in the United States, homelessness, and then eventually building a multi-million-dollar company in just four years, which she started with only an $800 investment! The stories that Magie shared were raw, real, emotional, and demonstrated how she would overcome many struggles relying upon her faith, perseverance and determination. Her story inspired everyone. Finally, no SHRM VLBM would be complete without a “State of the Society” address from SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. As typical, Johnny addresses many of the success and challenges that the society has faced over the past year. His direct responses to some challenging questions submitted directly by members were appreciated.
Recognition – Having individuals, chapters, and state councils recognized is always a staple of SHRM VLBM. Seeing the excitement in “chat” as Pinnacle Awards, the Susan R. Meisinger Fellowship and Michael R. Losey Excellence in HR Award were inspiring as recipients were congratulated and thanked for their accomplishments. The transition to new SHRM Board Chair Melissa Anderson and the introduction of new Membership Advisory Council (MAC) Representatives helped demonstrate the constant change and evolution of SHRM. Attendees also received a few surprises throughout SHRM VLBM, receiving gift cards via email as well as prizes for participation in the Virtual Challenge competition.
- Advocacy Day – The part of SHRM VLBM that I have personally most looked most forward to is Advocacy Day, where I had the ability to join hundreds of SHRM members to advocate for workplace issues with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This year, we would be meeting with lawmakers or staff virtually through either Zoom meetings or by conference calls. I had the opportunity to help lead our Wisconsin advocates in Zoom meetings with the staff of our two U.S. Senators and then meet with my Congressman by telephone. While the process differed from what I had been accustomed to, we were still able to effectively share our support for COVID relief legislation that would be critical for our workplaces and workers.
All in all, the SHRM VLBM was an extremely successful event! The ability to participate in many of the same sessions that we would have in person were delivered well, albeit in an online environment. One major positive was that the number of attendees was nearly double than previous SHRM VLBM events since we were not constrained by the capacity of the event venue. This allowed many more volunteer leaders who normally would not be able to attend to participate.
This year’s SHRM VLBM was another example of how all of us have had to pivot and adjust to our current circumstances. It would have been an easy call for SHRM to just cancel or postpone the event. Instead, the SHRM staff delivered a professional, high-quality, virtual event that all volunteer leaders benefited from by being able to return to our chapters and state councils with innovative ideas, best practices, and a renewed energy. While the pandemic required us to remain socially distant, SHRM VLBM allowed us to come together to be virtually connected for Better Workplaces and a Better World.