Gearing Up For an Eventful Week (and Maybe Some News) at SHRM Las Vegas

Take it from someone like me who has attended more than his fair share of SHRM Annual Conferences over the years: the city, the speakers, the attendance and some of the side issues may change from year-to-year, but that’s about it.

In other words, if you’re looking for big news, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

Yes, that’s the way things usually go most years at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. But this year in Las Vegas, there’s actually a few things percolating that might make SHRM’s 63rd annual conference one worth remembering.

Here are some of the things that may be happening there next week (June 26-June 29):

Finally, will they name a new SHRM CEO?

The world’s largest HR organization has been without a CEO for nearly a year since Lon O’Neil departed last July — not long after the conclusion of SHRM’s 2010 annual event in San Diego.

SHRM has had a revolving door of CEO’s over the past three years. Since Sue Meisinger retired after SHRM’s 60th annual conference in Chicago in 2008, the organization has gone through interim CEO China Gorman, Lon O’Neil, and current interim CEO Henry Jackson. The new leader, whenever he or she is named, will make it five CEOs in a little over three years. Make of that what you will, but no organization functions very well with that kind of ongoing change at the top.

I’ve heard reports from people in a position to know (but unauthorized to speak publicly), that the SHRM Board is close to naming a new leader and that it will be either interim CEO Jackson, or, a woman from outside the organization. The reports also say that if a CEO is named at the Las Vegas conference — and it would seem to be the ideal venue for such an announcement — that it will probably be done at the very end of the event.

News from SHRM Members for Transparency

My experience after attending a number of SHRM annual conferences — and for three years, editing and producing a daily conference news magazine that competed with the official SHRM conference guide — is that SHRM tries to keep a pretty tight lid on anything that might challenge or compete with what they are doing during their annual event.

The TLNT Tweetup will be held Sunday June 26 at 7:30 pm in the Lavo nightclub at the Palazzo Las Vegas.

That’s why it is pretty amazing that the press conference being held at noon on Sunday (June 26) across the street from the Convention Center by the group SHRM Members for Transparency is even happening. In my experience covering SHRM, someone holding a press conference to question the organization’s leadership during the SHRM annual conference is a unique and groundbreaking event.

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There’s no need me for me to get into a lot of detail about what the Transparency group is about, or their concerns about what they say is “the establishment of some SHRM Board of Directors’ policies that the group believes were not in SHRM members’ best interests and, in some cases, were unknown to SHRM members.”

I’ve written about the Transparency Group, and their reasons for being, probably more than anyone else over the past year, but the Group promises that Sunday’s news conference will be to “summarize (the) group’s progress, make an important announcement, and provide an opportunity for questions.” Should be an interesting way to lead into SHRM’s big bash, although I doubt if SHRM’s leadership feels that way.

Speakers and other stuff

The SHRM conference is always packed full of speakers, break-out sessions, a busy exhibit hall, and lots of parties/side events. Here are a few more worth noting:

  • Speaker lineup. Sir Richard Branson, best known for his Virgin brand, kicks off the Opening General Session on Sunday, followed by Ariana Huffington (of Huffington Post and now AOL fame) on Monday, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh on Tuesday, and Emmy Award-winning actor Michael J. Fox closing the conference on Wednesday. These are all people worth listening to, but SHRM conference speakers are notorious for NOT saying much of anything about HR or talent management. Al Gore last year, and Jack Welch in 2009, are the notable exceptions, but don’t expect any of these speakers to have much of an HR focus or message in what they say. One possible exception is Ariana Huffington, but I only give 3-1 odds of that.
  • TLNT party and the new TLNT Radio show. Although I wrote about SHRM San Diego for TLNT just after we launched the website last June, the Las Vegas conference next week is really our big coming out party. We’ll be having our first TLNT Tweetup on Sunday evening June 26 at the Lavo nightclub in the Palazzo Hotel on the Strip, and there is still time to sign-up for the free (yes, I said free) event here. It starts at 7:30 pm and looks like it will be THE event to be seen at during SHRM, so sign up now. Then on Tuesday, we are launching our first ever TLNT Radio show from SHRM, hosted by Steve Boese, Lance Haun, and yours truly. It’s at 2 pm Eastern, and you can find out how to connect and listen here. We’ll be doing TLNT Radio every week, but this first one is something you won’t want to miss. Plus, I’ll be writing and Tweeting about SHRM here for TLNT just as I did last year, but this time I’ll have both Lance Haun and ERE Editor-in-Chief Todd Raphael to help out. Look for our daily coverage of everything going on at SHRM Las Vegas.

Bet on this: Lots of distractions

There might be a few other twists and turns at the SHRM conference, too, because after all, it is Vegas. It will be pizza oven hot (105 plus, I’m betting), with lots of distractions (aka, gambling, more gambling, shopping, more shopping, great dining, and “adult” swimming pools) and other side events that Las Vegas is justifiably famous for.

The last time SHRM gathered in Sin City for its annual event, back in those blissful pre-Great Recession days of 2007, they had the largest attendance ever for a SHRM annual conference. But that was then and this is now. I think the world’s largest HR organization would just be happy for SHRM Las Vegas to have a modest bump in attendance from last year in San Diego.

So it goes in 2011, in a world of downsized expectations. I’ll be watching closely to see how it actually plays out.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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