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The Five Dysfunctions of #SHRM12

(Note from KD - Today may be the first guest post in the history of the HR Capitalist, and it comes from one of my favorite HR executives in the country - Doug Dean, who gets it like you and I want HR leaders to get it.  This is his review of bloopers at the SHRM national convention.  Read on and check out Doug's bio at the end, look him up on LinkedIn and connect...)

In the waning hours of last week’s SHRM ’12 conference in Atlanta, I was goaded into a playful bet by three long-time HR colleagues.   The bearer of the short stick, we agreed, would publish to the HR Dean1 blogosphere a “worst of” from the SHRM ’12 conference.

Not surprisingly, Lady Luck chose to smite me again, reminding me of the folly of praying for humility.  And so it is that I have the unenviable task of weighing in on those few – and there were precious few indeed – moments from the SHRM ’12 conference which may have elicited shouts of ‘Cut!’ from the director had the conference been a film production.  

Call it an HR Festivus for the rest of us - an airing of grievances for a miniscule minority who witnessed actual human imperfection at SHRM ‘12.  Conference Grand Pooh-Bah of Comedy, Jerry Seinfeld, would insist on the Festivus, whose few invitees stand against the thousands-strong SHRM ‘12 attendees whose faces beam with irrational exuberance, armed as they are with HRCI credits to slay the corporate dragons of dysfunction and assume their rightful place at the table of strategic banter.  

So without further bloviation, let the airing of grievances commence!  

One.  Patrick Lencioni’s Indian Dialect

Lencioni was his usual inspiring and quick-witted self as a presenter, until that one moment that he resoundingly was not.   Generously encouraging audience members to interrupt with questions, Lencioni paused to field one from a gentleman.  The question rose up through the audience microphone, in the questioner’s distinct Indian dialect.  Straining to overcome the room’s reverb and echo problems, Lencioni could not decipher the question.  And like Anchor Man Ron Burgundy’s bad choice of soured milk, Lencioni opted for humor.  “I’m sorry, but the echo is so bad in here,” responded Lencioni, “that all I heard was {here Lencioni attempts a poor impersonation of the question in unflattering Indian dialect}.”

Suffice to say that the attempted humor misfired like a scud missile warhead loaded with two tons of awkwardness.  We all knew Lencioni meant to entertain, not embarrass, so he gets a mulligan.  Dean2

But what we heard and saw was not funny, and came off closer to a public humiliation of a person of Indian ethnicity and language.  Lencioni is at his core a fine human being, an HR Superhero, so which one of you slipped a Kryptonite mickey into his soda?  Patrick, you can right this minor wrong with but one simple act of contrition – wear a tee shirt with the SHRM India logo at your next speaking engagement.  Yes, Mr. Lencioni, India is that important to SHRM, and to the HR profession.

Two.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Manners and Inner Art Garfunkel

Look, we southerners know we’re social antebellum relics, and that you visitors from NYC and LA just wouldn’t understand.  But when you come down here to sit a spell, show your manners.  Mr. Gladwell, Dean3 when in Atlanta, do as the Atlantans.  If you will not whine about it being three years since SHRM invited you to present at the conference, then we will not ask pertinent, searching questions in our southern drawl about that little “stipend” you command that is the annual household income of half of America.  Bless your heart.  

And while I’m at it, having a microphone in your hand is only part of what goes into being an actual rock star.   Gladwell, the consummate storyteller, offered a poignant story of Paul Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “Sounds of Silence”, and how the original recording flopped, until a producer rearranged it using electric guitar and the song rocketed to # 1.   Cool story, Bro.  

Then Malcolm, bless his heart, treated the audience to a few bars of the song.   Keepin’ it real, dog, I thought you were a tad pitchy.  What was sublime, however, was Gladwell’s implied rock star self-parallel to Art Garfunkel (note their identical appearance).  Using my powers of thin slicing (see Blink), it was transparent that Malcolm was sending subliminal messages to the heavily female audience, which he confirmed in his lamentation that those of us over age 35 missed out on the modern Gen Y phenomenon of pulling off over 200 dates in a single year by going public through social media.

        Three.  Seinfeld Skewers the “Society”

You just knew that the comedic genius of our times, Jerry Seinfeld, would laser immediately in on our admittedly pompous brand name, “Society”.  “The SOCIETY,” Seinfeld would quip, “could start a new planet.  We could just scoop all of you up, take you to another planet, and start all over again.  Because you all excel at UNDERSTANDING people, and what they can DO.  And SOMETIMES, what they CAN’T do.  Sometimes, the SOCIETY of Human Resource Management says, PACK UP YOUR STUFF AND GET OUT!”

Comedians help reveal through our laughter where we look really foolish, and I hold that if language creates reality, I’m not sure I like what the name “Society” evokes, but I joined the entire audience in laughing until I cried. 

Simple question, when explaining to a non-HR acquaintance what “SHRM” stands for, do you wince at the first word, or do you proudly belt out “Society”?    

Four.   Didn’t We Figure Out the HR Competencies Back in 2008?

Seriously, a newly constructed “HR Competency Model”?  This one was presented by SHRM’s Alexander Alonso, and I’m sure it’s swell, but I had the same feeling as I used to walking through Sears, wondering what they did with Roebuck ($1 to George Carlin).   Just when you thought HR superhero Dave Ulrich, et. al. had built the definitive competency model (circa 2008), from talent manager, to change steward, to strategy architect, business ally, and credible activist.  Ulrich, you’re fired - out with the old model, in with the new, with its business acumen, consultation, relationship management, and my favorite, impactful communication.  Just when I had become competent, snap back to reality, Oh, there goes gravity.

Five.   Sweating the Petty Atlanta Stuff

Or was it petting the sweaty stuff?  The glorious, yet heavily overpopulated city of Atlanta managed the SHRM mass of humanity about as well as I expected, but it still pegged the traveler’s misery index.  Buses moving at a glacial pace, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, and sweltering heat.  And apparently, the World Congress Center has an escalator maintenance labor union strike it is working to resolve. 

So there it is, bettor’s debt settled!  Two Thumbs Up anyway, Atlanta and SHRM!  You undercharged me, and I’m dropping a check to the SHRM Foundation forthwith!

The Bio: Doug Dean, CCP, SPHR is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and has served as Chief HR Officer Dean4 at Children’s of Alabama, the 3rd largest pediatric healthcare provider in the U.S. since 1999.  He earned his HR cred on the mean streets of compensation and benefits practice in the healthcare, insurance and banking industries, and as such, may be a misfit in the generalist practice of HR.  His passions extend beyond the realm of pursuing HR excellence and into the dark recesses of North America and Canada, where he lives large as an avid outdoorsman when he is not following or writing about his beloved Auburn Tigers. 


Lance Haun

This was excellent, Doug. KD should have you on Fistful of Talent.

Doug Dean

You're kind, Lance. I'm a FAN of all the FOT writers, so y'all just keep on keepin' on!


Dawn Hrdlica-Burke

Great post Doug! I love my Birmingham bandmate solidifying that Bham IS the HR capitol of the USA.

Doug Dean

Ha! We hold our own for a little backward southern state, eh?


Wish I could hit a button and share this on Twitter.

Melva Tate

Loved it Doug!!! You can’t leave us hanging. We demand more. Can’t wait until your next post.

Forrest Cook

Doug, your wit has become even more refined and rapier sharp over the years...perhaps you should investigate HR stand up gigs?

Ramona Graffeo

Great read, Doug! Didn't realize, but now see, you have a great calling post-retirement as a writer!

Doug Dean

That was an age discrimination slip, Ramona. Don't rush me. :)

Valton Johnson

Doug, great job. Great sense of humor,direction and writing ability, oh did I say you are also crazy as heck too!

Kevin Lane

Great job, Doug! Guess now you're going to KD and DHB a run for their money? Got a great name for your blog - HunteR

Duanna Pang-Dokland

Extremely well-written, Doug! It takes finesse and skill to write a humorous piece and you've pulled it off - exquisitely. Bravo!

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