It’s the time of year when human resources technology vendors begin to market their user conferences.

What’s a user conference?

At its best, it is an event where you learn more about HR and how a company can help you do your job better. They bring in speakers to help you think about your job differently. And they limit the advertisements for their products and services.

At its worst, these conferences are commercials. Not even good commercials.

These events happen all over America — Las Vegas, Orlando, New York — and I’ve been looking at the calendar and trying to figure out which ones I’ll attend. I like to travel, but I don’t travel for stupid reasons.

I want to hear speakers talk about the real work in HR.

So what’s the real work?

Good question.

  1. It’s the woman who can’t get her ideas across in meetings, and she pops her head into the HR office because she is sick and tired of not being heard.
  2. There’s a man whose wife has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. He’s never taken any family leave. There’s maternity leave, and a thing called FMLA in your handbook. He’s trying to figure out what policies, if any, apply to him.
  3. One young woman is having a hard time paying back her student loans, and she took a second job in the evening. Unfortunately, she has to leave early for that job and wonders if she can flex her schedule.
  4. There’s the man who has been told a dozen times to stop making slightly racist jokes, but he is just not getting the message.

Those are just a few of the million things that HR business partners around the world manage on a daily basis, along with the normal cadre of salary surveys, performance management issues and talent management projects.

When you’re a business partner, every day is a new day. Supervisors don’t know the ins and outs of personnel-related policies. Line managers don’t have the time to operate as a liaison between HR technology companies and the IT department. And employees aren’t looking for union representation, but they are looking for action when something is up with a goofy supervisor who is being a jerk.

So be smart with your time and money.

Be like me, which is something I don’t recommend lightly. Be discerning about your time and money. I’m all for attending user conferences that discuss the intersection of HR and big data, but until a vendor can knit together the narrative of unstructured HR data and the unstructured daily calendars of HR business partners, I’m not interested in futurist talk.

(Even if that futurist stuff is in Vegas near a really good spa.)

When a vendor pitches a conference to you, pick one where the conversations are real. Look for topics that are relevant. And make sure the speakers resonate with your daily life.

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  1. This is my chief complaint with most HR conferences. They’re all legal updates or “inspirational/get your engagement groove back” talks.

  2. I’ve also found most of the user conferences marketed from HR technology companies to be a waste of time.

    I appreciate the effort, but I don’t see that the sponsoring company is actually absorbing what we take the time to tell them at these meetings to make a different or better experience for the end user, Instead they feed us a lot and raffle off stchuff from their third-party-vendors. It’s like a webinar but it takes longer and costs both the attendees and the hosts a lot more.

    But I do think a lot of people who don’t get to go to information-dense conferences and don’t educate themselves on a regular basis really like them. They get treated well and they meet their vendors, And they get to hear some “inside scoop” about next iterations, so they can go back to the office and be the SME on that product for a while.

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