Is your industry over-networked?


Tables Is there such a thing as being over-networked?  While it’s practically impossibly to get finance professionals, for example, to do anything but worry about their work and pry them away from their offices, HR folks can’t seem to get enough of seeking out the next shindig where they can listen to best-practices all day long and hobnob with their peers from other firms.

My good friend Mark Stelzner, over on his blog Inflexion Point, has hit upon this issue with his coverage of the litany of member-based HR associations and consortiums.  I have never witnessed an industry which is as networked as HR.  Everyone knows everyone, and senior HR personnel seem to spend an exhorbitant amount of their time traveling to these conferences:

  • SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management);
  • IHRIM (The International Association for Human Resources Information Management);
  • CLC (The Corporate Leadership Council);
  • HCI (The Human Capital Institute);
  • HROA (The Human Resources Outsourcing Association); and
  • i4cp (The Institute for Corporate Productivity)
  • It’ll be interesting to hear your views on associations you frequent and whether your industry has the peer networking you need to do your job more effectively.

    Posted in : HR Outsourcing, HR Strategy



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    1. Do HR in a non-profit organization; there is no time to network! Too many fires to put out at one time. HR in corporations are very specialized, benefits, compensation, recruitment, training, etc which gives more free time.

    2. Phil-

      Keep in mind, HR is traditionally much more complex, organizationally, than Finance. You have generalists, recruiters, compensation analysts, learning and development staff, etc — all operating with different and distinct agendas. Each one of these conferences satisfies a unique HR crowd. At SHRM you will see a load of generalists, on their once a year outing, collecting every chotsky in sight to give to their children while shopping for the latest and greatest inspirational poster. Conversely, IHRIM attracts a more HRIT crowd while HCI caters to a senior and strategic audience.

      My vote for the most bang for your buck…the HR Technology Conference (which you forgot to mention). More intimate than SHRM, with great content/tracks, and access to many thought leaders and executives serving HR.


    3. Jason,

      I purposefully left HRTech off the list as it is a specialized show, and is technology-centric.

      I picked out finance as an example, but it’s actually a highly complex function, plagued by regulations and compliance issues, in addition to grappling with outsourcing, technology and ongoing cost containment. These guys could actually benefit from some peer networking and education…


    4. Gentlemen –

      I don’t believe that these challenges are limited just to HR (versus finance), commercial organizations (versus public sector/non-profits), and senior execs (versus all levels of a functional structure).

      I would agree that each of these organizations serves a very distinct audience of constituents, but I would also differentiate between associations/member-based groups and industry trade shows. Yes, some have both, but my intent is break these down into consumable pieces given that HR has over 200 of these groups around the world. If I am the head of function, where do I spend my precious time, dollars, resources and mind-share? In an era of increasing budget sensitivity, transparency of purpose and desired outcome are the norm.


    5. Yes to some extent. Being an architect in building Indias biggest HRnetwork i have observed that while HR is so well networked other professionals in the support function like – Marketing, Finance are not so much connected with other professionals.

      Founder HRinIndia
      Indias Biggest HR Network

    6. Phil

      I appreciate the sentiment and understand how it can often appear that way. However, I think that, humour aside, you’ve touched on an interesting conundrum; the function of HR is to bring together disparate parts of an organisation to ensure that employee and organisational objectives are aligned. Therefore tracking and managing human networks is an essential component of their day to day job. Quite often HR will be talking to and advising employees from within disparate business units about the best policies, procedures and approaches for that function, whilst striving to align the function’s core objectives with those of the organisation. It is unrealistic to expect any individual to be an expert in every vertical or business function, so how can they achieve their objectives?

      My observation is that, as an entity, the HR industry is extremely effective at pooling and managing their network as a troubleshooting mechanism. A gross generalisation, I’m sure, but while there may be the perpetual timewasters that exist in any organisation and any function, individuals in HR tend to use their network as a proactive mechanism and hence vest a huge amount of time and effort in keeping the links up to date. It’s actually quite efficient and is something that Management Consultants tend to be good at too (see the McKinsey Way for a good example).

      Andrew Hyatt

    7. Phil,

      I echo your sentiments. HR has carved out a piece of corporate America and don’t seem willing to let go.


    8. Really… that’s strange. Unlike you I find the exact opposite is true. Recruiters and the HR industry as a whole rarely participate in functions OUTSIDE their own industry.

      I have been a member of local and regional Chambers of Commerce. Many different Business networking groups. I rarely ever see an HR person or Recruiter at these events.

      All the organizations you listed prove my point. Never (or hardly ever) spent outside their “comfort zone”.

      If you want to find that HARD TO PLACE candidate… you need to step out of the office and see what the real world has in store…

      Chamber of Commerce

      Put the phone down… Grab some business cards… Go meet someone.

    9. Bill makes a good point but I would piggy back on that. I explained once before to a local group that “networking” is a byproduct, not a “destination”. Help people when you can, do what you can, and when it is time and you need help don’t be afraid to ask for it.

      I have seen too many people exchange cards and expect the new acquaintance to be an instant “in” for them.

    10. If I can make it to one conference each year I’m pretty lucky. I don’t know of too many of my peers who have the opportunity to make the conference rounds unless they are needing CEUs and can knock those out a the same time. With regards to the networking aspect, I think much depends on what function within HR. Like Bill said in his answer, you will find very few hard-to-fill candidates in HR associations (aside from HR Professional of course). My best success has been at the trade and industry conferences, or the local business organizations. I network with my HR colleagues to look for new practices and sources for my staffing/operational needs, sometimes I can get a good referral but I don’t count on them. My advisor from business school told me: “If you need to find a good accountant for an open position, you’ll find more of them in accounting associations, and community/civic groups than you will at any SHRM function.” Honestly my network has been most successful when my needs have not been industry or company specific (such as needing Hospital Informatics experience).

      Cheers -GK

    11. Both Bill’s make good points. In addition to Bsquare, what I think you are seeing, Phil, is a lot of work in networking/event attendance for a few of reasons:

      #1. In many or enough instances, HR has spent hard time working to be welcomed “at the table”. To keep the seat, a lot of HR professionals have come to acknowledge they do not have all the answers themselves and need others to help. So, they attend these for ideas, to share ideas and generally to keep the HR professional a recognized value add to the business.
      #2. Less optomistic is the fact that HR has fallen on hard times repeatedly. Some businesses, even those HR has a seat, sees HR as a cost center. So, whne costs need to be cut….Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a solid network to help with career transition and potential places for the next stage in their career (i.e a new job)

      #3. HR, by default in the name alone, is all about Humans, a.k.a. people. Why wouldn’t HR be social and networking?

    12. Just to be different, I am going to suggest that the answer could be ‘yes’ in some cases because networking means different things to different types of HR pro’s. It might also be fair to ask whether such a giant network becomes a help or a hindrance? Is it well organized, and updated? Is it just names and numbers, or is it carefully cultivated relationships over time? Frankly, on LI I see a lot of what appears to be name “collectors” who likely have a giant collection of under-utilized contacts.

      The senior personnel you mention will hopefully be spending part of their time listening to key note speakers who will help them return to their corp and lead by implementing the latest and best practices. They will also (hopefully) be talking to other attendees and asking how they do business.

      For staffing pro’s (sourcers, researchers) who rely upon giant lists of contacts and information, the answer might be no, you can never be over-networked because your next check may come from almost anywhere, and any industry. Your next client might be the guy snoring next to you in business class.

      In my corp role though, I tend to be more particular. I have robust resources to draw upon for finding people and researching them. Therefore I prefer to only accept LinkedIn requests that seem relevant to me. I will usually archive requests that come to me from completely unrelated work and geography because I want my list to reflect only those quality contacts that I know will add value to what I do.

      Steve Cherry

    13. Phil,

      I think Steve hits the nail on the head: the answer to your question, Phil, depends on who’s doing the networking, and why.

      There’s no question that some people — in the HR field and out — pursue contacts for the sake of adding contacts. Conversely, there are some roles in which one’s contact network can never be too big, provided those contacts get regular care and feeding.

      Likewise, I don’t think conference-itis is an ailment unique to HR. Other lines of work have their share (and more) of glad-handing card-collectors, and you can find plenty of nose-to-the-grindstone types in HR, too. They’re (we’re?) less visible on the conference circuit, of course, because they’re too busy meeting deadlines, putting out fires and generally toiling away in relative obscurity down on the cube farm.

      I don’t doubt that Phil’s experience is somewhat reprsentative of HR, but I’d maintain that it’s equally representative of any other profession that doesn’t bill by the hour (and of some that do). I also think it’s a mistake to deduce a general rule about the group from the behavior of its most visible members.


    14. Being in the Technology space of HR, I find that one cannot be over networked. There is always a new vendor, technology or other initiative that is going on and being able to talk to people who have experienced what you are about to embark on is truly valuable. However I do not consider going to a conference/trade show necessarily being networked. The HR Tech Show was mentioned and that is a good event, however once you leave the event unless you have collected an enormous amount of business cards from attendees, you have no way of tapping into them during the year.
      I find that being a member of IHRIM, the professional association gives me both a good conference/trade show and the network I need. As a member I have access to over 2000 other members to get ideas from and of course share what I have with them. Attending a conference/trade show is a good way to get a snapshot of what is happening in the industry and I find it helpful to put a name to the face, however in my opinion it does not replace the value I get from networking with my peers throughout the year via my IHRIM membership.

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