[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 19, 2017]
Today saw the beginning of #SHRM17 in New Orleans, where 18,000 HR pros have descended upon the city for learning, fun, and reconnecting with old friends.
The shenanigans kicked off early in the morning with pre-conference workshops, but the sessions began in earnest after lunch, with concurrent sessions and SmartStage speakers. But the main event REALLY kicks off late in the afternoon, with the appearance of Juana Hart and our first keynote of the conference.
You have probably heard of Kat Cole – she worked at Hooters and learned the operations side of the business when the cook disappeared. Her hard work and inherent business sense led to her recommendation to be sent to Australia to launch restaurants there. She became a Vice President at 26, and then moved over to Cinnabon to become President of the company at the age of 33. Her story is remarkable. She is remarkable.
Ms. Cole’s keynote was impressive – no slides, no teleprompter, just a woman telling her story and the lessons learned along the way. There were so many inspiring tales in the keynote. I have no doubt my fellow SHRM bloggers will cover many of them. There was one in particular, however, that stood out to me.
She had just finished sharing a major mistake she made early on at Cinnabon, and shared how that mistake led to lasting success. And then, she talked about how her mom keeps her grounded. Every day on her birthday, Ms. Cole’s mother sends her a card with the following reminder: Don’t you dare forget where you came from, but don’t ever let it solely define you.
This hit me on a personal level. Everyone carries the memories of where they come from with the through life. These experiences shape who we are and how we approach adversity. Some choose to overcome them and never look back. Others wallow in those experiences, using them as an excuse to stay stuck. Ms. Cole’s message from her mother is striking because it illustrates the power of remembering what got you through adversity, and then using it to move forward.
When we refuse to look back at who we were in the past, we fail to acknowledge the lessons we learned on that path. We don’t honor the person who made it through the wilderness. We pretend it didn’t exist. But that’s not really the case, is it? That person is always looking over our shoulder, whispering in our ear, holding us back or pushing us forward. It would be disingenuous to believe we aren’t still holding on to a part of the past, even as we look towards the future.
So why focus so much on this aspect – especially when it comes within the context of Human Resources? There are two reasons – one external, the other internal.
First, the external – we need to remember that each of the employees and leaders we work with are bringing their pasts to work. We have an opportunity to be that voice that says, “Yes, you ARE that person who dealt with a not-so-great past. But that doesn’t have to be who you are forever.” We can help these people move forward by reminding them of their strengths and working with leadership to recognize when humility and courage come together to make real change.
Second, the internal – HR needs to listen to that advice. For too long, we have wallowed in the belief that we have no influence. That no one will let us do anything. That we have fought like hell to get where we are today and it just doesn’t seem like it’s that far at all. And yet…look at how far we have come. We are no longer “personnel.” We have the ear of our CEOs. We may still struggle at times, but CHRO is a position that actually EXISTS in business – and it didn’t always. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle…but we have so much potential.
So my advice to you, #SHRM17 HR professionals – don’t forget where you came from….but DON’T YOU DARE let that solely define you.
Be more. Do more. Dare more.