Recognise This! – The sign of an engaged professional is continuing to experience and learn from “firsts.”

Life is full of firsts. First steps, first words, first love, first job and so on. Good stuff.

I happen to be having a few firsts of my own recently. As someone who’s been working in the HR space for nearly 20 years, I finally attended the SHRM Annual Conference for the first time a few weeks ago. Loads of HR professionals make the yearly trek, about 15,000 or so in fact, and it’s something I recommend we all do at least once in our career. I came away with a number of observations, most content-related, gleaned from the many educational and networking opportunities to be had. But it was the event’s nuances that really made the experience for me.

HR is so global! Duh. I’m reminded in my everyday work with clients about the global-ness of business today. What hadn’t been so obvious to me before the SHRM experience was how global HR has become as a professional community. I chatted with HR leaders from Singapore, South Africa, Mexico, Dubai, the UK, India, and China and was genuinely surprised to be encountering people from places so far afield of Orlando, but even more surprised at the commonalities in those conversations. I’m not sure this would’ve been the case a few short years ago.

Speaking of community, that was another observation – examples of ‘community’ abounded. In a macro sense, we represented one professional community. In a micro sense, much of the learning and sharing focussed on creating a sense of community within our own individual workplaces – communities of connected, engaged and productive employees. And then there were the ribbons. Lots of conference passes were adorned with colourful ribbons that identified the attendee as part of a subset: First Time Attendee, Global Attendee, SPHR, etc. I spotted one attendee who must’ve had 15 different ribbons dangling from his pass. In this way, attendees were declaring their membership in a particular kind of HR community.

People are energised about HR. I’ll admit, this has not always been my observation. I’ve known a lot of professionals who stumbled into HR, or were dragged, rather, kicking and screaming. Plus, let’s face it, HR is hard! How refreshing to find such an eager, positive, and forward-thinking audience at SHRM. This was clearly a conference full of people passionate about making a difference for their employees and organisations.

These themes all came together in a wonderful moment during the end-of-conference prize giveaway. There was a huge crowd assembled and you could feel the excitement peak just before the $5,000 grand prize was announced. The emcee reminded everyone that you must be present to win. The winner’s name was called. Nothing. It was repeated. Nothing. The ‘must be present’ reminder was stated once again. Nothing. Another try, this time with the threat of a new name being drawn. Suddenly there was commotion further down the exhibit hall. The winner had been found! But had the emcee heard? Would they wait? The winner was literally running down the aisle. The sea of conference go-ers parted. We all instinctively broke into raucous applause, “Go, go, go, you won, you won, run, run!” He made it to the stage in time to claim his prize. In retelling the story back at the office one of my colleagues said, “Wow, like Chariots of Fire.” Exactly like Chariots of Fire.

It was a wildly energised, community-oriented moment – all my favorite aspects of the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference rolled into one! In the coming months, I look forward to sharing with you my observations of the power of thanks through social recognition to create and sustain communities in our workplaces. And more importantly, what we can learn about working better together simply by paying attention to what others are doing and appreciating their efforts.

Oh yeah, and as far as other recent firsts for me, I’m pleased to say this is my very first blog post.

What’s a recent professional “first” for you? Or what’s your most memorable professional “first?”