Monday, 25 October 2010



   Last Thursday was ‘CHRU’, the Connecting HR Unconference.  And what a great day it was!

You can learn about the views of many of the people attending the event in their blog posts:


To me it’s the experience of, and therefore the posts from, these and other members of our community that really count, but to the extent it matters, here are some additional perspectives as one of the two organisers of the event:



In his post, Callum suggests that the idea of the unconference dates back to a tweet by Mervyn last year about the unsuitability of traditional conferences, particularly for ones discussing social media related topics.

However, I’d suggest key event that led to the unconference was my meeting on 4 February this year with Gareth, my co-founder and organiser.  His enthusiasm, as well as the weight and sponsorship of the Courtenay HR team (including Mervyn and Callum), have been absolutely vital in making Connecting HR a success.

And prior to that, for me, the history of Connecting HR goes back to conversations with Jay Cross about all things ‘un’ (unconferences, unbooks etc), and then an increasing desire at around the time of the first HRevolution unconference in the US to do an event like that in the UK.

But behind all of these inputs, the main driver for me has been to experiment in the area of social community, which I believe is an increasingly important influence within organisations as well as within cross-organisational networks like Connecting HR (see my other blog, Social Advantage, for more on this topic).

It’s also an area that’s going to be increasingly important for HR.  As was suggested at this Summer’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, community management is the new, smart HR (or part of it at least).


Present (the event)

It’s the above perspective that led to the overall organisation of the unconference – for example, the reason that we didn’t have speakers or sponsors (because doing this automatically sets up status distinctions between speakers and listeners, sponsors and targets etc).

This was also behind the choice of venue – an old warehouse currently undergoing renovation into a community centre.  I loved the way this space allowed everyone to separate into smaller groups while still remaining together, and even that the dust and cold got people acting in a different way than they might on an average office day.

And it’s this perspective that led to the design of the event.  One which was based upon a fairly standard open space approach (albeit developed specifically for this event, rather than sticking rigidly to other previously used formats).

Basically, we started the event with an overall theme, again reflecting the importance of social community – ie social connecting and the use of social media , but with no prescribed agenda.  We then used the first half an hour to construct and agenda using a grid.

The rest of the day, people selected the session they wanted to attend from the options on this grid.

It’s not an approach that many attendees had experienced (or indeed has been used at HRevolution or Bill Boorman’s TRU recruiting events) and it was clearly an approach some people found quite quite difficult initially.  But I also think everyone got into the process quite quickly – and I saw the chaotic conversations around the grid as a very positive manifestation of what was emerging.

And I think if you evaluate the approach by its outputs (eg the perspectives shared in peoples’ blog posts) everyone would have to accept it worked very well.

The only criticism of the process I’ve come across is that there was too much structure, and I’ll address this in my following post.



One of our sessions focused on the future of Connecting HR, and it’s clearly going to have a very exciting future.  It’s no longer an experiment but a living forum for HR people to connect, develop relationships and participate in powerful conversation.

We’ve agreed a date for our next tweet-up (Monday 31 January 2011), and a rough timescale for our next unconference (March next year).  I’m really looking forward to this, although I’m not planning on having a very active role (don’t get me wrong – I want to stay involved and participate in an organising committee – but I don’t need to be the person at the front, and don’t want to be the one that does the shopping!).  There’s now a lot of people who want to be involved in taking the community forward, and I think for the community to continue to evolve, I (and Gareth) need to let them.

And although I do think the process we used for this unconference worked well, I’m sure we can do better, and I think this requires other people to step in and take a lead.  Also, form a purely selfish point of view, I want to use the forum for connecting, and I’m afraid this time around I didn’t get much time to meet people or participate in the discussions, and I want to correct that next time!


There are still a couple of issues I think we need to address before we move ahead with these events.

  • One key issue that we still need to address is the supplier question.  In our two tweet-ups, we kept the proportion of suppliers deliberately quite low.  We were more tolerant in the unconference, and naturally ended up with a much higher proportion of suppliers.  This didn’t seem to be an issue for anyone there, but we still know that there’s a need to ensure a balanced participation.
  • We need to find a way to include all the suppliers already involved in our community, and others who want to join us too.  And, at the same time, to grow the numbers and particularly the proportion of internal HR practitioners back to what it was in our earlier tweet-ups.
  • I also think we also need to think about the size of our footprint.  We were joined at the unconference by community members from Oslo and Geneva, which was absolutely great.  But I also suggest we keep the current focus on London, or possibly the UK, and seek relationships with other groups (eg HRevolution) to spread connection between as well as within groups, rather than trying to do too much ourselves.


We’re also looking at whether we move our online conversations from Yammer to a more open community site.  I think this is a key move for us.  We’ve not been able to generate the level of conversation on Yammer that we’d hoped and we need our new platform to better leverage the energy and enthusiasm of the community.  The key for me is that we don’t get too seduced by great technology, but simply find somewhere people will want to be.  After all, as was also noted at this Summer’s E2.0 conference, communities aren’t sites, they’re people.  And we need to design our community in this light.


If you want to participate in these conversations, and the Connecting HR community, go to and use a corporate email address to request an invite to join us (or get in touch once we’ve moved to where ever it is that we’re going to go!).  It’ll be great to connect with you…


Thanks to everyone who attended the event:

  • Thomas Breach, Recruitment Manager, Thomson Reuters
  • Sarah Foster, Chief People Officer, Talis
    Twitter handle: hrwpb
  • Martin Goodman, Director, Martin Goodman Associates Limited
  • Jess Archer, Senior Marketing Manager, World Trade Group
  • Stephen Pobjoy, Senior Producer, World Trade Group
  • Lynne Donaldson, HR & Communications Director, Currently in Transition
  • Lorne Armstrong, Consultant, Involve
    Twitter handle: @lornearmstrong
  • Paul Massey, Managing Director,
    Twitter handle: mentorwell
  • Etienne Besson, HR Professional, Lord Suisse
  • Alison Chisnell, HR Director, Informa Business Information
  • Dominic Wake, Director, ETS plc
    Twitter handle: DomWake
  • Kelly Dern, Executive, ETS plc
    Twitter handle: kellydern
  • Samantha Lizars, Director - Employee Engagement, One Magnolia
    Twitter handle: SamLizars
  • Kevin Ball, Writer, West
    Blog: www.west-writing/people-matters
    Twitter handle: kevinjball
  • Klothilde Ganzer, Human Resources Consultant , Goodwille Limited
    Twitter handle: @kganzer
  • Flora Marriott, Learning & Development Manager, Yell Adworks
    Twitter handle: @floramcdora



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