3 Takeaways From the SHRM Talent Management Conference and Expo

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

man holding three lightbulbs to represent insight

Last week, I was able to attend the SHRM Talent Management Conference and Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee. The event’s theme was “Talent Is Everything,” and it was inspiring to see how HR leaders are rallying around this shared belief. The war for talent is a challenge everyone faces and one everyone seemed excited to try and tackle together. What made this group even more interesting was the many different ways they're approaching their talent acquisition and retention strategies.

I listened to three very gifted keynote speakers in the general sessions: Ginger Hardage, former SVP of Culture and Communication at Southwest Airlines; Dan Heath, acclaimed author of The Power of Moments (and others); and Elatia Abate, an expert on the future of work and building cultures of creativity. In addition, a host of breakout sessions ensured relevant content regardless of how each of us might be focused on winning the war for talent.

Here are my top takeaways after attending the event:

1. HR is moving more fully in to the marketing space.

To draw in the right talent, HR is embracing their role as marketers of the organization and its culture.

As part of this, it’s abundantly clear that speaking only at the organizational level isn’t enough—the value each person will play as part of the larger whole is a critical step in getting a candidate to a “yes.” It’s about more than just a well-crafted EVP statement.

And it’s certainly not something a template can do for you either, as multiple speakers reiterated. I love an idea I heard about crafting recruitment personas using a combination of quantitative (culture surveys, candidate experience audits, polls) and qualitative (interviews with candidates, employees and hiring managers) research. This helps you demonstrate empathy and understanding to candidates while simultaneously tapping in to what really matters, motivates and appeals to them, both at work and outside of work.

Stage at the SHRM Conference

2. It’s not just about getting to “yes”—to win the war for talent, you have to keep them, too.

I thought it was fascinating that, even though I was surrounded by mostly talent acquisition professionals, so much of the conversation revolved around ongoing engagement, development and retention of talent. One of my favorite breakouts I attended was about engaging employees at different stages in their employment journey with an organization. As the speakers, Julie McCracken and Natalie Smith from Padilla, emphasized, it’s not only about looking at employees by generation—it’s a major miss if you’re not also paying attention to where they are in their stage of employment, too, as those needs and motivations will vary. Their research has shown that four key segments are important to tailor engagement strategies for, including:

  1. Newbie (3 years or less with the company)
  2. Straddler (4–7 years with the company)
  3. Seasoned (8–10 years with the company) 
  4. Sage (11 years or more with the company)

That’s not to say that generation isn’t a factor—there was still plenty of discussion to be had on how to engage Millennials, too. But what I really enjoyed was getting a peek in to the minds (and motivations) of Gen Z from 17 year old Josh Miller of XYZ University. Expect them to bring greater degrees of pragmatism (especially as it relates to seeking financial stability), as well as a strong interest in making a difference, entrepreneurship and, obviously, strong connections to (and expectations for) technology usage. My big aha moment? Learning that 43% of Gen Z actually prefer face-to-face communication when the topic is important to them. It helps support their need to validate transparency, authenticity and truthfulness in others.

3. Emotional connection is the difference between retaining and losing talent.

While emotion might feel soft or difficult to manage, it was made clear through multiple speakers that organizations (and HR practitioners in particular) are uniquely well-positioned to maximize the emotional connection people feel about their work, teams and organizations as a whole. For me, Dan Heath’s perspective on peak moments—those events that spark positive emotion, create insight and reinforce pride and connection—emphasized the importance of the work organizations are doing to improve and elevate the employee experience. It all comes down to creating more (and better) peaks during moments in each employee’s journey.

There was a lot of emphasis on onboarding, which makes sense given how many talent acquisition processionals were in attendance.

While this focus on onboarding is much needed and that point in the employment journey is certainly a key transition point that should be a peak, others exist as well—internally transitioning roles, recognition of significant personal milestones and even the two weeks an employee has as they transition to a new organization, just to name a few.

I loved hearing about the creative ways companies are working to create these peaks in the employee experience. These range from simple gestures like the resurgence of handwritten notes to more extravagant measures that show how much you understand an employee as an individual, like personalized gifts, experiences and even once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for training, advancement and visibility within the organization or industry.


I walked away with a number of ideas, but one thing rang particularly clearly: The pace of change and disruption will continue. As the final keynote speaker, Elatia Abate, eloquently stated: We are sitting on the edge of the greatest period of disruption humanity has ever seen. But her message wasn’t one of fear, it was one of hope.

Hope that we [HR leaders] can be the change we know is needed, and that we will embrace the opportunity we have in front of us and choose to look at this disruption as an opportunity to change for the better.

It will take resilience—and we need to build collaboration and commitment within each of our organizations to support that resilient attitude. But I believe this is one of the most exciting periods in history to be a part of and was so encouraged to find myself surrounded by like-minded individuals.

Are you ready to tackle your talent challenges? You’ll want to dive head first into our latest ebook that looks at how enhancing your employee experience will improve retention and engagement with your team members.

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Christina Zurek

Christina Zurek

Christina creates innovative solutions by combining her enthusiasm for motivating and engaging people with more than ten years of consultative solution development experience. She thrives on completing research and analysis, collaborating with others, experiencing new things and drinking craft beer.