#GPTWConf A Two Thumbs Up Experience 

I recently went down to the Bayou, joining 1,100 HR practitioners and leaders in downtown New Orleans for the 11th Annual Great Places to Work Conference.  It made sense that this super event was held in the Super Dome, because, in my opinion at least, China Gorman and her team did a super job putting on an event worth two thumbs up.  I’m pretty sure most other attendees would agree.

Matt, ever cynical, recently asked me what, exactly, makes an event worth two thumbs up instead of a thumbs down, and that’s a fair enough question.  In fact, it’s one we should be asking at every event we attend – and in this industry, that’s a whole lot of conferences. 

After all, our time (and money) are precious – and we’re all under pressure to return from these events with a few goals and objectives to justify us being out of the office and away from home. While getting the chance to connect with and learn from our professional connections, clients and colleagues is great, let’s be honest: the price tag is often too steep to just have a great time without getting some great takeaways that result in ROI and actionable information and quantifiable impact. And no, a sponsored bar doesn’t count.

As you likely know, I’m something of a veteran in the HR event space, having put on quite a few of them myself over the years, and that means I attend every conference with something of a critical eye – call it a professional liability.  Sure, I evaluate events through the most common criteria – the content of agenda and caliber of attendees count – but I realize there’s so much more to an event than meets the eye. 

There’s no second chance to make a first impression, so what attendees see when they first arrive is of critical importance in setting the tone: the look, feel and even smell of the venue itself; the registration process; the conference bag, collateral and contents; the printed program; the event staff and volunteers; the amount of traffic and the movement of attendees; the expo hall and the sponsoring companies – the list literally goes on and on.

At the Great Places to Work Event, I was lucky enough to stay more or less behind the scenes courtesy of a press pass, and had the pleasure of conducting some behind the scenes interviews.  What I came away with in conversations with Victoria Mars, Chairman of the Board at Mars (yes, the M&M lady! – more on that to come), Anita Grantham, VP Cultural Development at Infusionsoft and Laurel Smylie, Great Places to Work Consultant, I was reminded that no matter what industry or company you represent, having enthusiasm and passion about your work really does make all the difference.

I’m lucky enough to share that same passion, so here’s my quick take on the event: 

  • Speakers & Agenda: A great mix of smart CEOs and leaders who understand that if you take care of your people, your people will take care of the business.  The presentations were all very well received, with on point content by dedicated talent & HR leaders who understand the value of attracting and retaining good people through a transparent and truthful culture. 

This should extend throughout the life cycle - Infusionsoft’s Grantham addressed “dignified, respectful off-ramping” when cultural goals and individual goals no longer match – which was a first for me, but shows that the best brands know the importance of employee experience from hire to retire. - Check out the key note presentations here: http://www.greatplacetowork.com/2014-conference-keynotes.

  • Sponsors: How can you go wrong with a Mercedes-Benzes sponsored reception at the Super-Dome in New Orleans? Or an “M Café” sponsored by Mars Drinks and it including a full M&M bar? Not to mention the chair and hand massages sponsored by Bright Horizons, and let’s not forget the potpourri bags for us girls. Nice!    


  • Attendees: A great mix of employees there to celebrate their inclusion on this year’s list of 100 Great Place To Work and a lot of top leaders and practitioners from some of the world’s top brands there to learn how to transform their company into the kind of best in class employer from their colleagues who are getting it right (or at least, worthy of the seal of approval from GPTW – no easy feat).  Most attendees came from the C-Suite or the executive ranks, with broad responsibilities and a big bottom line and business impact in their roles as leaders.
  • Venue: The Hyatt Regency New Orleans was a welcoming, well run venue that was just a “Hop On and Hop Off” shuttle ride away from a cup of chicory coffee at the Café Du Mond – or any other beverage of choice available in the world famous French Quarter – which made the proximity a very good thing for many of us.
  • Food: It’s New Orleans! I don’t need to say more, except maybe “laissez le bon temps rouler.”
  • #GPTW Staff: Dedicated and excited, and deservingly - so they put on a great event.
  • Conference Management Staff: M Factor – consummate professionals who did a great job making Great Places to Work, well, great.
  • Volunteers: Very helpful, always smiling and easy to find with their red shirts – not to mention extremely knowledgeable and proactive in helping attendees get the most out of their time there.

So, I know you’re probably wondering what, exactly, my ROI was for spending a few days out of the office and in New Orleans.  I had some great conversations with some great talent and business leaders; made several new connections as well as strengthened existing ones – including getting some invaluable 1:1 time with the inimitable Elaine Orler, and learned that what we do every day at RecruitingBlogs is really the same as what it takes for an employee brand to work: putting the right people in the right place with the right expertise.  That’s where the magic happens – no voodoo required..

Views: 250

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 15, 2014 at 11:43am

Thanks, Anna. How much did it cost and who were the attendees? (Staffing Heads/HR Heads, Recruiters, Generalists)



Comment by Anna Brekka on April 15, 2014 at 1:57pm

Hi Keith,

The early bird price for the GPTWConf was $1,800 I believe full price was $2,195 and they sold out!

The attendees were primarily corporate HR, TA, staffing and recruiting professionals with titles that included acronyms such as Dr., VP, Sr. and "C" something or an other, as well as a nice CEO representation. I also spend time with a lot of HR communications and culture managers, too. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 15, 2014 at 3:27pm

Very good. What points did you find most valuable and/or interesting?

BTW: What's a "Culture Manager"?

Comment by Anna Brekka on April 15, 2014 at 3:35pm

I liked the message of truthful culture - representing and being true to who you are as an organization and not trying to be something for everyone. Strong sell-able brand message. One thing that struck me was most of the CEO/Key Note presentations were made by heads of family owned companies of this year's Fortunes 100 Best Place To Work list. Not sure its impotent but think it might be easier to "own" your culture when you are "it". 

Comment by Matt Charney on April 15, 2014 at 6:31pm

Keith - a culture manager is a fancy way of saying a cheerleader who's good at creating propaganda.

Comment by Anna Brekka on April 15, 2014 at 7:24pm

Matt, the cynical.

Comment by Matt Charney on April 15, 2014 at 7:27pm

Anna - one man's cynicism is another man's realism. Like when you see a resume for that candidate you know has no shot in hell of getting their "dream job."

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 15, 2014 at 7:46pm

Thanks, Anna. It looks like you got a lot  of useful and good things there....

Let me see if I have this right:

Most of the people there were: "primarily corporate HR, TA, staffing and recruiting professionals with titles that included acronyms such as Dr., VP, Sr. and "C" something or an other," aka, THE PEOPLE WHO CREATE AND OVERSEE THE PROBLEMS THAT WE IN RECRUITING AND HR HAVE TO SOLVE. Their companies paid thousands of dollars (if you include travel and accommodations) to be told (I would guess) nice, comforting things about how well they were doing, aka, *just what they wanted to hear.

Do you think that may of them had done, considered, or perhaps even advocated at the con the following alternative action:

Spend a small fraction of what it cost to go to NoLa on an off-site, off-work hours meeting with food and drinks provided for the PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY DO THE RECRUITING WORK. There, they'd ask US how to improve our jobs, would implement what we needed, and would fight for it against the opposition that would very likely arise. What's rarely considered is that after a few weeks working, the most jr. "newbie" scheduler, sourcer, recruiter, whatever knows more how to improve theri own job than the most experienced self-proclaimed "Recruiting Thought Leader," SVP of Staffing, or CEO will EVER know, just as those people know more how to improve their own jobs than anyone else ever will.



*Would you pay thousands of dollars to hear how you were falling short, were perpetuating and adding to a bloatocracy with titles like "Culture Manager" etc.? I wouldn't.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 15, 2014 at 7:59pm

@ Matt: Thought so. Think what REAL recruiting resources could be paid for with that bloatocrat's salary...



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