Flying Home: Notes on ER Expo 2003 Chicago from 30,000 Feet

You should have been there. I mean it. You really should have been there. Winging my way back to Boston from ERE’s ER Expo 2003 Chicago, I had time to reflect. I came to realize it was a wonderful experience. I really hated to leave Chicago. I never had so much fun, learned so much, met so many interesting people and fell in love with a city as quickly as I did with Chicago. (For those of you who have never been to Chicago, you’re missing out on experiencing a world class city with some of the best food, best shopping, and nicest people you will ever meet. I would relocate tomorrow if I could. From a hard-boiled New Yorker, that’s saying a lot.) For those of you who have never experienced an ER Expo, I can say, without hesitation, that the event is done with style, substance, and elegance ó and is always built upon the conveyance of meaningful and thought-provoking information. This year’s theme was talent management/workforce planning, and the results were spectacular. The folks who drive ERE are quiet and tend to stay out of the spotlight. Simply stated, they are not the type to toot their own horns. So please allow me to write a few lines and provide some overdue words of praise, before I cover some of the highlights of the Expo:

  • David Manaster is the president and founder of ERE. He is a quiet and humble person whose demeanor belies the quiet drive that is always there to make ERE better for all concerned. His vision has taken flight, and its results are nothing short of amazing. I for one am proud to be a part of this endeavor.
  • Jim Dalton is the director of content. He is the driving force behind the material that you read here every day. Everything from article selection to editing falls under his sphere of control. He makes all of the authors here better writers, and for this alone I will always be eternally grateful.
  • Kate Bruener is the amazing person who handles the three million things that define, organize, and shape each ER Expo. She is unflappable, unstoppable, and enormously talented, and she’s never put off by last minute changes in venue or content.

Not to be redundant, but you really should have been there. The opportunities to meet, talk, listen, learn, laugh, think, question, explore, and invent the future with such a diversified and eclectic group of individuals is a rare opportunity that I will not forget. If you didn’t go due to other commitments, don’t fret; hopefully you’ll make it next time. However, if your department head or CEO did not see the value and ROI in your attending, that’s a sad thing. It is sad for you because you missed out on a great opportunity to become more valuable to yourself. It is sad for them because they missed out on the opportunity to help a key person better support the organization in a very meaningful way. This Expo was delivered in the format of keynotes, individual speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions over a period of time that was just less than three days. Just hearing Gerry Crispin of CareerXroads handling the emcee responsibilities was worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, it is not possible to re-create all of the content of the Expo in a single article. But please allow me to cover eight common themes that seemed to run the presentations. I would love to accept credit for all of the information you are about to read, but I can not in good conscience do so. The eight points below are a compellation of central themes that were discussed, presented, or spoken of in a consistent manner at the Expo:

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  1. According to business futurist Roger Herman, who provided us with a thought-provoking and sobering view of the future, there will soon be too many jobs and too few people to do them. This problem will cut across all industries, affecting not just the private sector but the public and not-for-profit sectors as well. In his new book, “Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People,” Roger and his co-authors assert that by the year 2010, we will face a labor shortage of over 10 million people. The time for leaders to hook up with HR and plan for what can be the single most difficult obstacle to success is now ó not next week, right now.
  2. With the events of 9/11, the war in Iraq, the huge scandals that have rocked corporate America, and a very skittish economy, the rules of engagement have shifted in a dramatic way. All of us have been affected in one way or another. As a result, the future will not unfold on its own. It will have to be defined, invented, and executed to create real and progressive change. I for one believe that there are few leaders in a better position to do this than ourselves, because people are our business ó and for the most part, in business, people are all that we have.
  3. Recruiting and HR will never be the same again if they are to be effective business partners. Workforce planning and talent management are the two business solutions that will support hiring the best employees, enhance productivity, create meaningful work, and build great companies that represent celebrated brands that exceed customer/client expectations. Embrace this, or the competition will, and you just might wind up being next week’s lunch. Remember, it is not the big that eat the small, but the quick that eat the slow.
  4. Recruiting and marketing must be introduced to each other. The branding of your organization and its relationship to the recruiting process is too close to be ignored and too valuable not to be exploited. In an organization that is truly centered and looking to have real synergy between functions, recruiting and marketing are a natural partners in working together towards the common organizational good. Marketing does great things to build awareness, customer loyalty, and promote visibility. For recruiting, the message and the medium can be used in a host of different ways to develop the type of image that tells the world, “We are an employer of choice.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
  5. Your company is comprised of a large number of people who are just waiting for the “jobless economy” to reverse itself. When this happens and there is no longer a reason to remain in place and weather the storm, the turnover of employees who resign will range from significant in some companies to unprecedented in others. What is your plan to deal with this problem, and how can you utilize workforce planning into the overall scheme of things to create a workable plan? The time to figure this out is now, because it is getting later than you think.
  6. Related to #5 above, a panel discussion mentioned a survey that was done of senior managers in an attempt to discover how they were going to retain top talent when the job market becomes flush again and the world is rife with opportunities once more. The results of their findings are embarrassing to say the least. Let’s just say that developing competitive compensation and benefits was at the bottom of the list, and retaining casual Fridays was, well, closer to the top of the list. Frightening, yes? The time to advise management on what people are looking for in terms of work/life balance, compensation, meaningful work, and opportunity for internal advancement ó just to name a few ó is now, not after they are packing up their personal effects and heading off to the competition.
  7. Diversity must be taken seriously. If, as an organization, you do not have the decency to value diversity because it is the right thing to do, then consider doing it because it is a good business decision. The world we all hope to serve and compete in is more diverse today than it ever was before, and that diversity is only going to increase with time. Stated bluntly, a bunch of good ol’ white boys in pin-striped suits will never be able to compete effectively in a rapidly growing international marketplace that becomes more diverse from a consumer standpoint every day. In order to sell to people, you must understand them. If diversity does not exist within your organization, how exactly do you intend to do that?
  8. HR is no longer in the business of planning holiday parties or getting cakes because it is some fat cat’s birthday. Those days are gone. (Doubt that this still goes on in the year of 2003? If I had a dime for every well-meaning but incompetent person who was promoted by default to be the “HR person” and did very little having to do with what real HR professionals do, I could retire.) The role of human resources today, from a recruiting standpoint, is to work hand in hand with senior management to plan and deliver on workforce requirements in the most creative, diverse, and cost-effective manner possible, for the purpose of helping the organization meet its objectives. Whether adopted or invented, best practices for this daunting task must rule the day. Continuous improvement is no longer applauded; it is expected.

In closing, let me say that I’m glad to have met all of the people I did at the Expo. I hope to see even more of you at the next event, because those of you who didn’t attend definitely missed a good one, and you really should have been there!

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


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