S4 E113 CXR Podcast: Jonathan Dale talks about HR Tech Conference takeaways

Chris and Gerry catch up with Phenom's Jonathan Dale to share key takeaways from the HR Tech Conference
S4 E113 CXR Podcast: Jonathan Dale

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Chris Hoyt, CXR 0:21
Everybody welcome to another edition of the CXR Podcast. I am Chris Hoyt president of CXR I have with me today, JD, Jonathan Dale, who is actually a VP of Marketing at Phenom. And I’m making sure I don’t get any of my bullets wrong, who’s going to join him? We’re gonna have a conversation. But what’s what’s thrown me for a loop is that we have a special guest joining JD today who’s normally sitting in the peanut gallery. You know him and you love him. It’s Gerry Crispin. Gerry, how are you?

Gerry Crispin, CXR 0:50
I’m wonderful. Life is good.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 0:52
JD How are you? Thanks for joining.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 0:54
Yeah, I appreciate the invite. It’s great to be here with everyone. Thanks.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 0:58
Good stuff. So JD, before we jump in, share a little bit about who you are and what you do at Phenom. And maybe a little bit about how long you’ve been in there and wait, and I’m gonna throw another one at you what you love about the space?

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 1:12
Yeah, okay, first, thank you very much. Let’s start with what we love about the space I spent 18 years in IT and security space going from answering telephones on Friday, Saturday, Sunday weekend shifts to moving into product management, then product marketing, then marketing. So I’ve had a great pleasure of learning the it buyers. And then three years ago, I transitioned to the HR space, and I’ll say this, I thought the buyer and the user of IT security products were difficult to talk to as a marketer. They’re nothing compared to the HR industry and HR, nothing compared to that this is so difficult of an industry

Chris Hoyt, CXR 1:51
I didn’t expect that I really like you’re gonna go the other way with that.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 1:55
No, not at all. But I’ll tell you a funny here. My interactions previous to HR is anytime there’s a problem with employees or something, right? It’s like, okay, HR has to get involved. Because I was at a 400 person company that was acquired by a 400,000 person company. So my experience with HR was pretty limited. And I come to really appreciate and love this industry. And I’ve come to appreciate the different roles within the HR community, whether it’s the recruiters are the sourcers, or talent marketers, all the way into the talent management, folks, because I realized what HR means within an organization. And so I did not have that perspective three years ago. Thank God I haven’t now.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 2:38
So yeah, it’s, it’s interesting to shift because you were you were you were big you were the IBM before, right but prior to Phenom?

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 2:46
That’s correct. Yes.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 2:48
And how long have you been at Phenom now?

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 2:49
I’ve been at Phenom just over three years. So it’s been a pretty good run, I do get the pleasure and I say this seriously, I get the pleasure of you know, kind of running the marketing team here. But I think as most leaders admit to I don’t really do much other than get on calls and waste people’s time and everyone else on the team actually does the magic. So I look at my role is helping kind of anticipate and help us get where we need to get to where the thick skin when we need to wear the thick skin and shelter the team although I don’t shelter up my team at all, but really enabled them to do it.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 3:28
What’s good so that lends a little bit of like, you’re not you’re not necessarily in the honeymoon phase anymore for the space you’re kind of no longer are you a shiny penny, like you’ve been doing this a little while.

Gerry Crispin, CXR 3:38
They say to folks who who’s come into the space you know, welcome it’s it’s a lifelong study. And, and yeah, cuz the variation in our space, I think is beyond the variation in many other spaces.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 3:54
It’s a variation of people roles. You know, what they have to perform, and even budgets in the budgeting world in the HR side of the house is much different than say if you were in security and compliance where you can pretty much keep writing checks because you can put it under this is for security. This is for compliance and HR, you have to really plan that that’s what I’m seeing you have to plan you have to really be visionary in HR silos.

Gerry Crispin, CXR 4:22
Silos JD I mean, the fact is, there are there are many many ta leaders who don’t believe they’re in human resources for sure. And and if given the choice would move outside of it except except Human Resources defines itself by saying we hire

Chris Hoyt, CXR 4:40
From a budget standpoint too Don’t don’t forget the OPM standpoint right like you’ve got you got to be down with other people’s money and internally where they go literally door to door with their hat you know, their hat out begging for money to help make the hires happen.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 4:53
I tell you what, when you’re defined as Hey, we make the hire yet right now. Hiring is critical. Hasn’t it always been critical for the past 30 years? And then you want to talk? Oh, my gosh, we have to retain people. Hasn’t that been the requirement for the last 30 years in the importance? Like, I think the microscope is coming down because of the pandemic we’ve just been through. And the different now challenges we talked about, as in the societal shifts, and also the technological shifts, and it’s not that they didn’t exist before COVID. But it’s certainly now been accelerated. And I think it’s cool when you hear people say that the HR organization within a company is really the heroes of the champions. And when you look at it that way, it feels pretty good to be in this industry. That’s great.

Gerry Crispin, CXR 5:43
How did you? So we were going to talk a little bit about HR tech. Yes. Because that was this is the first in person meeting for me in you know, two years almost. So it was an extraordinary experience. And you spent a lot of time on the floor out there talking to a lot of folk.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 6:03
Yeah,

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 6:03
Yeah. I think so if you’re looking for a hot take, right, my hot take on HR tech right now, I would say, our expectations going into it as a vendor, right? Our expectations going into that was, let’s not go crazy. Let’s not send 80 or 90 people that we would have traditionally sent let’s scale it back. And we did. But we still probably sent 40 people like our scale back was still 40 people that’s not not small at all. And I’ll tell you what, we had just enough, we had just enough people to handle all the conversation. So although foot traffic was lighter, the quality of conversations with people the energy, if you were on the show floor was high, very quality folks that attended. I mean, we had a blast this year, we thought it was great. And I think it’s indicative of the great times that gonna continue coming from HR tech perspective.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 7:01
Yeah, I think HR tech did a really, really nice job of caring for everybody’s safety and peace of mind. I think they use the clear app for those who didn’t go could they use the Clear Apps, you had to validate that you had in fact been vaccinated? Is you had to have everything on hand up the lanyard on all the time, which is pretty typical, but you also have your mask on and there were some people walking around, sort of securing that I think they did a really nice job. But I think you know, also to your point, it’s the first time we’ve been anywhere since really the big lockdown. And I think the question gets asked about what’s what’s going to be next. So JD, you’re talking about what’s ahead. And during I’ve talked about this now for a week, because we’re wondering, do we just return to the same conference formats that we have been so familiar with, and have just been kind of the go to rinse and repeat? Is that gonna, is that just going to come right back? Or do we think there’s going to be something different that HR tech is going to have to do are conferences going to have to think differently about engagement differently about audiences differently about what they charge for attendance for space for speakers? And all of that you have you have an insight sort of on that or where that’s at?

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 8:15
I’ll give you my insights. I’d love Gerry, if you want, do you want to take a first crack at this one? And I’ll jump on?

Gerry Crispin, CXR 8:21
No, that’s okay. Go for it.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 8:26
Here’s here’s what I think. I think if you look at kind of called like the last nuclear winter, in the financial meltdown from years past, events, events, just before that time period, were awesome. in all industries, events were a really big thing. And that hit you had to like a year or two down years of events. It took two or three years after that for for event companies in event organizations to fully recover. And then we had another amazing run of events. You can tell I love physical events. Why? Because you get to connect with people, form relationships, have conversations in person, it is a great excuse to get out and about and actually meet people and have dinners and socialize it brings, people don’t realize this, it brings an entire industry of professionals together, connecting on the same thing, there is something special and meaningful about that it is not just about me, or you or you it’s about our industry. I think it’ll probably take HR tech, another two years to get back to where it was. And quite frankly, it might go well beyond where it was. And those numbers may actually start growing from an HR tech conference once again, but I think it’ll probably take two more years to get us there. I’m optimistic about that. But Phenom will definitely be along for the ride and is excited about it. That’s my take.

Gerry Crispin, CXR 9:48
I think I think it’s a great thing. I do think there’s a there is a fundamental underpinning to how community forums that involve breaking bread. And and you can you can define that in a variety of ways it may be, you know, more of an intimate conversation that you could have on a trade floor, if you’ve got the right people the right space, the right setup, etc. More often than not, it’s it’s what happens later in the afternoon or evening. When when people get together and do in fact, break bread. And so you know, a number of the dinners that I go to, and the dinners that we we do for our for our members really are a critical and I think fundamental way that that you start to build community. The question is, what do you do in between these meetings as well, that fosters the development of that, of that initial effort to build a community and how you act and behave in between and how you build touch points, I think it’s going to be critical. I’m convinced we’re not using all of the tools well enough to really to really understand how to not only start community in person ways, but also to build and enhance that over over time. And and I think that lots of the vendors try to build, build it through doing webinars and a variety of other things. And I think we’re gonna see much more creative ways to develop relationships long term. And and I’m convinced that that’s going to be a fundamental part of how we, how we develop that, and I don’t know if the conferences will figure out how to do that. Sherm, for example, has over 500 supports over 500 local chapters. Now, a lot of people say, oh, okay, that’s cool. But they’ve been doing it for a lot of years. It’s another reason why they got 300,000. Members. They, they, they understand the formula for how you how you develop connections, that lead to 20, some odd 1000 people coming to a conference, or at least used to, there was a much smaller conference this year. And so I think there’s going to have to be as we come back, a deeper thinking about what relationships are, what community is, and, and how that comes together.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 12:30
Yeah, I want to jump in and talk about community for a second here, Gerry, some of the things you’re touching on, I think, make total sense. And I want to give you an example from the show, I got a bunch of show examples. So we are at HR tech and another vendor came into our booth and introduced themselves to me, and they said, oh, we’re marketing for x for x company. And I said, Oh, that’s awesome. How are you growing? I we hear about you. And they’re looking at me funny. And I can sense like, I’m not sure what I’m sensing. But this is odd. And they’re like, well, you’re the only vendor we’re talking because I asked what’s going on? They said, You’re the only vendor that we’re talking to that’s actually talking to us, like, like, we’re okay people. I said, What do you mean? And they said, Well, everyone that we come to the booth, because they’re marketers coming to other people’s booth, they go, they’re treating us like there were competitors. And it’s, they’re not talking to us as people. And I said, Well, that’s odd. And it’s a bummer, because you’re a marketer, and I’m a marketer, we’re a community of marketers, and I don’t care if you’re a competitor, I don’t care if I’ve never heard of you before. I don’t, it doesn’t matter to me, if you’re coming to say hi, I’m treating you as a person. It’s a small world, it’s a small world who’s a competitor today is a friend tomorrow, who’s who’s good talent today, another company could be working for you, I could be working for them. But it goes to your concept of how are building people, relationships and community. And we I think, as humans haven’t figured this out yet completely. But if we just step back and realize we are really in this together, and life, life may not be this big competition yet sometimes in the trenches, I don’t like certain brands as a marketer, but at the end of the day, they’re people and we should stay connected because it’s such a small world and event companies, you know, maybe there’s a way they can tap into some of the this human side to break down the barriers of just your competition or your friends. This it’s not always black and white.

Gerry Crispin, CXR 14:30
Not an easy issue to like your attitude. Because I think that’s one of the things that we that we focus in on so I mean, we have members who are competitors in the same in really in the same industry, etc. We’re very comfortable talking to each other and sharing what is not private. What is, you know, not proprietary. The fact is we inflate What is proprietary in so many different ways that we, we struggle in talking to people as people about what it is that could lift all of us. And I think that’s the difference that I see in an attitude of those who are focused in on community versus those who just have a job. Those in community recognize there’s something bigger than all of us and all of our all of our businesses in how we contribute to the space that we’re in long term. And I think that’s the satisfaction that you have in a career rather than in a job in which you are putting food on the table. And if we can elevate people beyond beyond simply the satisfying that food on the table, we get to a point where I think we can all all agree we’re building community.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 15:51
I think you’ve got though you’re talking about from a from a text from the conference standpoint, HR tech was half the conference. It used to be and I don’t mean half the conference, it seemed to me, I don’t mean half the conference in terms of attendance. I don’t mean half the conference in terms of, you know, necessarily the number of people there are half the quality. I mean, this was literally the buyers outnumber the sellers. But it was it was incredible, because most of the conversation JD to your point people coming by we’re not necessarily the folks you would typically be doing a demo for you were talking to colleagues more than you were talking to potential buyers or our business partners like that. So I didn’t hear I heard a lot of people saying what you’re saying JD, I didn’t hear anybody saying, Oh my god, I missed the huge crowds. Oh my god, I wish it were more crowded, or I wish I wish I could barely get through the sales floor, the demo floor. And I wish I could wait in more lines for a demo. Or when I didn’t hear any of that. What I heard was, I felt way more productive. I felt like I was way more engaged. And I met more more of my colleagues, more of my industry folks. So to me, if I’m HR tech, I’m thinking successful conference, different, very different. I would what I’d like to more buyers there, of course I would. But there’s an element somewhere in there that says Hmm, we might be onto something here. And it might be time for us to take another look. And I don’t think I don’t think HR tech is alone. I think to Gerry’s point, Sherm has done a very interesting, interesting job in these sort of localized chapters, where they’re still connecting and helping because the folks that we talked to that are still members of schermer, finding the majority of their value in those local chapters, where they’re connecting. So I would I would echo JD what you said. But I also throw in that when we talk to our leaders about whether or not they were going, there was no appetite to go. And a mixture of that predominantly, right, but primarily because of the pandemic, but there was a larger percentage of lack of interest. I think they’re necessarily attending as a buyer than I think I have seen in the previous years. No, will they go when we’re when the pandemic, God help us when the pandemic is behind this? And we get back to normal? The practitioners, you know, flood back to this conference? I don’t know, will the appetite be a little different? I don’t know. But I think there’s an opportunity for everybody who’s who’s in the conference business to say, it could be time for a nice pivot, that leans in a little bit on the community aspect or leans in a little bit on the difference between the buyer and necessarily the service provider.

Jonathan Dale, Phenom 18:29
Two quick comments on that one. The first comment is I was sharing with someone else on on a previous discussion that it was very nice, that no one had to walk through the expo hall and say, Excuse me, sorry, excuse me. None of the bumping into people. So that actually, that felt good, in a positive way. I will comment though, is even as we as a marketer, look to pivot on our strategies, you know, with the digital fatigue that everyone is having, with with virtual events in virtual meetings, we’re still doing them, by the way, because there’s value to the folks who were communicating with. But but we will even shift focus, we run our own physical event, it’s called I Am Phenom. And so we did our last one right? up against when the pandemic hit, we skipped and now it’s like, when are we doing it again. So we’ll have appetite, we’re gonna do one in April of 2022. But we’re also planning to take the lead of the industry and what you’re getting at and what Sherm has done very well, which is, for folks who aren’t yet ready to take the commitment of flying and moving to a very large event, you have to get to them in their cities, more local, you have to be perfectly local. I think you have to get more local. And you’ll get some of the community aspect a little better. And it’s getting peers that are say in the New York and Philly area, you know, coming together because maybe they’ll take the train or they’ll drive an hour and a half, right and they’ll be want to be part of something because it’s easy. Then thinking a week out of the office on airplanes in airports. Yeah, not every company has the appetite. Not everyone has had the travel budgets back. Like there’s a lot of complexity there. And of course, let’s not forget, you know, people are still dying of COVID. So there’s a factor that COVID is still here, it is still real, and it’s still a problem. Until that resolves itself, and we figure out what we’re doing and what our comfort levels are. Yeah, we’re gonna have to keep trying different approaches. I like the community approach Sherm has taken, I think they are doing it well.

Chris Hoyt, CXR 20:34
Good stuff. JD, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate you jumping on the show. And anybody else who is still listening, we hope that we will see you at our upcoming book club. I’m not going to tell you what the new book is, but hopefully you’ll head out to the website and you can take a look, we’ll surprise you with that. But we’re awfully anxious to get that going and see as many folks on there as possible. So JD, thanks again. Gerry. I’m glad you’re unmuted your mic today’s Nice to have you on the show.

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