19 Apr A Big Time Event in Minneapolis

They say big things come in small packages, which would consistently be the case for the annual HR Tech Expo thrown in Minneapolis, St. Paul. This year’s iteration, rebranded from LEHRN (Leading Edge HR Network) to Fuel.Work, was no exception.

“Small” doesn’t apply to the jammed packed expo hall, with some of the biggest software vendors in our space, a variety of interesting services providers, and some really cool point solutions.

“Small” has nothing to do with the size of the audiences taking in the sessions, such as the opening keynote by Don MacPherson. The CEO of 12 Geniuses opened with the question, “who thinks they’re lucky to be alive today, in 2019?” OK, to confess, the author of this blog post was one of 3 people out of 400 to raise his hand, logic being if one were alive in an earlier timeframe, he/she could have worked to prevent some the problems facing present day humankind. However, Don went on to expound all the reasons – more leisure time, the mitigation and elimination of diseases, significantly less child labor, being on the brink of technological explosion, and so on – that we are indeed lucky to be alive right now.

“Small” was the antithesis of the content of conversations in the expo hall. We had worked hard at some light re-branding and our mojo for the event, and were proud to show off our stuff at the Hive Tech HR booth, where conversations with attendees was extremely fruitful. Of course, it didn’t hurt that dozens of them took advantage of our free photo shoot. 😉

The amount of data presented by Stacey Harris of Sierra-Cedar in her session, “The Changing Role of the HR Technologist,” wasn’t “small” by any stretch of the imagination. Stacey gave a plethora of well-connected data points gathered from their annual survey to tell a story about the industry. She talked about many topics near and dear to my heart, such as HR Technology rollout approaches by company size. One surprising result:

  • Small companies roll out all functionality at once 76% of the time
  • Medium 67% of the time
  • Large 55% of the time

That means that 55% of large scale implementations are insanely complicated and painful. OK, maybe that isn’t quite the newsflash I was going for. Well, how about the fact that only 22% measure their technology adoption? (6% in small, and 10% in medium-sized companies). Really? With the amount that can tear down significant investment in the technology itself?

The discoveries about “coopetition” and making sure the customer wins were not “small” in my roundtable in the Collaboration Zone. This is no pat on the back here, because most of the credit goes to the people around the table, like Vinay Johar of Rchilli and Barbara DaSilva from Cornerstone. By probing, facilitating, and occasionally telling my own stories we collectively solved many riddles about what partnerships actually work, and how healthy (or in some cases, unhealthy), the HCM industry is today.

The 3 spring rolls I had at the tasty lunch were not “small” (perhaps individually they were). There is no visual proof.

From where I sat, the session my client, Jennice Lehman from Winston & Strawn, inspired levels of participation and engagement that were far from “small.” OK, maybe we had to tease it out of them with some online poll questions and gift cards, but hopefully our explanation of just how important it is to get that core system selected, implemented, and if nothing else enhanced to perfection is vital to all the other things companies are hoping to achieve. Jennice told some awesome, personalized stories about her own HR technology journeys which really seemed to resonate with the crowd. I’m looking forward to sharing more of the content of our collaborative session, entitled “Put in Place the Nuts and Bolts or Your Team Will Go Nuts and Bolt.”

The emphasis on human connection in the closing keynote by Christopher Kurtz was no “small” message. With a “don’t give up” theme related to his own personal journey since leaving Glassdoor, Christopher made sure the audience focused on the fact that “the heart of every business is the people who show up.”

Calling the amount of effort put in by the Expo staff and volunteers “small” would be insulting, and this year I got to watch that first hand as my new Hive Tech HR partner (!!!) Cindy Ridley worked tirelessly in the months leading up to the event. It was great to see her efforts recognized.

During the closing reception, among all the great conversations with both HR leaders and practitioners and industry colleagues, one in particular stood out. We met back in my days on the IHRIM board, and for some reason he has always been a person I’ve seen eye-to-eye with on what this industry, and the business world in general, needs. Perhaps what has most connected me to Matt Peterson, the long-standing Executive Director of LEHRN, the entity that has thrown this Expo (and hundreds of other MSP industry events) for years, is the fact that he has never stopped believing in a mission for more collaboration, innovation , and…fun. In our conversation, Matt confessed that he feels like he never fully “got there” on his mission. I do know what he means, since as I said he and I did share in those “big ideas,” which it was so nice returning to in our conversation. However, looking around at the vibrant Minneapolis St. Paul industry ecosystem he has spearheaded, fostered, and inspired, there could be literally nothing “small” drawn from the efforts and career of Matt Peterson.

OK, an entire blog post dispelling the original point of the post. What was small, you ask? The duration of one day, fairly atypical of conferences of this size and complexity. And, with Wesley, the early April “kitchen sink” blizzard bearing down on Minneapolis, this year the length of the Expo turned out to be a blessing.


  • the jammed packed expo hall
  • the size of the audiences
  • the content of conversations in the expo hall
  • the amount of data presented by Stacey Harris of Sierra-Cedar
  • The discoveries about “coopetition” and making sure the customer wins
  • 3 spring rolls I had at the tasty lunch
  • levels of participation and engagement
  • The emphasis on human connection
  • the amount of effort put in by the Expo staff and volunteers
  • great conversations with both HR leaders and practitioners and industry colleagues
  • the efforts and career of Matt Peterson


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