The Big Easy has two faces.
New Orleans is an amazing place. The party never stops on Bourbon Street. People dance to the sounds of music pouring out of the bars. Liquor flows and laughter is everywhere.
It is a bit of an adult Disneyland - like Las Vegas or Amsterdam. But underneath it all, you can feel a lurking sense of frustration, and maybe even anger.
People make money lots of different ways here. I watched a guy yesterday who makes a living doing street theatre. He does the frozen human statue thing - one of many variations on the same theme that I have seen here including Captain Morgan and a living Statue of Liberty.
This particular guy would smile and laugh and joke for the tourists when they came by. Several asked him to pose for pictures with kids or girlfriends. Some of the people threw money into his tip bucket. Some didn't - walking away laughing.
The mime cursed them and made obscene gestures behind their back. They never knew - which is just as well.
This mime isn't happy with his job. He probably needs a dollar from every person he poses for just to make his rent and buy some food. I'm pretty sure that all of us have people just like him working in our organizations.
Mime as metaphor
The SHRM conference seems to reflect similar themes.
The show is great. The vendors have pulled out all the stops. If I am lucky today, I could win a new Smartcar or a trip to New Zealand. Speakers are good, and the personal connections I have made are unmatched.
People keep talking about how far HR has come. I have heard at least three speakers talk about how when CEOs move, they now tend to take their CFO and their CHRO with them to the new company. Apparently this means HR has arrived as a strategic field.
On the other hand, attendance at the show is down. We keep hearing about how difficult the last year has been and about the millions of jobs have been lost, including many in HR.
There are a lot people here networking. Many are looking for jobs. They aren't cursing - but you can feel the frustration.
Don't get me wrong - there is a lot of good stuff going on here. It is just important to keep the context in mind.
Things aren't so easy in the Big Easy or in the HR profession right now.