SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am.

SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am. 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Let me first say that I can’t believe I’m about to write this post.  After all, I’m supposed to be the radical, status quo crushing HR leader who runs around in his spare time calling himself a Talent Anarchist.  If anyone should be chucking rocks at the establishment, it should be me. Instead, I find myself compelled to defend the institution.  Weird.

Over the past month or so, our beloved professional association, SHRM, has taken a beating around the blogosphere.  There have been several articles on TLNT (here, here, and here) regarding some snafu’s at the board level.  Mark and Laurie at hosted a series of posts from prominent HR bloggers who detail their recommendations for what SHRM should do in 2011 (some great ideas, a lot of criticism).  And then there were several of the folks at Fistful of Talent who, after having session proposals rejected by SHRM for the annual conference, have decided to host their own conference in Vegas the day before the SHRM conference kicks off.  It’s been a rough stretch in the online world for SHRM lately.

I’d like to pile on.  I was even tempted to do so.  But, I’m not sure that SHRM is the problem.  Let me first say that I’m not a fan of how the SHRM board has been handling their business lately and I’ve gone on record publicly saying as much.  That aside, as an HR executive, I’m thankful for SHRM daily.  Most members of my HR team are SHRM members.  Several either have PHR certifications or are pursuing them.  We use SHRM resources to get answers and perspectives to HR issues when we encounter things we haven’t seen before.  I appreciate their email newsletters that help me keep up to date on what’s happening at macro levels around key issues in HR.

I’m also thankful for the SHRM structure that has facilitated the creation of the two active and healthy local SHRM chapters we have in Omaha and Lincoln.  These chapters provide affordable, regular developmental and training opportunities for my staff and the other HR professionals in the area.  And, all of this is provided to us for less than a few hundred dollars a year.  A pretty great bargain in my opinion.

The discussion and the angst with SHRM is indicative of something much bigger.  As I’ve read through these online discussions, here are the thoughts that have come to mind for me.

  1. HR is at a turning point.  It’s become increasingly evident to everyone in the world of business that competitive advantage is ultimately about the people.  This is creating an incredible demand for smart, business savvy HR leaders who can step forward and take the lead–not just in the HR department, but in the organization. Problem is, most HR leaders either aren’t capable or aren’t competent to make this transition today.    This is creating some incredibly intense pressure on current HR leaders and they aren’t sure what to do.  
  2. Because of this friction being created between market demand for HR talent and the supply of strong, HR executive leadership, something’s got to give and we all want someone to blame.  So, we turn our attention to SHRM.  If only they would be more strategic, or more proactive, or more embracing of social media deviants, or [fill in the blank]. This is a load of crap.  SHRM isn’t the problem.  I am. We are. 
  3. HR will only rise to it’s potential and it’s calling when HR leaders decide that they must first change.  The problems in HR aren’t new.  HR was born out of administrative requirements forced upon organizations by regulation.  These early personnel departments created a dumping ground for all things administrative and touchy-feely.  Problem is, we never shook this stuff off.  HR leaders have to be where the buck stops.  They have to redefine and re-imagine what the corporate HR department does and how it creates value for the organization.  (While I’m on my pulpit, it’s not about changing the name of the department.  Human Resources is a perfect name for what we do.  If you think changing the name of your department will fix your problems, you are delusional).  
  4. Note to HR Leaders and Bloggers, SHRM does not exist to serve you.  SHRM will never be a place for those leading the revolution.  They, like any large organization, have to appeal to the middle of the bell curve.  Should they role model some progressive behavior like social media?  Probably.  But remember that a majority of our profession is just coming around to the idea that social media is here to stay.  If SHRM gets too progressive, they risk alienating the core of their membership.  Not a reason not to innovate, just something that I’m sure is tough to balance if you live on the inside of the organization.
  5. We need to be careful in the arguments we make.  Mark Stelzner specifically took SHRM to task for having two consecutive CEO’s who didn’t hold an HRCI certification of some sort.  Really?  Mark is a brilliant guy and I normally shout “Amen!” to most of his posts, but he and I diverge here.  Are we honestly going to stand up and say that we value certification and technical skill over the competence to get the job done? Or, that a CEO can’t advocate for a certification he doesn’t have?  The PHR certifications are designed for people who are practicing HR.  I don’t want an HR practitioner running SHRM, I want a CEO.  I don’t give a flip about certifications if you can get the job done.  Let’s find a CEO for SHRM who has vision, leadership, business savvy, integrity, courage, and a burning desire to advance the profession of HR.  And once this person is hired, I’m hoping they spend time running the organization, not studying for a certification.  

I guess at the end of all of this, I can summarize my thoughts like this.  I hope that SHRM continues to do what they do well and that they continue to strive for improvement.  But, SHRM isn’t going to transform the profession of HR.  That’s up to us.

  • Jay Kuhns

    Great post Jason. Quint Studer tells us we must first look in the mirror to find part of the source of the problem when we are struggling with another person (or organization in this case.) You and the others mentioned in your blog are blazing a trail for the HR profession. SHRM will never catch up from the standpoint of breaking new ground. It does however, need to hold itself accountable in the same way you are for your own practice.

  • John Jorgensen

    Jason, well said. I have been thinking about the same issues for that last few days. As a professional, I am very thankful of what SHRM has to offer. As a volunteer leader, I am thankful for the opportunities SHRM has given to me to add to my profession. Is SHRM the cutting edge, no, but what similar professional organization is?

    The last month has filled the air with organizational snafu's from the SHRM board and a group calling out the board on transparency issues (BTW, that group isn't exactly see-through either). Did the board screw up on communication? Yes they did and I have offered that opinion up several times. Do I disagree with the business decisions made by the board, especially when the facts and details are known, no.

    Thanks again for your eloquent statement of the situation.

  • trisha

    Bravo! I fall in the Jason camp on this one. As someone who has been a SHRM member my whole career but who hasn't seen much value other than a webinar here or there, at the beginning of last year I decided to put up or shut up when it comes to SHRM. So, I'm trying to start my own local chapter (and just happen to be writing a little about it on my blog today). It may work, it may not get accepted by SHRM. We'll see. The other thing I've done is speak at several SHRM state conferences this year and attend a couple others. I felt like I couldn't criticize what I wasn't going to attend. Some were great, others not so great. In the end, the only way I (holding myself personally accountable) can steer SHRM in a certain direction is by my own direct participation. And in the meantime when it isn't providing me the professional information, networking or challenge I need- there's HRevolution.

    I think you're point in #4 is the key and I just had a similar conversation with an influential leader in our industry about that. You're spot on.

  • Nancy Newell, SPHR

    Great post Jason! And I'm soooo with you on #5. I hope that the next CEO of SHRM is a rockstar leader who knows how to run a professional membership association.
    Thanks for holding up the mirror. I think we could all use a dose of reality.

  • Anonymous

    Jason says: "It's become increasingly evident to everyone in the world of business that competitive advantage is ultimately about the people. This is creating an incredible demand for smart, business savvy HR leaders who can step forward and take the lead–not just in the HR department, but in the organization."

    I'm not convinced. I run into too many orgs that still don't leverage on people. Hence, they don't see the need for savvy HR leaders either. In fact, most execs wouldn't know an HR leader if they saw one, but run around claiming they only hire "A" players.

    Having said that, my commentary simply supports your premise that the problem isn't the professional association.

  • Michael D. Haberman, SPHR

    The last couple of days I have been mulling over just such a post. I was one of the bloggers that offered a critique of SHRM and offered some suggestions. I then read with interest the many comments and other posts that "piled on." People started talking about pulling out of SHRM perceiving "no value." That got me to thinking that we are not going to be able to improve the association and what it can do for the profession by abandoning the association. I am both a national and local (Atlanta) member. I don't always agree with the way either group does things, but that is not a very good reason for leaving them.

    Rather than leaving, I encourage critics to become involved, even heavily involved, to help foster the change needed on both the local and national levels. To dervive value from an organization you have to offer value. You have to offer involvement, ideas and labor to get true value for your dollar.

    So thanks for writing the post. I am in concert with you.

  • Jessica Miller-Merrell


    I came across this post from the Carnival of HR and think you have really hit a note. I have myself been critical of SHRM in the past and have backed off for the exact reasons you've stated. Instead of not renewing my membership (which I blogged about) I decided to get involved and work to help drive the organization and its members with conversations and partnerships instead of finger pointing blog posts.

    And I believe more of us need to be doing the same thing.



  • Anonymous

    Agree, the problem isn't SHRM, the problem is the members and the practitioners. Having spent most of my life in reasonably significant HR positions, I am embarassed by many who call themselves "HR professionals" today. I find, more so than in any other profession, large numbers of HR people who have little common sense, creativity, functional knowledge, or just plain old initiative. Read the articles and blogs and gasp at the inane questions. Go to a chapter meeting and experience the dimness. HR people can't even talk the talk, let alone walk it. They are not quick, they are not knowledgeable and they certainly don't know their craft. It is an incredible shame. Maybe more of the less talented people are gravitating to HR, maybe too many think it is a job where lack of technical expertise or business acumen will not be noticed. Maybe too many think "people person" means soft, ineffective, and without strong principles. I hope the HR profession recovers from it. But I don't have much short term hope. Maybe we all should stop talking about the "seat at the table" and "being strategic" and just do the work, gain the skills, and develop credibility. Just an example: Human resources is the only profession where they have to have titles such as "Business Partner" to show other they really are part of the business. Titles don't give you credibility, performance does.

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Jason Lauritsen