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Letters on SHRM at a Crossroads

February 12, 2008
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article

Regarding "SHRM at a Crossroads": The article was interesting, but in my mind, you may have gone too far toward "fair and balanced" and not deep enough into the issues and accountabilities that SHRM has with its membership. My comments here are about the national association only; many local chapters are super outfits.

I disagree strongly that SHRM is the "voice of the HR profession." It could conceivably be the "voice of those with an interest in HR," but the profession itself is largely underrepresented in the association. You simply cannot make claim to being the "profession’s" voice while aggressively pursuing nonprofessional membership in the quest for membership (and reserves) growth. The "$160 and an interest in HR" membership requirement is laughable.

And never forget: Those incredible financial reserves (nearly doubling in less than five years) are created on the backs of its members, who shell out their companies’ bucks for high-priced seminars and related events, products and so forth.

So, what would I, a 15-year member and lifetime-certified SPHR, recommend that SHRM do differently?

1. Stop the "all things to all people" mentality. May be good for association reserves, but it’s bad for the profession.

2. Embrace senior HR professionals. They used to have a "Senior Forum" membership, where selectively screened members could become part of—and participate in—relevant sessions and mailings. Later, this was "rebranded" as "Portfolio," and then finally "HR Executive Network." Each succession diluted the effort significantly. I’m sure it was financially driven. It originally featured full-day sessions (senior people only) at the SHRM conference (otherwise of no value for senior pros), with killer presenters like Ed Lawler.

3. Quit doing stupid things intentionally. In 2005, I was invited to come to Phoenix—on my nickel— "as a senior-level member of SHRM" for an event that was "our way to thank you for your membership and to hear from you about what you want from SHRM." So, I shell out a grand or more for airfare and a couple nights in Phoenix, and they get to thank me and get input? Did I mention they also wanted me to pay a $50 "materials" charge for the event?? I was insulted.

4. Spend some resources on certification. Right now, it looks more like a mail-order "credential" than a professional certification. Educate businesses and the public. Make a concerted effort to raise the visibility. Do some heavy-duty rebranding around this. It’s necessary.

5. Speaking of certification, give it some real requirements. Disallow testing until all qualifications are met. Do away with lifetime certifications (though I have one). Inject some rigor into the process and subsequent recertification efforts.

6. Take a hint from corporate Sarbanes-Oxley requirements: transparency. A few years ago, I asked—and it took me three months to receive—relevant [IRS form] 990s. The current SHRM board is not representative; they are selected not as representatives for membership, but on their ability to lead a business. Sounds nice, but aren’t we a membership association? And don’t insult my intelligence by saying that "the membership elects the board." Pre-chosen candidates, presented singularly (no competitors allowed) will always win an election, whether here in SHRM or in Venezuela.

Local, regional and state officers represent their constituency—why not national? That coupled with the perceived secrecy surrounding board nominations creates a profound lack of transparency.

7. Get their arms around HR Talk, the message forum on the SHRM Web site. Anonymity rules, allowing petty people to thrash others constantly, and the arbitrary deleting and locking of threads by SHRM sends a confusing message. Provide moderation, as almost all other "professional" boards do, and eliminate anonymity for regular postings.

D. Kevin Berchelmann
Triangle Performance
Spring, Texas

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I appreciate your efforts. This organization needs looking into. Personally, I feel that we need to up the standards for becoming certified (we compare very poorly with accountants and other licensed professions). In addition, I’ve felt recently that SHRM has become a mouthpiece for management, not truly looking at all sides of an issue. I’m not trying to imply that we shouldn’t be looking at the issues from our respective businesses’ positions, but that we broaden our view to those of our employees.

Wayne Musick, SPHR
Human resources director
Florence, South Carolina

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I read your blog item "From the Editor: Why We’re Writing About SHRM" and was pleasantly surprised to read a voice and opinion interested in the concept of SHRM and its practices and purpose.

For 12 years, I have practiced human resources as an outsider. Formerly trained as an educator, I entered the field and first developed my acumen through trial and error until finally achieving the SPHR certification in 2006. Without question, SHRM projects the collective voice and represents millions of HR professionals, but I find that representation somewhat limiting in the presence of new and different approaches to HR. More so, the practice of HR prescribed to me as leading or best practice often is not discussed or followed by "traditional" HR practitioners, nor are the concepts written about in many SHRM publications.

What’s more, a new member to my team recently exclaimed how she is "finally doing the real work of HR, like we’re taught in school and not as it is practiced in most companies." I accepted her comment as a compliment. I do not question SHRM’s purpose, intent or practice; however, I do wonder why others cannot question those same elements without "upsetting the HR apple cart." I appreciate your perspective and the chance to examine what others view as sacred and without presumption.

Steven Youll
Assistant manager, human resources
Midwest Express Group
East Liberty, Ohio

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The cover story (“SHRM at a Crossroads”) in the February 4 issue of Workforce Management magazine provided a wealth of information about the Society for Human Resource Management. While a variety of topics were covered, three issues deserve clarification.

First, as the world’s largest HR association, SHRM is proud to support every segment of our profession, from college students pursuing HR careers to executive-level professionals. Our mix of products, services and initiatives reflects the diverse needs of our members, and, in turn, our members reflect the general profile of the HR profession. As Workforce Management noted, we are continuously exploring new ways to serve the different segments of the profession, including HR executives in C-suites. As one would expect, this is a smaller group, but readers may be surprised to know that the number of executive-level members who belong to SHRM far exceeds the total membership of any other HR association.

Second, SHRM’s exemplary record of financial management is one of our most important success stories. By protecting assets and maximizing our value to members, SHRM has been able to maintain the same dues level for more than 17 years while continuing to develop an array of new products and services.

Maintaining stable, adequate reserves is an important part of sound fiscal practices. As your article reported, SHRM has managed its reserves in a prudent manner comparable to that of other large not-for-profit organizations with hundreds of thousands of members, diverse sources of revenue and significant capital investments. What the article did not explain is that an individual membership organization like SHRM is required to meet a higher standard for reserves than a corporate membership organization like the American Bankers Association because there is greater risk. Based on independent comparisons from Moody’s Industry Outlook, our reserves are in the “average” range, which should be reassuring to our members.

Finally, we make smart decisions about how to serve our members because we listen to our members. This is a major reason for SHRM’s success.

For example, our members have told us that diversity, workforce readiness and sustainability are critical issues in their organizations and for the future of HR. In response, SHRM is investing in extensive research to develop new ways for HR professionals to lead change in these priorities.

To help advance the profession, we launched a new multi-platform communications campaign to educate non-HR audiences about the value and importance of human resources. This effort includes media outreach, partnerships and SHRM-sponsored advertising on CNN, Fox Business Network and National Public Radio and in The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek. By creating a higher profile for our profession among journalists, opinion leaders and government officials, we are connecting HR to the major public policy issues under debate.

To continue to set the agenda for the HR profession, we’ve partnered with the academic community to develop teaching tools for colleges and universities that provide undergraduate and graduate degrees in HR education. In so doing, SHRM is investing in future HR professionals.

And we’ve devoted significant resources to expanding and redesigning the SHRM Web site because we know access to timely information is vital to our members’ success. The site will include new tools for social networking, video and professional development.

This year, SHRM will celebrate its 60th anniversary. We look forward to continuing our service to HR professionals at every stage of their careers and at every level in their organizations.

Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR
President and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management

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