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SHRM Looks to Turn Crisis Into Opportunity

June 19, 2009
Related Topics: Career Development, The HR Profession, Employee Career Development
An economic crisis is creating an opportunity for the Society for Human Resource Management.

As companies slash payrolls and tighten their belts in other ways that squeeze employees, the association is trying to make itself indispensable to HR professionals who have to cope with some of the worst realities of the downturn.

“This is the most dramatic shift in global economic history,” SHRM president and CEO Laurence “Lon” O’Neil told an audience at the Newseum in Washington in early March. “Now is our time.”

He addressed a reception at the opening of the SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference. It was a debut of sorts for O’Neil, who had been on the job several months at the time he spoke.

The former senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente, a $40-billion not-for-profit health care organization, O’Neil drove home the point that HR—and by extension SHRM—can be pivotal in addressing the recession.

He cited retirement security, pension and health care reform, leadership development, diversity, recruiting, training and workforce planning as areas that SHRM has worked on for decades.

“The issues that SHRM is positioned to affect are the most important issues on the president’s and Congress’ agenda,” O’Neil said later in an interview. “They are the most important issues [for] the boards of directors of every major company in this country and every other country.”

That theme is being articulated in SHRM’s substantial advertising campaign that started during election coverage on cable networks and National Public Radio and in BusinessWeek and Capitol Hill publications. It is continuing to run. When describing SHRM’s role, O’Neil ended his thought with a line from the ad. “And I’m doing this on purpose:

Meeting the challenges of a changing world,” he said.

SHRM will not disclose how much money it is spending on the advertising, but it is likely a multimillion-dollar effort. And it has started to define the organization.

O’Neil related a story to the Newseum audience about a friend who told him that the SHRM ads made him proud to work in the profession.

“There aren’t a lot of times HR people have said that in the past,” O’Neil said.

It’s difficult to assess the efficiency of the ad campaign. But other moves the organization has made seem to be resonating with its 252,000 members, a number that keeps growing rapidly.

SHRM has redesigned its Web site to make it easier to navigate reams of information.

“They’re very good about educating us as members about what’s available,” said Alison Beppler, HR director at Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon.

SHRM chapters across the country can provide support for HR professionals besieged by the recession. “People see the need for the professional development and, especially at the local level, the networking,” said Judith Burgard, an HR specialist at the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona and a leader of SHRM of Greater Tucson.

Most important, they commiserate with and learn from colleagues who are facing the same challenges.

“That’s what we’re all about,” Burgard said.

Recent Articles by Mark Schoeff Jr.

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