Pretty Little Liars: What Transparency Really Means To SHRM.

kool_aid_man_glassFor going on two decades now, I’ve been a proud, card carrying member of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). On top of diligently paying my dues every year, reading my monthly issue of HR Magazine cover to cover and making room on my calendar for the annual SHRM National Conference, I’ve gotten involved as an active volunteer leader, to boot.

Once upon a time, I served an executive role as my local SHRM chapter president – geaux Baton Rouge! – and have served in various roles on the Louisiana State council for going on over a decade, these days. On top of all that, I’ve put in my time at the SHRM Leadership Conference on a national level, spending several years not exactly guzzling the Kool Aid, but, I’ll admit, at least sipping a pretty healthy serving. Or two.

So, after all of these years being involved at all levels with the organization, I’d like to state that I still sincerely believe that SHRM fulfills a necessary role in providing a professional organization capable of supporting a pretty diffuse group of professionals who happen to get grouped under the umbrella of ‘HR.’ From benefits administration specialists to organizational psychologists to the ubiquitous HR generalists of the world, SHRM somehow manages to provide structure and cohesion to a vast and varied constituency.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that in trying to be everything to everybody, nobody really wins, because at the end of the day, the profession still hasn’t advanced past the same discussion as when I first got involved with SHRM, which is a pretty long time for any problem to persist.

That, of course, is how to get even more CHROs and senior HR leaders engaged with the organization. The focus became on growing new membership instead of better enabling existing members, with an obvious emphasis on taking over HR organization from the top of the org chart down.

Hey, SHRM, guess what? It ain’t gonna happen.

Not now, and probably never, the way things are going. Which is too bad, really – because when you’re all things to all people, it impacts everyone in the human resource profession. My profession.

And I think it’s finally time to sound an alarm that’s at least loud enough to serve as some sort of wake up call.

Hey, a gal can try, can’t she?

SHRM Disconnect: Echo Chambers and the Sound of Silence

2015-03-18_05-48-41In my estimation and experience, the members who get the most mileage out of their SHRM membership – and the biggest bang for their buck – seem to constitute the solid base upon which its membership ranks are built – your average generalist or business partner at a small or medium sized business.

The kind of multi-faceted professional responsible for overseeing every element of HR in their companies, running the gamut from OSHA compliance to hiring and payroll are the ones who need access to the resources SHRM makes available to its members, who really just need the basics to get by.

This means for the low, low annual cost of only $190 US dollars, you too can pull generic, fill in the blank policies and formulaic forms from their firewalled website and download presentation templates on topics ranging from Job Description Training for Supervisors to the equally sexy How Performance Appraisal Programs Work (how could Jane the HR Manager resist, right?). First timers get a tote bag, too. Pretty sweet, right?

They also get access to the endlessly entertaining HR Talk Bulletin Board, which is like a Usenet group only for little old HR ladies. This being HR, naturally, this conversation and content is gated, and mostly consists of kvetching from the SPHRs out there for whom these archaic forums are somehow the closest to social media they’ll ever get.

Well, that is besides SHRM’s very own social network, SHRM Connect, which is such a ghost town that you can practically see the tumbleweeds tumbling by – of course, a social network for just for HR managers is obviously dead in the water before it even launches. Hey, we’re here for CPEs, not community, after all.

The value proposition inherent to actually delivering ROI on member dues continues to be predicated on the assumption, most likely an accurate one, that the vast majority of HR professionals have no idea how to use a computer, much less get the most out of tools like search engines and social media. SHRM has traditionally taken an insular, rather than integrated approach, to the function, completely oblivious to the fact that people are using stuff like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to engage in conversations about, you know, “work” stuff.

Now, it’s interesting to note that, for example, to participate on SHRM Connect, that silent “social” network, members must manually create a profile and are forced to disclose their real names and identities, while over on the knitting circle that is the HR Talk Bulletin Board, any old Betty out there can post anonymously. And, as you can imagine, most do, since HR managers aren’t generally the biggest advocates for transparency out there.

This is a group that almost unilaterally places a premium on maintaining silent control over employees instead of going out and actually engaging with them, one that prefers to stay shuttered in a silo than in touch with their actual employees, and one that prefers the HR back office to the business front lines.

Which is to say, the kind of person who ends up logging in with their SHRM member ID number and posting on a private bulletin board about such intriguing topics as Denying PTO For Bad Weather or How Organized Are Your Personnel Files? 

The kind of Lane Bryant blazer wearing, Dooney and Bourke carrying, cat and certification obsessed HR pro who just can’t get enough pastries, policies or participating in endlessly fascinating discussions such as Which Candidate Would You Hire? or Drug Test – Synthetic Urine?

The Divine Secrets of the SHRM Sisterhood

Divine-Secrets-These SHRM members mostly stay hidden behind such creative screen names as Anonymous, Anon, HR in IL, Anonymonk, Just Me, Anon2, and “Gotta Be Anon This Time,” to cite just a few members busy “talking” in these conversational threads.

In fact, so many people posting on these forums choose to post as “Anon” that people end up replying with shit like, “I agree with Anon 9:57 AM.” 

In fact, I wasted a full 30 minutes of my life  flipping through multiple topics and threads on the HR Talks boards recently, and in that entire time I was able to find exactly four – yes, four – individuals who actually responded with their real identities and full names.

Score another point for transparency.

One of the other things that I found amusing is that, in the aforementioned “Which Candidate Would You Hire?” thread, the person who initially posted it (“GoHR,” ironically enough) teed off the discussion by cutting and pasting a couple bland descriptions of two finalists for a General Manager position and posing the post’s titular question.

Of course, this seemingly innocuous topic – and kind of lame attempt at crowdsourcing – kicked off quite the fracas among all those anonymous HR gals out there. That’s because there’s nothing these ladies like more than helping to make arbitrary decisions without any sort of context and share these unfounded opinions without having any responsibility for actual outcomes. It’s kind of a prerequisite for the profession, after all.

Now, I’m sure that when “GoHR” goes into meet with her CEO and share her final selection decision, he should obviously have complete faith in her judgement and ability, since nothing inspires confidence in your competence quite like making hiring recommendations based off the input of a bunch of frowzy HR ladies chiming in on a SHRM message board and choosing the crowd favorite. Note: #2 was the frontrunner among the crowd of commenters, possibly due to the “vibrant personality” described in the initial post.

Secrets, Lies and SHRM.

liesReading through this discussion, I was a bit disgusted, a bit amused and not the least bit surprised by any of this shit.

Deep in the bowels and annals (see what I did there) of SHRM’s somewhat sordid history there have been a decided and deliberate aversion to any form of transparency whatsoever. All of those things we think about when we think of what being “transparent” actually entails, things like openness, accountability and communication, don’t even register as blips on the SHRM radar screen.

For those of you who pay attention to these sorts of things, you might remember back in 2010, after years of informal but concerted behind-the-scenes efforts by a number of members, that the group SHRM Members for Transparency (SMFT) finally surfaced to air its concerns with the greater public.

Here are some of the select grievances from the long laundry list compiled by SMFT when they first formed five years ago:

  • SHRM CEO Henry “Hank” Jackson, the organization’s head honcho, was promoted into the top spot from his former role as a CFO, and his background is exclusively in finance, and has never actually worked in HR.
  • Less than 40% of the members of SHRM’s board held any sort of HR certification, education or relevant degree. This, of course, includes such things as the SPHR, PHR and GPHR designations SHRM recognized prior to its acrimonious uncoupling with HRCI last year.
  • Board Member Compensation continued to rise, without any independent checks or balances in place to oversee or control the board’s expenditures. These annual increases, of course, were voted on exclusively by the board members themselves and not by an independent committee as is common in most organizations, public and private.
  • Board Member Benefits weren’t limited to pay, but extended to a full range of perks such as unrestricted first class air travel, lest this austere body be forced the indignity of having to fly coach.

And so on and so forth, with a list of allegations that would be enough to get most DC based political entities charged under RICO. I was optimistic that amidst all the brouhaha that ensued among SHRM members, it would also provide an invaluable opportunity to educate them on the professional organization responsible for overseeing their profession. I was a SHRM volunteer leader at the time, and this landed me on their mailing list.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I really enjoyed their regular missives, which teetered dangerously close to the kind of conspiracy theories normally reserved for presidential assassinations and cryptozoology, but were still a hell of a lot more interesting than, say, Who Would You Hire? Call me crazy, and maybe I should have my tinfoil hat ready to go, but one thing was obvious: SMFT had some solid information and facts backing them up.

Like anyone advocating for change, though, inevitably this group of would-be revolutionaries ended up pissing off quite a fair share of SHRM membership. At the time, I heard many a die hard SHRM dogmatist, including my own chapter president and State Council Director, hear these accusations and ask, “Why Are They Attacking SHRM?”

As for me, I suggested that the State Council on which I was serving share this information with chapter presidents and encourage them to pass it along to the members of their chapters so that they could at least maybe read and decide for themselves, know what I mean? Not surprisingly, this idea was immediately shot down.

The general response to this suggestion: “We’ll just keep it a secret among us girls in house here.” Another secret for the anonymous members of the SHRM sisterhood, as usual. In fact, this unilateral ability to hide or suppress pertinent information should probably be shortlisted among the newly defined HR competencies in the SHRM certification model.

Hell, it would fit in perfectly with competencies like “Relationship Management” (behaviors include treating all stakeholders with respect and dignity as well as demonstrating approachability and openness) or “Communications” (which means demonstrating a commitment to delivering proactive communications and critical information to all necessary stakeholders, according to the definitions laid out by SHRM itself).

Or maybe not. Nah; forget I even brought it up.

Money Makes the World of Work Go Round.

sloth 2These issues only recently popped up on my personal radar when the surviving members of the SMFT group published their analysis of SHRM’s annual IRS Form 990 Submission. Check out the full version embedded above or click here for the complete document.

The stated goal of publishing this report is to “assist SHRM members in understanding this important IRS required report on SHRM practices and financial status.”

In that same spirit, then, here some of the stats about SHRM:

  • CEO Jackson received an 18.6% pay raise in 2013, the most recent year reported, over 2012, increasing his total annual package, including deferred compensation, to a whopping $1.53 million dollars.
  • SHRM had 409 employees in 2013, an increase of 29 (7.6%) over its 2012 workforce.
  • Revenues Increased by $10.32 Million in 2013, a 9.9% increase over 2012.
  • Expenses Increased by $6.44 Million, or 6.2% year-over-year growth.
  • Member Paid $43.2 Million in 2013 Dues, which accounted for fully 46.3% of SHRM’s total revenue.
  • The Annual Conference Raked in $26.9 Million in revenue, or 28.6% of the organization’s annual total.

That’s some serious money we’re talking about. The kind that you’d think that the average member should at least be aware of or have visibility into prior to chipping in their share of the $43 million in dues they spent over a single calendar year. But I can guarantee you that not only does the average SHRM member have absolutely no clue (and probably, no interest) in any of this, but neither do most of the Chapter Presidents and State Council Leaders, either.

These financial statements from SHRM never seem to make it out to members, particularly since the last thing volunteer leaders want to do is rock the boat or the status quo. So, they stay silent.

Perhaps it’s that SHRM wants to keep this information hidden from not only their most ardent supporters, but also their most loyal advocates and die hard foot soldiers. It’s not easy for a Chapter President, after all, to justify the latest increase in dues to their members who are already stretched thin, or confidently assert that the high registration fees for Annual Conference attendance is worth the price of admission when it’s public knowledge that SHRM raked in total “revenue less expenses” – the cash in their coffers – was almost $5 million in 2013 alone.

“Do as we say, not as we do” seems to be the prevailing spirit within SHRM, at really every level of the organization.

What’s Good For the Goose…

3401I know that running a SHRM chapter looks glamorous, nothing but a string of public accolades and social soirees filled with endless glasses of chardonnay, but the fact is, it’s really a shitload of hard work. SHRM requires all affiliated chapters and state councils complete a SHAPE report (that’s SHRM Affiliate Program for Excellence) at the end of every year.

This report requires these affiliates to attest to a number of statements, including providing “year end financial results” for the prior 12 month period. This, according to the SHAPE workbook includes reporting total chapter income, total chapter expense, net profit/loss and total chapter assets as of December 31 of the year covered by each respective report.

In a nifty little box marked as a “GREATIDEA!” in SHRM parlance, chapter leaders are admonished that they must “Publish a financial statement for your membership. Operate in a transparent fashion. Remember, your members are looking for a return on their investment in the chapter as well.”

Damn right, SHRM. Operating in a transparent fashion and ROI is exactly what your members want from you, too. That’s no GREATIDEA!, of course. It’s just common sense.

unnamed (4)Robin Schooling is on a mission to make organizations better by making HR better. With 20+ years of senior HR leadership experience in a variety of industries, she consults with organizations, advises HR teams, speaks to HR and business audiences and writes for a variety of sites and publications.

Schooling has been an active and involved SHRM volunteer leader, holds a few of those HR certifications herself, and at one point in time even received an award as “HR Professional of the Year.” She has been known to search out the perfect French 75 and is a fervent and unapologetic fan of the New Orleans Saints, even if they did trade Jimmy Graham.

For more for Robin, check out her blog, follow her on Twitter @RobinSchooling or connect with her on LinkedIn.



  • ljhHR

    Good article, Robin. I, too, have devoted a number of years to various projects and positions with SHRM. But, based on a variety of recent behaviors by SHRM (certification fiasco, what they’ve just done to our standards team, etc.), I am no longer a cheerleader and have actually dropped my membership. The organization no longer represents me as a professional and has actually taken HR back a step or two. And there was no longer an ROI for me because I can find the information I need in other (lower cost and/or free) ways. I’ve been disillusioned with local chapters for some of the reasons you cite but a few have actually done a pretty good for their members. Unfortunately, even the best of those have caved to SHRM demands which will dilute their value in short order. On another note, I will say that I’m sort of surprised that you acquired (just out of principle) a SHRM certification.

    • Deep in its soul, SHRM is now a membership organization and
      loyal chapter leaders are tasked with growing membership (SHRM membership; not
      even so much local membership). Back in the day SHRM had more of a “feel” of a
      professional organization as well as being (often) THE one-and-only source for
      info (pre the googlez of course).

      I did have an internal debate whether or not to do the SHRM
      certification… 30 minutes of my life to do the gateway tutorial … meh..I figured I might as well. Not too much effort and BAM – “here’s more letters after your name.” I
      decided to do it for two primary reasons: (1) to be able to know what I was
      talking about when discussing it and (2) having uncertainty regarding what’s
      going to come down the path. Will HRCI survive? I dunno. Will the SHRM-cert
      become ‘the standard’? Who knows? Then again, do I really “need” it? Does anyone outside of HR even care? Probably not.

      I have no quarrels with the SHRM BOcK – I DO think they did
      an acceptable job mapping out the BOcK and defining the competencies. Of
      course, as we all know, the delivery, execution and rollout of the SHRM-cert
      have been the big flaws….

  • Howard

    Robin – Very well said. SHRM Corporate enjoys a reputation wholly at odds with its actual culture and internal governance. For a realistic and close-up view of how SHRM actually operates, talk to someone who has gagged on the SHRM Kool-Aid – namely, former HRCI or SHRM Foundation board members like me or former SHRM employees who have served in the belly of the beast. You’ll hear stories of arrogance, deceit and profligacy that will have you re-thinking your membership.
    Howard Winkler

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  • Betty Mullen

    Nice work on completely (and offensively) stereotyping every person who actively participates in the HR Talk message board. ” bunch of frowzy HR ladies” and “SPHRs out there for whom these archaic forums are somehow the closest to social media they’ll ever get.” and “The kind of Lane Bryant blazer wearing, Dooney and Bourke carrying, cat
    and certification obsessed HR pro” are particularly professional comments on your fellow HR colleagues. You may find no value in it, but please try to refrain from the personal insults directed at those who do.

    • First off, that your name is actually Betty proves Robin’s point, but since there was no naming of names (albeit “stereotyping,” maybe), the fact that you construed this as a personal attack, Betty the SHRM member, proves that she was right on the money on this one. Literally and figuratively.

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