A love letter, of sorts, to @SHRM

This is a post that has been lingering in both my mind and on my hard drive for while. While there is certainly some love spoken about, pain and emptiness are part of this story too.

I believe the reason will become clear as you continue. However, I feel compelled to warn you, this is not a post that will either be fully complimentary or one that simply throws rocks through windows. As Perry Timms so eloquently stated in a post he recently wrote, “Stones thrown rarely comfort anyone.” That includes this writer as I put on paper what I am thinking.

However, I’ve reached a point where my silence and frustration is not doing me any good. While I value relationships beyond all else, I write this knowing that some relationships I have may be irrevocably damaged depending on the priorities of those reading it. That may be a price to be paid and that realization is ever present and acknowledged.

Since starting my journey in human resources back around the turn of the century, I’ve been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management or SHRM. This is an organization that I credit for giving me both professional and personal satisfaction over many years. In fact, it’s not a stretch or an exaggeration to say that the majority of my friends have come because of my involvement with SHRM on either a local, state, or national level. Some of these friends date back to some of my earliest days being part of the organization while others are new as of last year’s annual conference in Chicago.  As a past recipient of a SHRM Foundation scholarship, I credit them with providing the kick I needed to start grad school and obtain my MBA.

An active volunteer on many levels, I certainly admit guilt to “drinking the Kool-Aid” and encouraging people to join and get involved. These volunteer opportunities have opened doors to me that I never would have imagined possible. It’s even conceivable that my volunteer roles have brought me farther along professionally than have some of my paid roles over the years. On the professional development side, I was one of the first to get my SHRM-SCP certification and openly steered others toward it. As a member of the SHRM Foundation’s Leadership Circle, I’ve made an on-going commitment to give back to an organization that provided so much to me.

And, yes, I freely admit to owning more than one item of SHRM clothing (including socks)!

So, having said that, why is this so hard. Because, I’ve stepped away from this organization I credit for providing me so much. It’s a matter of feeling like the organization no longer can credibly represent me and my feelings while opening embracing narcissism in leadership and seemingly ignoring or looking away from the ethics that have guided it for so long.

As of last August 31st, I have been a lapsed member. Despite dozens of messages laced with numerous incentives (a tote bag, hot chocolate, a free month of membership, etc. ) asking me to renew, I have not. This hurts to my core but not as much as my renewal would hurt and conflict with my own sense of right and wrong. While there is no “one thing” that was a final straw or trigger point, there have been a series of events that prompted me to internally reflect and reach this hard decision. Listening to people I know and care about express their concerns and having the benefit of knowing people who have been affected by changes in the organization makes one pause to see if I’m part of the problem or part of the solution. Sadly, this is still a piece I cannot answer with certainty. However, being part of the organization was not helping and my voice inside SHRM, despite being valued by some, is only one voice in a much larger chorus.

To be clear, while actions are being taken which are, in my view, not aligned with the integrity of the organization, there must also be the realization that not everything an organization does is going to be agreeable to its members.  A few examples where I believe the integrity is lacking include:

  • The current leader’s alignment with the Trump administration.
  • Some elements of reorganization that were (reportedly) not handled in a manner that a good HR person would handle it.
  • The blacklisting of a longtime member because they dared to question the current leadership of the organization.

Each of these points deserves some explanation. First, while I expect SHRM and any business oriented organization to have a politically rightward lean, the cozying up to an administration that is so blatant in its disregard to groups of people based on who they are removes the ability for the organization to legitimately state that it can stand up for elements in its own code of ethics. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Respect the uniqueness and intrinsic worth of every individual.
  • Treat people with dignity, respect and compassion to foster a trusting work environment free of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful discrimination.
  • Assure an environment of inclusiveness and a commitment to diversity in the organizations we serve.

Before you think I am thoughtless political extremist with only progressive views, I am not. In 2016, I voted in the Republican primary here in Michigan and am more comfortable talking to my Republican Congressional Representative, Fred Upton, than I am to either of our state’s two Democratic Senators.

The second point is one that is only conjecture and based on indirect information received and my own observations as an experienced human resource professional. I am a firm believer that a leader has the need to have their own people advising and guiding them. However, how you treat existing people when a change is made provides great insight into the character of the leader. While departures, both voluntary and involuntary do generally rise with the change at the top of an organization, the manner in which they are handled are important. Again, relationships matter and I always want to see people treated with dignity and respect. When you tout yourself as the world’s leading authority on HR, you damn well better have HR practices that match that mantra.

The third point is admittedly a point of personal hurt.  Yes, I am that member. While I do understand membership has its privileges, being ostracized in a manner that makes it appear that leadership in an organization is making personal attacks is, to me, an unmistakable sign that being challenged is threatening and that voices of dissent have no role. Professional responsibility requires us to adhere to the highest standards of ethical and professional behavior.

It’s this final point that has sealed it for me and prompted me to publish. Until substantive changes occur with the leadership of SHRM, I cannot in good conscience be part of the organization. As stated in the beginning, this hurts me to my core. I have grown as a professional because of SHRM. I am a better person because of SHRM. My life is a richer one because of SHRM.  Sadly, this growth, betterment, and richness is no longer worth the price. I will certainly miss some opportunities but at the end of the day, it is my own sense of dedication that will shift unless SHRM chooses to make some changes of its own.

I consider myself fortunate that I have a strong network of talented HR professionals that I can access as needed and that knowledge sharing among my colleagues is something that can happen without SHRM resources being available. No matter what organization I am involved with, I will always strive to share knowledge, provide support, and help advance the profession I love. Thank you friends, you are the best! It is all of you who deserve a letter devoted to love and dedication!




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9 Responses to A love letter, of sorts, to @SHRM

  1. Micole says:

    Thanks for sharing. Sending lots of positive vibes your way.

  2. John Jorgensen says:

    Well written and said Brad. I agree with most everything you have talked about. It is sad, at least for me, with some of the changes made at SHRM, both in some of the attitudes and changes made. Like you, I am a long time member (back to the ASPA days) and volunteer leader. Hopefully this may open a dialogue.

  3. Karl Ahlrichs says:

    Wow – i value your viewpoint and share some of your observations. Let me think through this…

    But thank you SO much for your transparency


  4. Marianne Steimle says:

    Very well said Brad. I am terribly disappointed with SRHRM and will think long and hard about renewing my membership in 2019. We need to make them hear us and membership dollars seem to be the only way to go.

  5. Gary Kushner says:

    I know this is spoken from both your head and your heart. I know your observations and conclusions are shared by many in our worldwide HR community. Thank you for your courage and sense of right and wrong.

    Let’s get together for a lunch when I’m back in April.

  6. Well written and heartfelt. You are legion

  7. Darryl Curson says:

    I share your sentiments. My decision to retire five years ago apparently was a timely one. Unfortunately, I did not see the future of the HR professional as one full of hope and promise and so I was eager to retire. As a former Chapter President, I was disappointed in the way that the SHRM Leadership was operating. Everything you wrote in your article is disturbing to me. SHRM is now political. SHRM has take sides. Not a good thing. Corruption has brought down what was once a great organization. Sad, very sad.

  8. Joe says:

    I participated in SHRM. Fortunately I did not experience much of what you have. I was fortunate to see warning signs displayed by leaders and members. For my first SHRM meeting, I was seated across members whom didn’t mind guests observe them shovel green beans into their mouths. I saw “leaders” who declined to check facts and figures. These same leaders shut down basic inquiries with, “That’s a great question.” (Yes, that’s why people whom desire to succeed inquire.)

    Too much demographical copy paste. Too much status quo. Only two things surprise me about your post: One, it took you 18 years to realize. These issues, especially discrimination, are as plain as day. Two, someone is actually speaking about these issues. HR is an exclusionary zone. You and I are a thousand miles distant Bradley. It’s the same here. The people whom you trusted are the same who both ignored and permit your excommunication.

  9. Veronica says:

    HR people are not known to be rebel rousers. However, we too have strong opinions about our own field that sometimes must be expressed. I think its healthy and I think it is what HR stands for in the United States. It should be valued by all of us in this profession. Thank you for your bravery and your comments. I appreciate it.