I’m feeling frustrated. For the last seven years I have served on the Board of HR Florida State Council. It’s an organization that I believe in and have heavily invested in. We are the State affiliate of SHRM—the national professional association for human resources professionals. I have been a member leader of this organization for a number of years and have served in many volunteer roles at the local chapter level, state level and national level. I’ve always served with pride and with the belief that I was making a difference in my chosen profession. I am SPHR certified. The SPHR exam consistently has a pass rate that hovers around 50%–some years as low as 47% and an all-time high of 58% in 2014. I share that to underscore the degree of difficulty of this exam.
A week ago SHRM announced that it no longer believes the SPHR exam (or any other Human Resource Certification Institute [HRCI] HR-related exams) is a validation of human resources competencies, so they have developed their own certification.
And, yes, I’m bothered by that. Especially given that right up until the day of the announcement, SHRM staff was touting the merits of the SHRM Learning System (HRCI study prep materials) and enticing my chapters to purchase from SHRM at the discounted price of $500 per eligible test candidate. And even though I find that distasteful, I don’t think that’s really the source of my frustration.
We have 14,218 SHRM members in our state and approximately 51% of them are certified. I have been told that is the highest percentage of any state. We’re proud of our numbers! It doesn’t happen accidentally. Our high numbers are the result of executing a marketing plan to make sure our members and our state’s employers understand the value of certification. The education of Florida’s employers on certification has come at significant financial investment and many hours of service by dutiful volunteers. We speak of the merits of certification to business groups throughout the state. And, finally, after many years of espousing the merits of certification, we are consistently seeing it as a qualification for many HR positions within our state’s organizations. So, do we now just quote a Gilda Radner sketch from Saturday Night Live and say, “Nevermind!” I’m embarrassed by that. And yet, I’m not sure that’s the exact source of my frustration either.
I’ve tried to be practical in my thoughts on this topic and I think it boils down to this: I’m insulted.
With 14,218 members, Florida is one of the largest SHRM member states. That, too, is no accident. We provide financial grants to our chapters to use in their local geographies to attract new members. We fund travel expenses for our President Elect and me to speak in each of our chapters each year providing pre-approved recertification credit hours for our members. We host a statewide conference, attended by no less than 1500 HR professionals providing recertification credit at each session. We speak at other professional associations talking about the merits of membership in SHRM. Our membership numbers are the result of a strategy designed to fortify our brand and show value to the business leaders in our state.
Our state contributed over $40,000 to the SHRM Foundation in 2013. That’s greater than any other state contribution. Over the last ten years, our donations have totaled $383,599. And once again, that didn’t just magically happen. It was the result of financial commitment to the cause plus many hours of loyal volunteers collecting items for silent auctions, donating to live auctions, and hosting events with paid admission. We did it because we believed in the mission.
I am the President of one of the highest performing SHRM State Councils. And that’s no accident either. I didn’t take on this role because we couldn’t find anyone else to do it. I had served for many years in a leadership role before being elected to this position. I had demonstrated my ability to serve and was carefully vetted by a meticulous nominating committee. I was entrusted with a significant operating budget and processes that had been well-honed by preceding leaders. It is 700 miles from one end of our state to the other and I’ve driven all of them, many times over, to speak at our chapters and promote our professional association. I develop quality content. I review and execute contracts. I plan and stress over four major events plus four council meetings per year. I prepare agendas and budgets. I participate in the SHRM webcasts and attend the SHRM events so I can share the content with our members. I’m committed to my role. Oh! And all of this is while I am concurrently running a busy and successful business. I believe my commitment to the profession and to the professional association has been demonstrated many times over. I’m a believer.
Today when I asked an executive at SHRM why this new certification plan wasn’t socialized with the member leaders before it was publically announced, I was told that “sometimes in business things just have to be done a certain way.” And that, my friends, was the cherry on top!
I wasn’t involved in the development of the plan for new certifications or given an opportunity to “weigh in.” I wasn’t given a heads up that the announcement was coming. And, clearly the SHRM executive today didn’t think I was bright enough to understood how business works.
When questioned about how the decision was made to release the information, the SHRM executive shared that it was a Board decision and reiterated that the members (meaning me) elect the Board of Directors. In my non-SHRM life, I serve on the board of a publicly-traded organization. The shareholders elect the Board of that organization in much the same way as the SHRM Board is elected. A slate of proposed Board members is presented on a ballot with a bio of each candidate and votes are cast for the presented slate. Most SHRM members, just like most shareholders of our organization, don’t personally know the Board candidates. They trust that they have been appropriately selected for consideration by someone in the know. So, to imply that because I elected this Board I have some ownership of this action is again, insulting.
I believe the staff of a professional association should be responsive and accountable to their members. I’ve heard it said recently that the volunteer leaders are serving SHRM staff—not the other way around. I’ve personally experienced it. So many directives seem to be given by staff to member leaders. When did this shift happen? Was it when the Board stopped being comprised of member representatives elected from their geography? I don’t know the answer to that one. Maybe SHRM has become more of a corporate machine than a professional association and is no longer solely focused on serving the members. Whatever the cause, the result is disheartening.
And now, I’m sad. And I’m tired.
I’ve been an advocate for this profession forever. I still am. But I leaked a little enthusiasm today. I’ll continue to do what I do for our state because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
And I’ll get over the insult. I’m resilient like that. But, I pledge to you that when I make my next public blunder—and I’m sure there will be one—I’ll apologize for my actions. I will not attempt to justify my behavior with simplistic, non-responsive answers that deflect and are interpreted as insults.
That is all.
With many years of senior-level human resources experience in the private sector environment, Joyce Chastain, SPHR brings practical know-how to each engagement. Her human resources consulting practice specializes in talent development, employee relations, internal investigations, employment law compliance, and affirmative action plans. She is the owner of Chastain Consulting and currently serves as the 2013-2014 President of the HR Florida State Council.