My Advice to SHRM: Start Blowing Stuff Up – and Find More HR Execs

Editor’s noteLongtime HR pros Laurie Ruettimann and Tim Sackett have strong feelings about the Society for Human Resource Management. With SHRM’s annual conference coming up, we thought TLNT readers would appreciate their insights into SHRM — and it’s future. 

By Laurie Ruettimann

Earlier this year, I met with Jeff Pon at SHRM to hear what’s keeping him up at night.

Let me say that Jeff is a nice guy. It was a good meeting. Almost all of it was off-the-record, which is totally fine. I am not a journalist and he didn’t tell me anything super revelatory. I harbor no state secrets.

But Jeff did tell me that he considers himself to be a business leader first and a Human Resources leader second.

I thought it was an interesting comment and wondered how many of SHRM’s members say that about themselves.

Not many.

How do you attract senior HR executives?

Most of SHRM’s members are HR professionals first and mothers second. Maybe even grandmothers. And if I were in Jeff’s shoes, big data and demographics would keep me awake at night.

Right now, SHRM has a bunch of women over 40 who form the bulk of their membership. That’s fine. Those women are fun and they like to party; however, they aren’t a particularly lucrative demographic for advertisers. SHRM has sold those names and email addresses over and over and over again.

And much to the dissatisfaction of advertisers and HR solution providers, many of these “leads” have grown cold. SHRM members are not promoted into roles with budgets. When they are, they don’t renew their SHRM memberships.

So how do you attract senior-level HR executive members who understand the future of HR and want to build a better association? How do you attract an existing demographic — powerful business leaders in HR — who would willingly evangelize SHRM’s brand and eventually attract a younger and upwardly mobile demographic?

Well, you have to blow stuff up.

How would I do this?

Rebuilding HR for the 21st Century

I have a background in HR/mergers & acquisitions from my days at Kemper Insurance where I was the sole HR leader for the Capital Development group. I worked (a little) in this space at Pfizer. I learned that sometimes you have to buy stuff to blow stuff up.

If I were at SHRM, I would push hard for an acquisition of a prestigious management association. I would find one with a strong infrastructure that could run independently from the main body of SHRM. And I would find one that is outside the Beltway and isn’t focused on HR at all.

I would throw cash at it — a lot of cash.

At the same time, I would also hire a noteworthy consulting firm (think McKinsey & Company or Deloitte) to help me rethink HR. I would find the top 15 executive HR leaders in America, and we would create a highly visible and impressive task force that is focused on building a world-class Human Resources function for the 21st century.

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This endeavor would be tough and everything would be on the table. And it might take a few years to come up very important and concrete recommendations that would be published in a very public way; however, this work could be the most defining moment for Human Capital Management since 1948.

Does anyone want to build an HR legacy?

I would use these recommendations to form the basic underpinnings of a new marketing strategy for SHRM. Entrepreneurs, business leaders and HR executives might be interested in joining both SHRM and its new management association if the aforementioned task force can redefine and re-brand the Human Resources function.

Would the top 15 HR executives in America want to do this?

Maybe and maybe not. I would offer a free membership to both SHRM and the executive management association I just acquired. I would fly them out to the best locations to work on this project. I would pay their expenses, upgrade them to first class seats if a rented corporate jet wasn’t available, and I would offer them an annual stipend.

In essence, I would treat them like real business professionals on a board.

Who could help me appeal to the executive HR leader’s ego as well as their desire to build a legacy?

Yes, human resources IS business

I would hire a real PR firm outside of Washington, D.C. — one that knows the New York media scene and not just insider politics in the Beltway — to make my HR executives more visible to media outlets, journalists and cable news networks. If the market sneezes, I don’t want to see Suzy Welch on TV. I want my HR executives on the air to talk about the implications to businesses and the global workforce.

What else would I do?

I would never again say that I am a business leader first and a Human Resources leader second.

HR is business. And instead of being stuck in the weeds with an inferiority complex about my career choice — as many HR leaders are — I would get to work on redefining the role of Human Capital Management in the 21st century and beyond.

You can find more from Laurie Ruettimann at her blog, The Cynical Girlwhere this originally appeared.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 


4 Comments on “My Advice to SHRM: Start Blowing Stuff Up – and Find More HR Execs

  1. Amen sister. They could start by inviting more HR leaders to speak at conferences and less consultants.

  2. I was with you up until the idea of bringing in a big consulting firm. My experience over 35 years with the big guys is that they want to do the organization wants them to do, and they are led by those who are already in power so nothing changes.

    With the number of bright people here, on LinkedIn, and other places who see what HR could be, shouldn’t this new profession be organically grown?

    One other thought. HR is a BIG field – there’s the HRM side of the house and the HRD side. Academic programs seem to focus on one or the other, with a smidgen of the other side. In my mind the disciplines that will move HR to the next level are on the HRD side – and few HR teams in my experience bring those skills to the table.

    I really think it is bigger than SHRM – and yes, HR IS a business. Great post….

  3. What to say. I agree with Carol about bringing consultants into the picture. They will present solutions that SHRM wants to hear and at the same time they charge huge bucks and take 10 times longer to complete their work than needed. I think if you/we pay them, then maybe it would be OK. I would not hire the big box firms — the ones that present at their conferences. Big box firms are too risk averse to be associated with something so controversial. A firm like McKinsey might be OK

    I have a friend/colleague that is one of the best in HR. And he has been a member of one SHRM elite advisory committees, etc. He has “advised” them for 3 years to no avail. He says he’s through beating his head against the wall — he’s quitting the committee.

    I really don’t think SHRM is worth blowing up and re-designing. It would be much easier to start up a new HR organization to eventually replace SHRM. They is too firmly entrenched in their philosophy to ever change. Example: They worked for, what, 3 years to create the only formally “sanctioned” metric —- cost of hire. That says volumes. Starting a new association with a blank slate is the best way.
    Let me know when you’re ready. But I vote for starting fresh.

  4. I love it! I absolutely love it. Radical action is the only way to wake up SHRM and get it pointed in the right direction. Reconfigure it as a bleeding edge, forward thinking organization dedicated to bringing HR into the 21st Century.

    Thanks, Laurie, for one of the best critiques of SHRM I’ve read in a long, long time.

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