Tilting at Windmills: Sometimes, You Just Have to Do It to Be Heard

Some subjects I care about but am reluctant to discuss because it’s just… awkward. Lots of people naturally feel uncomfortable when folks get emotional about topics they don’t relate to in the same way or, like politics and religion some subjects just aren’t brought up in polite company.

On the other hand I’m a proto-typical Boomer and, when things just don’t ring true to the values I am compelled to live by, I take to the streets.

Revolution was in the DNA of the 60’s and I’ve no problem tilting at windmills large or small. My generation invented Voice of the Customer (VOC), although our attitude when it comes to the really important things, it projects more like the Voice of Ownership (VOO)

So, this is one of those times and if you are choosing to read on and it feels uncomfortable for any reason, just stop.

I care about my professional association, SHRM, and I am concerned it is losing its way. I’m one voice among 250,000 others, all equal, but thrown my hat in with SHRM Members for Transparency (SMFT), a group that is raising the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others

My volunteer background with SHRM

Let me first point out that after my extended family of more than 100 cousins and my alma mater, Stevens Instititue of Technology, I’ve invested most of my discretionary time over the last 20 plus years with SHRM, and I feel deeply invested in the Society’s success. At the same time, I have a hard time remaining silent when I notice a pattern of behavior that appears to me to be at times disrespectful and designed to set members against each other.

I started “volunteering” with SHRM years ago after complaining that the [then] eight chapters in NJ were disconnected from each other. I was immediately “invited” by a smiling chapter president and state council director to breakfast (which I paid for) and to help solve the problem I complained about by chairing the first SHRM New Jersey State Conference.

The conference returned a profit of nearly $30,000 which was shared equally by the chapters and the state council. Some 20 years later, I’m thrilled to see how much more successful each succeeding state conference is.

I should have learned my lesson back then but, successive “invitations” to volunteer followed at the state, regional, and national levels including stints on SHRM’s national board of directors, years as a member of special-expertise committees and panels, the SHRM Foundation board, the Employment Management Association board, 15 years as a speaker at the National and Staffing conferences and hundreds of presentations at chapter and state conferences to raise funds for the initiatives the society supported. I currently lead a national standards task force of more than 100 academics, business and HR professionals, recruiters and practitioners which aspires to find new ways of looking at our body of knowledge and how it aligns with business performance.

“My investment is so much more than I’ve ever given”

Once sucked in, I’ve been energized for 20 years to join in the conversation and surface, acknowledge and defend HRs contributions and then demand even more of ourselves. I’ve always felt the best way to do this was to shed light wherever possible on the thousands of extraordinary HR women and men working to better align and lead their respective firms rather than poke fun or look good at the expense of HR’s failings.

Ten thousand (10,000) volunteer hours would be a conservative estimate of the time I’ve invested in SHRM.

The truth, though, is the return on my investment is so much more than I’ve ever given. And my investment is dwarfed by a legion of volunteers I’ve grown up with in the HR profession who have devoted more — much more — to building our professional association and its impact on the HR community than I, and they continue to do it year after year. I’m deeply indebted to the many volunteers I’ve been honored to stand beside. Their energy, interest and commitment to the best of what HR has been, is and can be is without peer.

Now, many of these same folks are raising issues publicly that need to be discussed because private entreaties to do so were ignored.

Repeated requests of representatives of SHRM Board members to meet with representatives of SHRM Members for Transparency eventually provoked a silly and unfair characterization of the group as “disgruntled former members” at last year’s SHRM Leadership conference. The SMFT group had stayed silent in hopes of having quiet discussions to clear the air. Instead they were maligned as individuals who have failed to accept change and get with the needs of today’s association- people disconnected from what is happening. Nothing could be further from the truth but it is no wonder that lots of SHRM volunteers are feeling a bit uncomfortable right now.

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SMFT is growing and many of them — business leaders, HR executives, well known authors and others, etc. — are still trying to weigh in by appealing personally to leaders of the Board with private letters and encouraging Society volunteer leaders to go to their web site. Naturally, articles are slowly emerging into the mainstream press since John Hollon, the editor of TLNT, broke this story more than four months ago (his most recent article, SHRM CEO, Transparency Group, Battles for Hearts and Minds of State Leaders, is a good summary.)

“See what has so many … concerned”

For those readers who have gotten this far in my post, I would encourage you to see what has so many current and former leaders concerned. Maybe you will agree. Maybe you will not. I’m listening. All the SMFT has asked is to be listened to.

Make up your own mind about the issues, and if you think a discussion needs to take place (and you are a SHRM member) maybe point out to your chapter president, State Council Directors, national staff members you know or any of the members on the Society’s national board you can reach about your opinion even if it is contrary to mine.

As for a being part of a group that is disconnected from today’s mainstream, this blog is one of a thousand I’ve written over the last decade. The links to this blog post will appear automatically in status updates to my Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

Oh and one more thing about listening: The comment has been made more than once that SMFT has been listened to. More than anything that is the phrase that gets my dander up (to quote an archaic expression even older than I).

As a professional with 30 plus years as an HR practitioner in Fortune 50 firms, as an entrepreneur and a small business owner, and as a person with graduate degrees in business and HR specialties, I’m pretty sure that evidence of active listening requires agreement by the person speaking that they have been heard. That agreement hasn’t happened.

Personally, I would like to see the detailed data and reports justifying board actions that are described on the SMFT website. I’m reluctant to accept assurances that decisions were based on best practice considerations. I want to see and hear the analysis that was made that led to those decisions and offer my interpretation. Then, I may agree I’ve been heard and simply “agree to disagree” or, even change my point of view.

Until then, just consider me as one more VOO tilting at windmills.

Gerry Crispin, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and thought leader. He seeks to understand how firms design and build staffing processes, the technology to enhance them and the systems to manage them. He is also committed to writing, researching, and sharing his adventures, opinions and observations about evolving staffing models with the HR profession, clients and friends. He and his partner, Mark Mehler, created CareerXroads® and the CareerXroads Colloquium with one goal in mind: critically analyzing corporate recruiting issues from a tactical yet strategic perspective. Learn more at CareerXroads

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