#SHRMADVICE Day: Find More Executive HR Leaders


Society for Human Resource Management

Society for Human Resource Management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 is 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.

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 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?

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 Human Resources 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. 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.

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? 

I would hire a real PR firm outside of Washington DC — one that knows the NYC 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.

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