Agnosticism Towards SHRM

Why do you attend a SHRM Workshop? Is it for the recertification credits? If so, any good HR Pro should have agnosticism towards SHRM these days…Specifically the way an HR Pro gets re-certified. Last month, I attended 2 workshops in 3 days. The courses: Strategic HR and Finance for HR. About 60 HR Pros around the U.S. gathered in downtown Chicago for these 3 days. Many HR Pros happily said their intent for being there was to just “earn” the recertification credits. Sad, but true. Makes me feel like we have lived up to the Toby character from The Office for a reason… Makes my beliefs agnostic towards SRHM and their tagline of “Leading People. Leading Organizations.” Rather, their tagline should be “Collecting Credits. Updating Your SHRM Profile”. Is that how we want to operate as a profession?

Credit Seth Godin and his views on changing education. Here is what we need to change with SHRM’s certification/education process…

 1) No more tests. Being a certified Pro means you wear big boy or girl pantaloons. People, like myself, crammed and memorized every HR fact in the SHRM prep book. With luck and memorization, we passed the test. But many do this exercise more than once. This sad mental preparation does nothing to prepare you for the strategic role of HR. Only proves you can memorize. Stop the damn tests. Instead, treat the certification process like a thesis or dissertation. Not to the extreme of a PhD or Master’s candidate. Famous universities can do that. Instead of tests, have an HR Pro pick an issue they would love to fix from their organization. Then create a plan to address the issue and present it to a SHRM board. The HR Pro and our profession would get more out of this, than cramming for a test. Too hard? Tough. You don’t earn your SPHR, but you learn more than memorizing HR facts. Anyone out there remember the Norris-La Guardia Act? Good for you if you memorized it. When is the last time your business partner cared…

2) No recertification workshops. Now called “Funshops” – Have fun during the day and lecture at night. Structure them so people work on real business issues from their companies. They work in teams and have all day to solve or come up with a plan to fix the issue. We are HR Pros. The good ones will figure it out. The great ones will do it and have fun. At night, we then huddle in a room to present our plan to a SHRM Board. Bread and wine available for anyone who wants it. While we sip on wine we listen to a lecture. The informal atmosphere will get people to open up about they learned. HR Pros who attend this training will work hard and play hard. The mantra will be ” Lead, follow or get out” of SHRM.

We need to change the way we educate ourselves. We need the most motivated and networked in our profession. People who are good test takers and memorizers aren’t good HR pros. Do you believe SHRM is making us better at our jobs? We need to learn how to learn in HR? Is the SHRM organization living up to their tagline of “Leading People. Leading Organizations.”?

Just like you, I want to keep the famous “SPHR” initials on my LinkedIn Profile, but I want to learn something along the way. My views are agnostic about the professional certification process of SHRM. For the record, I learned more about Strategic HR and Finance from SHRM last week. But I also learned SHRM and us HR Pros need to change the way we are doing things. We are Toby from The Office for a reason. Pathetic, but often accurate.

FOT Background Check

Ben Martinez is a self-proclaimed family guy, exerciser, and HR journeyman. He has successfully worked in various HR leadership roles around the US and Mexico for Fortune 500 companies (specifically Pepsi, Sears, Honeywell, and Energizer Holdings Inc.). Currently he is the VP of HR for HireVue, where he works with incredible people in the HR technology space who have rallied around a cause to bring HR out of the dark ages. A fantasy sports hater and avid sports watcher, Ben wrote the book on coffee networking and can be found anywhere, so if you are around the area, hit him up for a cup. His home base is in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.


  1. laurie says:

    I would publicly denounce the entire HR industry if anyone — EVER — participates in a funshop. OMG. No.

    Otherwise this is an excellent piece.

  2. John Jorgensen says:

    SHRM has said that the HR profession is evolving in scope and in talents needed to be successful and I applaud them for that. I just wish HRCI would keep pace on what they are giving “credit” to in the way of seminars and subjects covered. I think there is some evolving there but not fast enough.

  3. here here!

    regardless of fun all workshops should be experiential and business problem/solution at their core… anything else is just fluff!

  4. Heidi Pancake says:

    I took the SPHR exam WITHOUT studying any books. I planned too, but my actual HR work got in the way! 😉 I believe you can pass with experience, truly. I haven’t been doing HR for a hundred years either, but I have had the luck of landing in incredibly diverse positions that have challenged me to familiarize myself with varying HR disciplines. So maybe it’s the way people are marketed to once they’ve signed up that is the problem. I am attending SHRM to both recert AND be exposed to the many talented experts in the HR field. And by that I mean the attendees not just the speakers; though I’m looking forward to them too. I believe I will gain more practical knowledge from the peers I connect with and be exposed to some great theory in my sessions. I am a totally HR geek; but I’m no Toby.

  5. Barbara Milhizer says:

    Nailed it!

  6. Ben Martinez says:

    Call them anything but workshops and change the format too. I like the name “funshops”, but not married to it. “Workshops” need a heavier emphasis on solving real business issues. Need to give people an experience to remember and use.

    Instructor led sessions are good for the instructor, but what do they do for you, the participant? Need to be more participant led. The session should make you sweat in your seat because you have to show your stuff in front of your peers. Not sit back and day dream while the SHRM instructor talks.

  7. Dick Grimes says:

    It has always been easier for training vendors (and make no mistake about it, SHRM and its subsidiary, HRCI, are training vendors, too) to sell what they have instead of what the market needs. This is the Little Red School House model that educated us and continues to provide college graduates with “education” but very little in preparation for what they’ll encounter in the world of business.

    How many HR professionals in this group have had to arrange for some remedial training when newly graduated, new hires arrive with no idea of how to write a decent business letter, understand what teamwork means, or have strong customer service skills?

    So my suggestion is to put more emphasis on asking “so how does this help me professionally” when looking at a training opportunity that on “how many hours can I get?” There are plenty of online, downloadable, pdf-based, business-related course topics available out there but will take some looking.

    Maybe use search terms like HR instruction, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, etc. that focus on the topics you want instead of searching the traditional HR databases for the topics they have.

    Just a thought……

    Dick Grimes

  8. Meredith Soleau
    Meredith Soleau says:

    I totally justify my non-certification all the time. I hate tests. I’ve taken the class to help you pass the test THREE times. THREE. And then I never sign up for the actual test. Fear is winning every time. I hate failing. And I know I’ll pass it. But what if…

  9. Great post, Ben! I must’ve misplaced my “Norris-La Guardia Act” flash card in my stack of 500+ that I was carrying around in the weeks leading up to the SPHR exam. I have no friggin’ idea what the act is about but I’m betting it was in the “Employee and Labor Relations” module.

    “Lead, follow or get out of SHRM”. I’m diggin’ the new mantra!

    p.s. do I get re-certification credits for commenting on HR blogs? ; )

  10. Mandy says:


    This so reminds me of a local SHRM chapter workshop I attended about a year ago. The lady next to me leaned over before the session began and asked when my recertification was due. She was mystified when I explained that I am not certified and was actually attending for the educational experience alone.

    It really has become too much like State testing in public schools, with instructors “teaching to the test”, only too many HR Pros are doing it to themselves. We should be choosing what workshops we go to primarily for the educational worth, secondarily for the opportunity to meet other talented HR Pros, and LASTLY, for the recert. credits. Just my two cents.

  11. Cara Carroll says:

    Great post! I am non-certified and continue to learn because I want to, not because I have to. Although I would like to get certified eventually, I don’t ever want to be the one who is just there for credit.

  12. Tim Sackett says:

    Ben, It’s SHRM and HCI on line 1 – they want their “SPHR” back. You’ve been talking to much, you forgot the secret handshake and the tattoo on your ass. Sorry, we have rules and just can’t run around the Matrix like we don’t see you. Do you understand how a non-profit for profit makes money!? We have tests, we run work shops so you don’t have to test again, because we know you fear re-testing. The SHRM Matrix is perfect – walk away before you get hurt.

  13. Ben Martinez says:

    Tim–Not sure I follow you, but if you are saying it’s about making profit then SHRM/HRCI can do a better job. They currently offer a cheap and repeatable way to get a famous label (PHR/SPHR/GPHR, etc). I propose they offer a more unique and applicable to life way to get the famous SPHR or PHR label. Make the workshops more about the learning experience and less about getting the credits.

  14. WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for meta_keyword|

Trackbacks for this post

  1. How To Lead Ideas From #SHRM12 Without Being There | HR Hound

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT