SHRM Goes Out on a Limb, or Should I say Wing

Mark Fogel Conferences, Mark Fogel, SHRM 8 Comments

For years SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) has held a reputation as being risk averse and sometimes even Pollyanna. As the largest HR organization globally, with over 250,000 members in the USA, it has significant reach within the HR community. Its TV commercials the past few years have only added to its brand and visibility. They are also known for playing it safe and being “non-partisan” in their significant lobbying on capital hill.  Supporting such a large and diverse constituency certainly can force an organization to middle of the road practices too. Lets not offend anyone or everyone…

So it is surprising and refreshing that they have suddenly taken some risks with their keynote speakers at their major conferences this spring. It started with Sean Spicer, the high strung former presidential press spokesman, at their legislative conference this past March. Then in April they had Bill Taylor, the Co-Founder of Fast Company, at their talent conference in Vegas. We know of Spicer’s temper tantrums and the awesome Melissa McCarthy SNL parodies this past year, and then to have the man behind the magazine that set HR back a decade (you know the article: Why we Hate HR) get up in front of a thousand HR folks.

The icing on the cake is Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, as a keynote speaker at #SHRM18 in Chicago. You know, the same company that literally kicked and dragged a doctor off a plane last year in the same city the annual conference is being held in a few days from now. We know bad things often come in threes, so let’s add the dog in the overhead bin incident, and of course the lottery game bonus program recently proposed and then yanked. Talk about some issues to spin!

Oh, I almost forgot that the conference also has Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Her controversy is not so much her best-selling book, but the questionable business practices recently at Facebook. Sandberg has always been a fan favorite of the HR community, yet these actions resulted in Congressional and European Union hearings. Facebook appears to be “facing” up to their questionable practices, however Sheryl certainly has had a hand and a say in their on-going business strategy that caused the mess in the first place. Will Oscar and Sheryl address these issues or sidestep them?

Maybe it is Johnny Taylor, the recently appointed CEO of SHRM, and his pledge to be courageous in action that has the organization bringing these leaders to face the fire. Or it could  just be the availability of a treasure trove of high profile folks that could use some positive press. What better audience, then 15,000 HR practitioners for these well known executives to get in the conference confessional and atone for sins. By design or default, it doesn’t matter. As a side note, I happen to think Johnny is a major influencer of assertive change at SHRM. I will let you, the readers, make your own mind up on this…

What I am sure of, is this is a great opportunity for HR to ask some tough questions. I attended both spring conferences with Spicer and Taylor presenting. In Washington DC, the audience did speak up and ask some tough questions. In Vegas they ran Bill off the stage before we had the opportunity to grill him on the article and Fast Company’s position on HR today. Maybe some of the SHRM staff are still a little skittish to take a risk.

In Chicago, the HR community may be afforded a unique opportunity to ask some hard-hitting questions of two of the country’s most formidable leaders. I will be there presenting two sessions on my “Last HR Jedi Tour”, blogging, and hopefully challenging these folks and others. I like Sheryl and Oscar both, but sometimes you need to own up to your company’s actions.

I’m hoping you will be there too and join in the discussion. If you are, please make sure to say hello.

Maybe the time has finally come for HR to step out of it’s comfort zone… and talk about being handed it on a silver platter… will it happen???

I’ll let you know!

Mark Fogel
Mark Fogel is best known for his HR with an Attitude. His background includes almost a decade and a half as CHRO at Leviton Mfg., The Marcum Group, and The Success Academy Charter School Network, as well as co-founding Human Capital 3.0, a boutique HR advisory firm. Mark has been honored by SHRM nationally as their Human Capital Leader of the Year in 2007, and by HR Executive Magazine as an Honor Roll recipient in 2010 and “Best HR Ideas” in 2012. His HR teams have garnished numerous national and local awards for HR innovation, wellness, and employee engagement. Mark speaks regularly at national conferences. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business.

Comments 8

  1. While I may not always agree with whom SHRM invites to speak at its events, I’m really questioning the choice of Sean Spicer. The man has demonstrated repeatedly that he lied. I don’t think people like that should get a platform.

  2. Victorio,
    thanks for weighing in…I met Sean in the speaker ready room before he went on stage (with Donna Brazille, the DNC chair from the election). He was so different from what we saw on television. It made me question how media influences us…I’m not in disagreement with your view point, but I saw him as a human being. He is not all bad… Yes, he sold his soul to the devil and is dealing with the consequences.
    SHRM was brave to bring both folks on stage…so kudos to them. I want to see more of this in the future. Will I see you in Chicago? please reach out…and thanks for voicing your perspective!

  3. I’m not interested in hearing what Sheryl or Oscar has to say. I’m not impressed with these people as keynote speakers and I do not intend to give them my time.

    I haven’t seen SHRM allow Q&A at the national conference unless they were submitted in advance (I think I remember a sit-down with Hillary Clinton that had prepared questions), so I don’t anticipate any tough questions (or questions at all) for these folks.

  4. Hi Jennifer,
    Ouch…feeling some anger on this response…so lets be constructive…some of the keynotes the past 4 yrs. have let the audience submit questions (not all) and the twitterverse has brought to light issues before they walk on stage….will they allow questions? I don’t know…will this post draw some attention to the audience….well it already has…
    If you are there and want to skip, be my guest…. but as the saying goes…if you don’t play, don’t complain about not scoring…. well I guess you get my drift…and I respect your position….
    but times they are a changin….and it would be awesome if one or both addressed the elephant in the room…

  5. Well whoopedy doo….A miniscule percentage of SHRM members attend the SHRM conference. An even smaller percentage of non-member HR practitioners attend the conference. The SHRM conference has always been an extravagant and costly affair suited only for those who can talk their employer into paying for it. SHRM needs to figure out how to reach the masses, not just the select few. It needs to understand the needs of the masses, not just the select few. Thinking that 15000 (many of whom aren’t really there for growth) is a significant number is the type narrow minded think that has kept SHRM as an afterthought.

  6. HR should remain neutral and not political. If SHRM tries to lean this way, I will remained focused on what I believe no matter who the speaker is. Most employees are normal, everyday folks that don’t care anymore about celebrities, wings or the craziness that goes along with agenda. We already face a lot everyday with the PC police at full throttle.

    I am looking for SHRM to supply well thought out information and knowledge that crosses all types of people. No agenda pushing, Trump bashing and/or finger pointing. We don’t need any DeNiro’s..please. If they do decide to do any of this…I will simply move to another concurrent session that is useful and supply me with resources to help others.

    To much time is wasted on debating things that don’t matter. I hope everyone has a great time and gains knowledge on things we need to succeed in our careers.

  7. Mark — I agree with you 100%–however, the correct spelling of the possessive form of it is “its” — no apostrophe. “It’s” means “it is.”

  8. Post-mortem from #SHRM18:
    Oscar got a semi pass on scandals. Johnny (CEO of SHRM) did ask a generic question about employee engagement after turmoil…no mention of dogs in overheads or bonus bingo….Oscar gets a “D” for his performance. He was dull and seemed annoyed…
    Sheryl also avoided direct conversation about Facebook….she did dance around the topic….just the edges…But Adam Grant’s informal interview made everyone forget about Facebook’s foo pas. Sheryl got to spin her feminist positions and she did it well. With over 90% of the attendees female, she played to the constituency and for the most part was honest, transparent and compelling. She was also brutally honest and correct… And we all like Sheryl so she gets a “B”,…

    Overall it was OK….the interesting outcome was Adam Grant coming out of the conference as an HR Rock Star…Think a hipper Malcom Gladwell that actually gave you useful things to use!
    On a side note…I appreciate everyone’s comments, emails, and tweets…that is what this makes this site so unique! We might not always agree, but we voice it and move forward…
    And Lois, thanks for the spelling correction, but like Tim Sackett, Laurie Ruettimann and so many of my blogging mentors have stated over the years…Its a blog…and we write shit with typo’s. Thank god I am not getting graded on spelling ( oh there is a couple of typo’s in my comments)….but seriously thank you…and please don’t be offended!
    Mark

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