Insights From Orlando: Here’s What HRCI Was Busy Doing at SHRM 2014

It’s been two weeks since I left SHRM14 in Orlando for home, which has given me time to reflect on a somewhat surreal experience.

As a member of the HR Certification Institute’s board of directors, as well as a long-time Society for Human Resource Management member and volunteer and donor for the SHRM Foundation, I often found myself wondering if I was fish or fowl, man or beast.

Aside from the appearance of PHR, SPHR, GPHR, HRMP and HRBP behind the names of certified colleagues, HRCI was the organization “whose name must not be mentioned” at SHRM’s annual conference.

Yes, HRCI was ALSO in Orlando

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that SHRM publicly professed that our certifications were the gold standard for HR? According to SHRM representatives, the gold (or “platinum” for one-upmanship value) standard is now a yet-to-be-tested, undefined and unaccredited certificate that will be easier to pass and given away for free.

Hmmm — what’s wrong with this picture?

OrlandoHRCI’s presence in Orlando, however, was known and appreciated by certificants who were hungry — no, starving — for information. I am sure that I chatted one-on-one and in small groups with well over a hundred certified HR colleagues who were confused and frustrated by SHRM’s recent announcement, and even more frustrated after attending information sessions that provided anything but answers.

A common theme of feedback from our HRCI off-site events in Orlando was, “thank you for treating us like professionals.” I was proud to be able to provide these people with the straight answers about their certifications that they deserved.

Widespread frustration with SHRM’s announcement

As HR professionals, we add value to our organizations by caring not only about what gets done, but how it gets done. There was ample evidence of this in the widespread frustration with SHRM’s awkward announcement and persistent assertions that HRCI refused to work with them – which is simply not true.

I don’t understand how an organization can publicly support the partner whose certifications drive significant sales of materials and attendance at events, while simultaneously planning what looks like a hostile takeover. SHRM’s only overture to HRCI for partnership (defined as subordination) would have meant the end of HRCI as an independent, accredited certification body. While this might have served SHRM’s strategic interests, the all-volunteer board of HRCI believed that it would not have been in the best interest of the 135,000 certified professionals or the profession at large.

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The counter-proposal that HRCI returned to SHRM in January 2014 was answered with a surprise announcement of competing certifications, creating confusion in our industry and placing 37 years of equity in HR certification at risk. Some have noted that this may have been a logical business decision for SHRM, but as HR professionals, we need to question both the methods and motives behind it.

We all know that when trying to win the hearts and minds of people to pursue a vision or strategy, “how” matters every bit as much as “what.”

What certified colleagues are saying

The sentiments I heard from certified colleagues at SHRM14 in Orlando confirmed what I had already suspected:

  • HRCI certifications are highly valued marks of professional excellence that professionals will not walk away from easily.
  • There is a great deal of suspicion about SHRM’s motives and strategy for launching competing certifications, and people are not buying the marketing-speak that they are being given.
  • People believe SHRM is trying to create confusion about what employers should look for so that their proprietary product can gain a foothold – a move likely to hurt the HR profession overall.
  • Professionals who hold and value their HRCI certifications are looking for the Institute to act decisively to confirm the relevance of their hard-earned certifications in the marketplace. This could mean working out a cooperative agreement, but if SHRM is unwilling to cooperate it could also mean acting as a competitor holding the dominant credentials in our profession.

HRCI is up to the task

If anyone is questioning whether the HR Certification Institute is up to the task, I would like to reassure them that it most certainly is.

HRCI takes its responsibility to HR professionals worldwide seriously – certified and otherwise – and is committed to confirming and expanding certification as the mark of professional distinction that matters.

Jim Steele, EdD, GPHR, SPHR is Associate Professor of Management at George Fox University, where he teaches courses in management, HR, and global business in the MBA and DBA programs. Jim co-developed the MBA program’s concentration in Strategic Human Resource Management. Prior to his teaching career, Steele was an HR executive for over 20 years at companies including Intel and Matsushita. He is a volunteer director on the board of the HR Certification Institute, and has served as a volunteer in numerous capacities for both HRCI and the SHRM Foundation. Jim’s e-mail address is Board@hrci.org.

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