The SHRM CEO Search: More Questions Than Answers So Far

Former SHRM CEO Lon O'Neil

Think you have what it takes to be the next CEO of SHRM? Feel you have the skills to replace the recently departed Lon O’Neil?

Maybe you do, but before you polish up your resume and fire it off to Korn/Ferry, take a look at what the job entails, the skills you need to bring to the table, and the deliverables you’ll be expected to meet in your first year as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Here’s the job posting in case you haven’t seen it, but what I found interesting was the description of the market dynamics pertaining to the HR function, as described by the people running the search at Korn/Ferry:

The Human Resources function continues to evolve; its impact around the world is more far reaching than ever before.

• HR executives are playing a more strategic role and are integrated in more of the fundamental elements of their business.

• Chief Executive Officers are looking for the human resource function to align with the rest of his/her leadership team and to translate corporate goals into human resources programs that create shareholder value.

• In the coming years, organizations will face a “talent challenge” and will have to devise creative solutions, including those focused on talent acquisition, talent management/ retention, compensation and benefits programs, leadership development, succession planning, organizational development, diversity, etc.

• It is crucial that human resources management be of the highest caliber and the greatest talent available.

• Today’s HR executive must make a contribution to the direction and focus of their company and must understand the economics of their business (i.e., how the firm makes and loses money, and how people can be mobilized and motivated to achieve common goals).

• The best HR practitioners are ahead of their clients and play a strategic role which includes them in the most fundamental issues facing their companies.

What struck me about this description of the human resource function is that it is, well, incredibly basic and simplistic.

“HR executives are playing a more strategic role and are integrated in more of the fundamental elements of their business?” Yes, yes, of course. That goes without saying, doesn’t it? In fact, the rest of bullet points in this section are similar and almost seem like something you would find in the next edition of “HR for Dummies” or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Human Resources.” Is this the image you really want to project to smart and serious candidates for the SHRM CEO position?

Some may think I’m being overly critical here. Maybe so, but I’ve been talking to a lot of veteran observers of SHRM who followed the last CEO job search closely, and they were pretty disappointed (and in some cases, critical) with the work Korn/Ferry did on that one. In fact, many of these observers – who don’t wish to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak for SHRM or the SHRM Board – believe that had Korn/Ferry done a better job the last time, SHRM wouldn’t be doing this again only two years later.

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And as I wrote over at after the 2009 SHRM annual conference in New Orleans, O’Neil seemed at the time like a short-term compromise for the organization:

I’ve thought for some time that O’Neil was a compromise choice and a transitional figure that the SHRM board picked to buy the organization time to figure out just what kind of leader it really wanted. If not, why else would they choose someone in his 60s, with no apparent real passion for being the visible, out-front leader that an organization like SHRM needs?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure Lon O’Neil is a solid leader, but the sharp contrast between his approach to the SHRM CEO position and that of (former CEOs Sue) Meisinger and (Mike) Losey make me wonder if he’s really in it for any extended period of time. In my book, the choice of O’Neil to lead SHRM is similar to the choice the College of Cardinals made in elevating Joseph Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict after the death of John Paul II. Both, it seems to me, were short-term choices made to buy time while the organization formulated a long-term solution.”

Wish I wasn’t quite so spot-on about this, but that’s how it seemed then. Too bad that’s how it played out.

I was also critical of how long the search took the last time — it took the better part of eight months – and given that Korn/Ferry has been through this drill in the not-too-distant past, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to be expected to do it a little more quickly this time around.

Well, enough from me on this topic. You should take a look at the job posting and see what you make of it. I’d love some of your thoughts or comments as well (if you think I’m right, or, way too critical) because hopefully, this search will go better than the last one, and the new SHRM CEO’s tenure will last a little longer than Lon O’Neil’s did .

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.