Schism at SHRM14

SPHR ribbonThe schism I am speaking of is that between SHRM and the HRCI. The divide was very obvious at this year’s conference. I attended two events/sessions that dealt with the certification process and had several conversations. Here is my take on the subject.

HRCI’s presence

Actually the HRCI was not at the conference. Not officially anyway. Their name was never mentioned by any speaker that I heard. However, you could go to the SHRM booth in the expo hall and still get your SPHR or PHR ribbon to put on your badge and sessions still offered recertification credit. They invited many people to a luncheon on Sunday, which I attended. They emphasized that the SPHR, PHR, GPHR and the California certifications will continue to exist. Since SHRM owns the copyright on the learning system that most people use they are replacing the material from alternative providers. They emphasized that the certification has been the badge of honor in the field of HR and will continue to be. They said that competencies have long been part of the material offered.
They are also offering some things that are new. One of these is a digital badge of your certification that you can put on your Linked In profile or any other profile or website. They also have a military program.
The HRCI also hosted a large party at EPCOT and from what I understand it was well attended. Since I was not there I am not sure what they addressed.

SHRM’s certification

In the opening session SHRM CEO Hank Jackson talked about the changing face of HR in the coming years. He said the work world will be very different and as a result you needed to have more than just knowledge you also need to have the right work behaviors. He is right and I have no argument with that statement. This was his allusion to the new certification.
There were multiple smaller sessions held every day to explain what was going on. I attended one lead by Bob Carr who is Senior Vice President, Membership, Marketing and External Affairs. I am sorry I did. I personally thought Mr. Carr’s presentation was poorly done. But here are some of the points made:

  • They struggled hard to come up with the name of the certification. (I am somewhat skeptical of this statement. How hard was it to create SHRM-Certified Professional?)
  • The new certification will take into account the competencies needed to be a professional in HR based on the model that has been previously created (which by the way is published in this year’s Learning Material.) (I have no argument with this, I think it is very important.)
  • The way those who are currently certified will be able to demonstrate that they possess these competencies will be to view a short video and then answer a short test and sign an ethics statement. (Sorry, but how do you prove competencies by watching a short video?)
  • Carr said the transition should be smooth for everyone with current credentials in good standing. Minimal costs will be associated with this but he did not mention numbers. He did answer one question about money spent recently on a SHRM learning system set of books and he told that person they will get a new set for free.
  • He did point out that the requirement of having an exempt level position to be certified has been eliminated. It has no relevance to non-US companies. (This is a good move. If the HRCI was smart they would also move in this direction. )


There were several questions asked from the audience I wanted to mention.
Someone said how did you arrive at this point, meaning a new certification? Response: We thought the competencies were important and the others did not. (My response to this is that SHRM owns the copyright to the material that most everyone studies and that everyone is tested on. Why couldn’t you have altered that material do have more material on competencies? Was it really necessary to start a competitive certification to accomplish that goal?)
Someone else said “I have worked hard on convincing my company of the value of me being certified and now you have devalued my certification. What do you say to that?” Carr’s response was “We are going to help you in getting your company to recognize the importance of our certification.” No details offered.
Someone else asked the question “Will this be the new gold standard?” Carr said “No, we will be the platinum standard.”  How? “Because we are doing it.”
His answers to questions came across as somewhat arrogant and condescending. It was too much “Because we are doing it.” (Sorry Mr. Carr, but that is not an answer. Many of us have a lot invested in our current certification.)


I had many conversations wrapped around this. There are some good things with the emphasis on competencies. But many of us feel this could have been done within the framework they had with the HRCI. For many people this seemed to be a power play and some even called it a “money grab.” Carr said it was not a money grab, in fact, it was going to cost them. Perhaps, in the short term, but in the long term it will be very profitable. It certainly came across to many that the move was being done for the benefit of SHRM and not for the benefit for the membership.
They say it is designed to enhance the profession, yet they are lowering the barrier to entry by making it easier to become certified. What is the value of certification if everyone has one? One of the HR profession’s image problems is that “anyone” can do HR. This will not help. By allowing more people to be certified all that did was bolster the “money grab” image of this move.
I guess time will tell. I plan on maintaining my SPHR and also getting the new certification, unless we have to relinquish one in order to get the other.

6 thoughts on “Schism at SHRM14”

  1. Mike,
    Great post on a touchy issue. I agree with your summary. Like many HR initiatives, success is in the execution and SHRM has handled this very poorly in my opinion. You are going to have, IMHO, a fractured population for quite a while. What do they think HRCI is going to do? If they really were considering the HR professionals this would and should have been handled much differently. From your description, Mr. Carr comes across like any politician, either party, these days; self-serving and totally unbelievable. Sad to see this division occurring in a profession that is supposed to teach and practice ethical behavior. Thank God I have the lifetime certification. I’ll wait to see what they plan to do with that!

    • Greg:
      You certification will remain. The HRCI will honor it. SHRM may not, but that is neither here nor there. Rather than uniting the HR community this will divide the community and make professional credibility even harder to come by.

  2. Mike – Very insightful take on the situation. From everything I’ve read, it doesn’t seem that SHRM “made the sale” at its annual conference. Instead, many members, like myself, feel like SHRM headquarters has drifted away from its membership and has come up with something that’s good for SHRM, but not its members or the profession. Given the unavoidable overlap in the two certifications, the damage to the profession of having two competing products will certainly be greater than any promised improvement in SHRM’s new test. As a membership organization, it’s SHRM’s responsibility to understand that and act in our best interests.
    I wonder if SHRM would be willing to put the proposal for its new certification up for a vote by its members?
    Howard Winkler
    SHRM member
    HRCI board member 2007-2011
    SHRM Foundation board member 2012

    • Howard:
      Carr alluded to having contacted the membership (a sample) about this before the moved forward. I was not in that sample so I have no idea what they asked. I think the vote might be a good idea, but that would require them to slow down and that would result in some “egg on their face”.

  3. To be legitimate, any vote of SHRM’s membership would have to be structured quite differently from the organation’s board election process, which counts non-voters as supportive of the board-nominated slate.
    The governance of SHRM is due for significant reform, as it’s current structure makes it extremely difficult for the voice of membership to be clearly heard.

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