SHRM’s new messenger

new CEO and president, a new vision of its reason for being and a new
commitment to educating its members all point to a strikingly new path ahead
for the Society for Human Resource Management which has its headquarters in the
US. DeeDee Doke looks at what lies ahead  

Four months into her new top leadership role at the helm of SHRM and its
165,000 members, Susan R Meisinger, SPHR, is determined to revitalise the HR
profession in ways that give its practitioners new legitimacy by refocusing her
organisation’s activities on SHRM’s new vision, "to serve the professional
and to advance the profession".

"I believe what HR does in organisations matters," says Meisinger,
(pronounced ‘messenger’). "I feel that if SHRM, through whatever tools it
has available, can make HR executives more efficient, more effective and
succeed within their organisations, by definition, that means those
organisations will be more successful, and their employees will be treated
better and have a more rewarding work experience. What I hope my members know
is that what I’m about is changing the world, because I believe that’s what the
profession does."

Meisinger, who prefers the more casual Sue to Susan, is based at SHRM’s
Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters. Previously SHRM’s chief operating officer,
she stepped into the CEO’s office following the resignation of Helen Drinan,
who held the post for just a year. Drinan cited differences with the SHRM board
as the reason for her departure. The parting of the ways is not a topic anyone
at SHRM is eager to discuss, but the new CEO says she did not find it difficult
to move the organisation’s work forward while succeeding someone who had held
the post so briefly.

"I don’t think it presents any special challenges because I’ve been
with the organisation for almost 15 years. I was intimately involved with the
day-to-day activities and the strategic initiatives undertaken under my
predecessor’s leadership, and so there wasn’t a break in stride during the
transition. It didn’t pose a problem," Meisinger says.

A strategic review last year of SHRM and its activities led to the change in
vision from its stated mission to be the global voice of HR to its new,
geography-free emphasis on serving and advancing the profession. The change in
mission is now beginning to be reflected in new activities while continuing to
provide day-to-day support and resources for members.

"We want to begin greater investment in those kinds of services and
benefits that will help our members advance in their careers," Meisinger

"So, for example, we will be enhancing our educational and professional
development offerings in the area of business literacy and have a real focus on
that to help HR professionals understand that part of being successful within
an organisation is understanding the business of the organisation – whether it
is for profit or not for profit doesn’t matter. It’s just being part of a
larger organisation," she says.

"I think part of the challenge for the profession is that many people
come into the job from many different routes," she continues. "And so
their backgrounds and experiences are very diverse. And by necessity, what they
focus on when they first enter the profession is the body of knowledge
necessary to be in HR: the laws, the regulations, the requirements, the basic
information. And what we want to do is help them understand that they need to
expand that circle of knowledge to include that basic business literacy: what
is the business doing, what are the HR implications for that activity? And how
can that HR professional impact that business?"

The first so-called Business Academy was, at the time of going to press, set
to be held just before SHRM’s annual conference in Philadelphia in June.
Courses over time are to include finance, marketing, e-commerce – all aimed
specifically at the HR professional.

"I think what’s new is a commitment by the SHRM board that to advance
the profession. The types of activities that we may undertake won’t necessarily
be the type of activities where we’ll see an immediate return on the
investment," Meisinger explains. "But it is the kind of activity that
we should be engaged in to help our members and advance our members."

HR professionals must become ‘business literate’, she insists, for the HR
function to be considered a strategic element within their businesses and to be
taken seriously by their CEOs and fellow executives. "I think HR has an
image problem where the perception is that it’s a group of people who are
solely focused on compliance issues and saying no," Meisinger concedes.
"And part of our job, as a professional society, is to change that image
and perception. But I think that there are lots of non-HR executives who don’t
value the profession, and we need to do what we can to help turn that

The ultimate impact of dropping ‘global’ from SHRM’s mission phraseology,
and any effect on SHRM’s Global Forum and other international activities, has
yet to be determined as Meisinger and the board mull the options and issues
associated with operating a dedicated international outreach arm in conjunction
with a refocus on overall member needs. One possibility is to integrate the
SHRM Global Forum into SHRM’s general membership. "There are lots of
things that have to go into that decision," Meisinger says. "The
business model, what makes sense, can we sustain and support it on general dues
revenues – all those things have to be looked at, and we’re going to be looking
at it over the next few months."

The Global Forum has been tasked with examining its own activities to
determine how it best serves the professional and advances the profession.
"I would argue," she says, "that it’s important for us to have a
role in the global arena, simply because if we hope to advance the profession,
the world is getting smaller, and we want to make sure the professional is prepared
for operating within that global environment."

Many of SHRM’s members, Meisinger notes, "don’t appreciate the
importance and role of international HR in their piece of the world".
However, she adds, "I think it’s just a matter of time, as the world gets
smaller, and as our members become more experienced, they will see the

For many US practitioners, the complexity of domestic HR issues is now
doubtless providing countless sleepless nights. Ironically, however, many
currently critical HR dilemmas are similar the world over: shortages of
qualified staff; ageing workforces on the verge of retirement; state HR
requirements that conflict with those at a national, or European, level;
outsourcing; the challenges of mergers and acquisitions.

With mergers and acquisitions, Meisinger says: "I think the pace of
change of mergers and acquisitions and the cultural integration that has to
take place is something that is going to be with us forever. I think for many
HR professionals, it’s a new experience in trying how to lead that process
rather than being the ones that correct the problems, that come in and do the
clean-up after the decision has been made."

As outsourcing of HR functions continues, and HR practitioners struggle for
internal legitimacy, questions about HR’s future are evident. Particularly,
does HR have a future? Meisinger believes it does, but that elements of how it
operates must change. "I don’t think HR’s going to go away," she
says. "As long as you have organisations in which more than three people
work together, and you have inter-relationship and employee-relations issues, I
believe you are going to have room for HR.

"I think there will be fewer people doing HR, and I think they will have
a requirement for greater competencies because with technology, you’ll have a
lot more ability to get rid of a lot of the ‘administrivia’ – employee benefits
information, maintaining records on employees, all the stuff that is labour and
time intensive."

That will mean a change in focus for HR itself. Meisinger sees "a more
professional profession, more consultative in nature, viewed as a resource
internally and as a place where other executives and managers can go to get
assistance and guidance. Just as I think there will be fewer HR people, I think
there will be a continuing shift of responsibility back to managers to
manage" – which will require managers being more knowledgeable about the
rules and requirements they operate under.

"My hope, and one of the ways that we hope to measure success is, do we
see any increase in the number of CEOs who come out of HR? Do we see an
increased participation of HR professionals on corporate boards? I hope my
vision is, when there’s an HR issue that comes before a CEO, their first
question is, ‘What does SHRM think about this?’ And the person they are asking
is the HR person who’s a member."

At a glance…

Susan R Meisinger

SPHR (Senior
Professional in Human Resources)

President and chief executive officer,
Society for Human Resource Management

Previous roles outside SHRM

– Deputy under secretary for the
Employment Standards Administration, US Department of Labor;

– Special legal counsel, Associated Builders and Contractors


– Bachelor’s degree, Mary Washington

– Law degree from the National Law Center, George Washington

– Certification, SPHR, Human Resource Certification Institute

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