HR Administration

SHRM 2017 Conference Kicks Off in New Orleans

By Mike Prokopeak

Jun. 19, 2017

The world’s largest HR association kicked off its annual membership conference and exposition in New Orleans on Sun, June 18 with a focus on innovation.

“A new era in business, a new era in HR requires us to be all in,” said SHRM Board Chair Coretha Rushing from the main stage, highlighting the conference’s designated theme, “All In,” intended to show the role of HR plays in engagement, innovation and inclusion.

Rushing stepped onstage following New Orleans jazz musician Irvin Mayfield Jr. who opened the conference with a ringing trumpet solo, followed by his recommendations for navigating the Crescent City like a local. Remember to smile, avoid counting calories while in the city and above all, relax and have a drink, he said.

The 2017 conference, SHRM’s annual gathering for its 290,000 members, brought an estimated 15,000 attendees at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans for the three-day conference and exposition.

The conference also marked the final opportunity for outgoing SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson to address the membership in person before retiring at the end of the year to make way for incoming CEO Johnny C. Taylor. Jackson took the stage and laid out the challenges facing HR.

SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson greets members at the society’s 2017 annual conference. Photo courtesy of SHRM.

“The biggest challenge is the tremendous pace of change barreling at us,” he said. “Real winners don’t scramble to adapt to change, they get ahead of it and shape it. They lead it.”

“HR must be the force that shapes the new world of work,” Jackson told the assembled audience, launching into the case for his legacy as SHRM’s leader. That 7-year tenure included continued membership growth, the creation of the SHRM Competency Model and the controversial decision in May 2014 to sever ties with the HR Certification Institute, SHRM’s longstanding certification partner, in order to establish SHRM’s own certification, the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP.

That decision sparked unrest among some members, many of whom held PHR and SPHR accreditations from HRCI and professed confusion about the difference between the two. In the three years since, SHRM has certified 101,000 applicants and aims to increase that number to 300,000, said Alex Alonso, SHRM senior vice president of knowledge development and the architect of the competency model, in a subsequent press conference.

At that same press conference, Jackson said he envisions the SHRM Competency Model and the accompanying SHRM certifications “as a vehicle for a new level for HR expertise and leadership.”

In comments during the press conference as well as his welcome address, Jackson pointed to his experience as a business leader, a sore spot among some former board members who believe the SHRM leader should have an HR background, as a primary driver for his decisions as SHRM’s leader.

The work of HR is more than administration and regulation, Jackson said, and the competency model and SHRM certification are aimed at moving HR certification beyond what Jackson called a “knowledge test” to a competency-based certification.

Incoming SHRM President Johnny C. Taylor attended the 2017 SHRM conference. Photo courtesy of SHRM.

“You’ll always need those basics [but] I’m a CPA – when I came to SHRM I knew that much of my success was because of the people around me,” Jackson continued. “Why wasn’t there a higher standard of certification? It took several years to convince the board to do it.”

During his tenure, Jackson also said SHRM has raised its profile among lawmakers and policymakers in Washington on a number of issues related to employers and the workplace, highlighting the association’s ongoing work on workplace flexibility and immigration.

Jackson said the focus of his time at the helm has been to lead HR beyond a partnership model to focus on playing a more active role in the workplace.

“It was all about leading change,” he told the audience. “I am proud of where the HR profession is today. We have laid the groundwork for the future. We have changed the conversation about what HR leadership looks like.”


Mike Prokopeak is Workforce’s editor in chief.

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