I’ve been a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for more than 20 years. This association of over 250,000 members is where people like me go for professional information, networking, discussion, education and certification. For many years I was a volunteer leader and served at both the local and national levels on many of the SHRM committees and Boards. And much like the volunteer service that many give to non-profit organizations and causes that are near and dear to them, it’s wasn’t about getting paid – it was about giving back to something that’s important to you.
I’ve also served on the Boards of for-profit organizations too, and for that I’ve gotten paid – but that’s a whole different thing. Because non-profits operate for the good of others and not solely for the purpose of making a profit (although in today’s economy they certainly have to pay their own way), organizations like United Way, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Public Radio and TV, the YMCA, the Humane Society, local Food Banks or Coops, and organizations that assist people with special needs all rely on committed men and women who want to serve and make their communities better. And that was the deal with SHRM: I was inspired by the volunteer leaders I met when I joined that organization and attended meetings, conferences and events; I was guided in my interests by these volunteer leaders when I thought about giving back to SHRM and I followed their lead when asked to serve. I was doing something for the greater good of my profession and the people I served with became both friends and role models for me. Long meetings, lots of phone calls, immense satisfaction and great friendship – these were what it was all about; we were managing good things, creating new things and making old things better. We were stewards of this great association and our reward was in knowing that others “got their money's worth." Pretty cool!
After more than a dozen years of serving on many different SHRM related boards, I gladly stepped aside so others could have that same experience – after all, someone did the same for me. But those who came after me were guided not by the people who had built the organization but rather by other professional volunteers who seemed to be more concerned about themselves than the organization. Things like Board pay – in my day there was no such thing, but these new folks felt that they should get paid for their time. Things like upgraded business class travel – I clearly remember flying in the back of the plane. But guess what: I’m not sure that’s what volunteer participation is about. Webster defines volunteer as “doing charitable or helpful work without pay”. Maybe this is what it takes to get volunteers these days but I suspect that there are many professional members of SHRM who would gladly serve for nothing, the same way my colleagues and I did for so many years.
When asked about these policy changes, the new leadership of SHRM evades the questions. When asked why dues are going up, they cite inflationary issues rather than these kinds of new expenses. When asked for the meaning of volunteerism, they can’t look anyone in the eye and answer with a straight face. In short, they act as though they can’t be trusted. And because the members understand what’s going on, they feel that maybe they really can’t trust their leaders. Not a good situation.
Add to the mix the fact that most of the former volunteer leaders of SHRM are raising the same questions. And so it’s no surprise how the current leadership is feeling and acting. Evasive answers, misstatements, self-serving new policies and a general lack of transparency - these could threaten this venerable association. Too bad. The people who now are leading SHRM are policy wonks and communications wizards – but when the SHRM members see this kind of behavior, they sense that something is rotten and beginning to smell. These same members are the people who in their non-SHRM positions are forced to give straight answers every day in all of their organizations, and so they want that same level of treatment from their professional Association’s leaders. They want to trust, but suspect that they are not getting enough to earn it.
And now the annual conference of SHRM is about to get under way in Las Vegas and I suspect that what happens in Las Vegas next week may not stay in Vegas. So when faced with these questions in that public forum, I suggest the current “volunteer” leaders of SHRM reflect on what their mothers used to say to them: “Honesty is the best policy”; “Do the right thing” and “Always say “I’m sorry”.
I don’t often write about stuff like this, but this issue has been on my mind. My quotes and message this week are about ownership and responsibility and that got me thinking about this. The current leaders of SHRM aren’t thinking like owners, they’re not acting responsibly, and they are not engendering the trust and respect that those who empower them with the authority to lead the Association for them expect. Over the past several months these blogs have talked about leadership, responsibility, professionalism and character – as we look out over the national landscape, those values aren’t as abundant as we might hope they’d be. Who knows – maybe some of these SHRM leaders are influenced in some small way by this lack of values. If that’s the case they may want to look out over the horizon and see the democratic voices sweeping the Mideast or look back at the most recent midterm elections here in the US – I think there’s a general demand for accountability and sensibility from those who want leaders they can believe in and trust. Maybe that’s too big a thing to expect. Maybe not.
So, here’s my quote and message for this week:
“Think like a customer and act like an owner.” -John Silliman Dodge
John Silliman Dodge has a 30-year career that spans and integrates music, media, marketing and management. He's a graduate of Ohio University's School of Telecommunications and has been a recording artist and a Creative Director/Production Manager.
What does an owner think about? Developing a plan of where you want to go and how to get there (vision and mission). Hiring the right people, listening to them and then letting them do what they do best (builds morale). Paying the bills and all the responsibilities that go along with that (shows respect). Reducing inefficiency and waste and making sure that everything is put to best use (go Green). Limiting unnecessary expenses by turning out lights and reusing things (being frugal). Having enough customers who appreciate you because you appreciate them (planning for the future). Doing the right thing (creating trust and learning from your experiences). These all add up to being a person that others can rely upon because they’re responsible, believable, trustworthy and focused. And if you do these well, you’ll have time to learn your customers’ likes and dislikes and needs and the things they consider when deciding whether to come back again. Think and act like an owner today – the people who are depending on you will appreciate that.