Workforce's Work in Progress author Kris Dunn.
Clamor Over SHRM Agenda Misses the Point

By Kris Dunn | Work in Progress


‘m sharing a ride with a colleague heading back to our hotel after work. As we pull in to the hotel parking lot, the topic of a struggling restaurant there with service issues comes up.

I offer the following: “If I owned that place, I’d solve all the service issues by hiring nothing but people with criminal backgrounds who were recently released.”

Some of you may think I’m enlightened making that statement, others will think I’m crazy. It’s neither. I’ve just been influenced by the recent agenda of the Society for Human Resource Management. SHRM recently announced a partnership called “Getting Talent Back to Work,” which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and Koch Industries. The singular goal of this initiative is to encourage companies to take a national pledge to hire workers with criminal backgrounds.

The average HR pro might think the controversy would be getting past America’s long-term tradition of refusing to hire those with criminal records. Instead, there was a small to moderate outcry related to presence of Koch Industries in the initiative. Owners Charles and David Koch — the Koch brothers — are active (some would say notorious) fundraisers and influencers in conservative politics.

Rather than teaching how to recruit existing employees away from competitors, SHRM is attempting to bring new candidates into the tent.
Research Koch Industries and you’ll find environmental issues as well. But you’ll also discover an industrial business hurting for employees in a low unemployment/peak economic cycle environment.

Which begs the question: Will those with criminal convictions in their background care about the political leanings of the owners if they get a job at Koch Industries?

I think not. I believe they’ll be thrilled for the chance. But back to the evolving agenda of SHRM.

What should we expect from SHRM related to its agenda and politics? Should we be outraged when SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. shakes the hand of an American president whose tweets spark widespread division? Should we expect that companies with the ownership background of Koch Industries never have the chance to partner with SHRM?

First, you must first understand the reality of SHRM. The DNA of SHRM includes the following components:

  • SHRM leans conservative as an organization focused on helping companies perform better through progressive talent practices. SHRM serves its membership in this regard, as any company with strong internal HR talent has a better chance of marketplace success. But make no mistake, SHRM is directly aligned with the business community. Go to any SHRM legislative update and you’ll hear the pro-business focus. This conservative focus attracts partners with deep roots in the business community. SHRM’s affiliations are easy when the partner is a broad, vanilla association like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Companies like Koch become harder to evaluate for fit.
  • SHRM is at its best when its initiatives merge business need, policy trends and inclusion. “Getting Talent Back to Work” is a good example of this. We’re dealing with the lowest unemployment in decades (business need) and immigration policy trends will continue to put pressure on workforce planning (especially in non-white collar jobs). Any SHRM initiative to relieve this pressure would seem to be a good investment of resources. But the real magic happens when SHRM can create these types of programs with an inclusion element. Rather than teaching HR pros how to recruit existing employees away from competitors, “Getting Talent Back to Work” attempts to bring new candidates into the tent. It’s the not the first example of inclusion most of us would list, but it’s a brilliant program when you step back and evaluate the convergence of business need, policy and demographic in need.
  • SHRM doesn’t always move first, but when they move, it matters. SHRM’s a mega-association battleship. With hundreds of thousands of members, you’ll find a cross-section of America including comparable percentages of conservatives, liberals, Christians, atheists and more. Like any other association with demographics that rival the United States at large, SHRM is rarely first on any issue that involves societal change. But when SHRM moves, it matters. Hundreds of thousands of members are influenced by various SHRM media properties monthly, meaning SHRM opens minds on any issues linked to the world of HR.

SHRM’s not perfect. But an agenda that challenges HR pros to rethink traditional views that may be limiting in today’s world matters.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor. To comment, email