Last Word

Rick Bell

Workforce's Last Word author, Rick Bell.

A History Lesson for #FixItSHRM Followers

A History Lesson for #FixItSHRM Followers

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early a decade ago a well-intentioned group of HR leaders banded together to dispute several Society for Human Resource Management policies.

Not just some radical fringe group, the SHRM Members for Transparency questioned issues tarnishing the organization’s integrity, from doubling board members’ annual honoraria to allowing reimbursement for business-class travel to wanting more board members who carried HR credentials.

These veteran HR leaders had the pull to garner media attention as well as that of SHRM’s membership. And that caught SHRM’s attention. For a while, anyway.

Sniping through social media won’t change anything, especially with the 800-pound gorilla known as SHRM.

Fast-forward to 2019 and we find a loose-knit group of today’s HR professionals taking to social media to dispute SHRM’s ties with the Trump administration and relationships with politically conservative companies, most notably the right-leaning Koch Industries. Like the transparency group, these are issues they believe harm SHRM’s reputation and mission. The objectors call themselves #fixitSHRM.

As we approach SHRM 2019 in mid-June in Las Vegas, #fixitSHRM’s protests aren’t aimed so much at internal SHRM policies as the perception of what SHRM represents.

The #fixitSHRM movement traces back to last August when relative unknown HR practitioner Victorio Milian originated the hashtag. Later that fall he fired off a string of tweets explaining the hashtag’s purpose to protest SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. and SHRM leadership embracing the “white supremacist Republican administration.”

Illustrated by a smiling Taylor — now in his second year as SHRM’s CEO — shaking hands with President Trump, Milian’s tweets continued, saying, “@johnnyctaylorjr shaking the current U.S. President’s hand was the spark that lit the #fixitSHRM movement. @SHRM’s ongoing silence to its members who are (rightfully, in my opinion), angry and disappointed about this alliance continues to keep the fire burning. … In my opinion, @SHRM’s alliance does not represent the ethical leadership that #HRpros should be demonstrating.”

Milian’s movement has garnered plenty of online support. Among many others, @k_boulder tweeted in mid-April, “Altered videos to promote racist tropes fanning the flames of hatred, & direction to underlings to break the law, promising no consequences. Ready to renounce this partnership yet, SHRM? #fixitSHRM”.

It’s also caught SHRM’s attention to the extent where Taylor this spring doubled down on affirming SHRM’s relationship with the Trump administration as well as SHRM’s affiliation with Koch Industries, according to HRDive.

That doesn’t necessarily bode well for #fixitSHRM’s quest. Still, questioning the motives of SHRM’s relationship with those who do not share or represent their values — and in the larger picture the values HR should practice in every workplace — is inherently a good thing.

I get their frustration. The Trump administration has done most everything you don’t want in a company: constant turmoil and turnover among senior leadership, shunning of D&I, and if recent reports are true, attempting to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s HR department for civilian employees.

And your HR association is complicit with that? I’d be angry, too.

Taylor’s response though makes it clear that sniping through social media won’t change anything, especially with the 800-pound gorilla known as SHRM. They won’t alter relationships because a social media crusade dislikes their ties with the Trump administration and a financial deal with Koch Industries. I’d also wager that a majority of SHRM members either don’t care, are completely oblivious or actually agree with SHRM’s business dealings.

That means #fixitSHRM’s options to modify SHRM’s operations are limited. But history may hold lessons that could offer hope for change.

The transparency group had the presence and panache to draw SHRM into two meetings. SHRM then abruptly chose to stop meeting. One transparency group member told Workforce at the time, “Their tactic was delay, delay, delay. We realized that they weren’t going to change.” Disappointing, but if #fixitSHRM is serious they can still push for face time. It’s happened before.

If you can’t get SHRM’s attention in the board room, there’s always the ballot box.

“A SHRM member told me, ‘If you want to change the society, the way you should do it is change the board,’ ” said Mike Losey, a former SHRM president and founding member of the transparency group in a 2011 Workforce interview.

Muster a slate of candidates, continue your barrage on social media and get out the vote. It’s a long shot. And FYI, the transparency group’s candidates never achieved its goal.

History offers a sobering realization that it will take more than a social media campaign to create change. Study the past, #fixitSHRM. Blend it with what you know and perhaps you’ll succeed where Members for Transparency couldn’t.


Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.