CHICAGO--Human resources is not a profession searching for meaning but one that’s driving business, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Henry G. “Hank” Jackson told an enthusiastic crowd at Monday’s opening general session at SHRM’s 65th Annual Conference & Exposition.
“In today’s world the dividing line between success and failure in any organization is the line between those who ‘get’ human resources and those who don’t,” he said.
Jackson told attendees that 65 years ago, in this very city, a group of visionaries came together to create something more than just a membership organization representing human resources professionals. “They created a professional society dedicated to elevating the standards of our profession, to sharing information and to passing experiences from one professional to the next,” he said. Within three years there were 145 members. “Sixty-five years later, I am proud to say that we have nearly 300,000 members across the globe.”
According to Jackson, SHRM has thrived for more than six decades “by innovating, adapting and listening to our members.”
He added: “Along the way, we’ve helped train hundreds of thousands of business leaders while also changing business practices and strategies.”
In thinking about the Society’s 65th anniversary, Jackson went back through SHRM’s archives.
“The more I dug, the more I realized, we have been here before,” he said.
For instance, take the challenge of getting top management to understand the strategy behind effective HR. Jackson quoted from the May 1953 issue of Personnel News: “Personnel people attend conferences and say to each other, ‘If only my boss could hear this,’ and ‘You will have to sell your personnel programs or risk not having it put into operation.’ ”
Coming up with good ideas is just half the battle, Jackson observed. “You have to sell those ideas, too—that’s leadership.”
The challenge of finding high-skilled workers has also been a decades-long issue, as this passage from The Personnel Administrator, February 1958, illustrates: “In the changing structure of industry there is increasing demand for scientists, engineers, technicians and highly-skilled craft workers, all of which require long periods of education, apprenticeship and training.”
We talk about technology, Jackson said—“the need to keep up with a world changing faster than it ever has. Surely no generation has shared this struggle. Or have they?”
He followed that question with this quote from the June-July 1960 issue of The Personnel Administrator: “Just as the automobile moved us from front porches to become a nation on wheels, so technological progress in office equipment can be expected to wreak a similar revolutionary change in our business habits. While the rewards will be great for those able to adjust, the penalties for those who cannot will be severe.”
That’s the same point SHRM makes today about technology, when we talk about social media, workplace flexibility and globalization, Jackson noted.
“The point of all of these stories is that the business challenges of the past and HR’s responsibility to address them have always been there. The only difference now is that everyone recognizes HR’s critical role in the business process.”
Like those who came before us, SHRM is helping to guide the conversation that defines this generation of leadership, Jackson said.
“For 65 years we have been at the center of nearly every transformation that has helped create a world that is more global, more diverse, more equal, more technology driven and more focused on business strategy.”
One thing is certain, he assured: “There has never been a greater need for HR professionals than there is today. Now more than ever the call for action for HR pros is to be innovative, creative problem-solvers. Our job at SHRM is to help you find the solutions.”
Whether the issue is the skills gap, immigration or globalization, SHRM provides both a forum for discussion as well as opportunities to enhance skills and advance careers, he said.
“Our work is key to business success, and our expertise is needed everywhere, from the White House to the global marketplace.”
That’s the difference between a membership organization and a professional society, he added.
“It is the reason SHRM exists.”
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.