Reader Feedback: Many Paths to the CHRO Office

A former president of SHRM makes the case for a standardized education and curriculum for HR.

Feb 3, 2014

I wish to take issue with comments quoted in “Many Paths to CHRO Office” (Inside SHRM, December 2013) about a theme discussed by several CHROs at the 2013 SHRM Strategy Conference. Here’s why.

HR evolved from a low-level, functional, unstructured activity whose name changes were indicative of its evolution. Early practitioners were mostly dropouts from other functions. They brought a wide variety of experience and education mostly unrelated to HR, and therein lay the problem—even today. More than half of those in HR do not have a degree in it, meaning that HR remains a “taught science” open to anyone with “the right skill sets and determination” as stated in the article.

Passing HR Certification Institute tests implies that that is sufficient to qualify for an HR position. But a fundamental question remains.

Do those without HR degrees and experience perform better and make a greater contribution than those who do? The article seems to imply that the question is moot and “there is no ideal career path.” While this may be true, we should examine why HR has a different model than other professions such as engineering, law, medicine and accounting. If HR desires to be recognized as a true profession, it must create a similar model of standardized education and curriculum, certification including continuing education, and competency tests such as the bar exam. The current HRCI certification program could serve as the competency tests.

The HR profession and SHRM appear to be moving toward that model, but if we continue to believe that the model of success for HR as stated by the CHROs does not have a clear career path, we will have missed the boat. I maintain that, if the profession continues to believe that HR is a “taught science,” the inconsistencies in the application of HR expertise will remain.

This means that we can no longer tolerate a “whatever goes” attitude about HR programs that vary in quality and measurable outcomes determined by variables such as industry, location, corporate philosophy, etc., and compounded by the variable of CEOs who don’t know or care about these differences.

I believe that if HR really wants to be recognized as a profession, it will have to prove it by accepting a rigorous process similar to that of other recognized professions. HRCI certification could serve as a key fundamental ingredient in the process, but the need to build a new model around it will be the challenge.

Ronald C. Pilenzo, Ph.D. SPHR, RODC

Hobe Sound, Fla.

Editor’s note: Pilenzo was president of SHRM in the 1980s. The original Strategy Conference report was summarized in the December issue.

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