Learning Lasts a Lifetime, Says SHRM Board Chair

By Christina Folz Jun 29, 2015
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Brian Silva

​Brian D. Silva, SHRM-SCP, chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) board of directors, addresses attendees at the SHRM 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition on June 29.

LAS VEGAS—To be true leaders, HR professionals must never stop learning, said Brian D. Silva, SHRM-SCP, chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) board of directors, in his speech opening the general session June 29, 2015, at the SHRM 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition. “Great HR people like you know that what got you here won't get you where you need to go,” said Silva, chief human resources officer and senior vice president of administration at Fresenius Medical Care in Waltham, Mass.

Indeed, the world in 2015 looks nothing like it did when Silva began his career in 1983—a time when the average home cost $70,000, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” topped the Billboard charts and something called a cellphone was just being tested in Chicago. HR, too, has changed dramatically. “Had I stopped learning about new approaches to HR in 1983, I would still be placing want ads in the local newspaper, mailing checks to employees’ homes and calling applicants on their home phone to set up face-to-face interviews,” he said.

Today’s digitally connected society has transformed business. “Our job responsibilities are more global than ever, the time to make decisions has been greatly reduced, communication is instantaneous and the workforce is more diverse than ever,” Silva said. Moreover, with companies under constant pressure to deliver quarterly results, it’s become vital for them to find—and keep—top talent.

Yet at the same time, that has become more difficult as fewer people remain at companies for long stretches of time. “Talent is constantly on the move—between companies, industries and countries,” he said.

Harnessing talent in this context is a tall order for HR professionals—but one that SHRM is committed to helping them tackle. That’s why, two years ago, the organization rolled out the SHRM Competency Model, which identifies what it means to be a successful HR professional across the performance continuum, around the globe, and from early to executive career levels.

“The competency model—designed for lifetime learners like you and me—is as much about the journey as it is about the destination,” Silva said. “Think about it as your personal GPS for career success.”

It is also the basis for the new certification program that SHRM rolled out last year. “Since its introduction, it has fast become the new gold standard in HR knowledge—and the foundation for the most relevant HR certification for our profession,” he said.

What’s different about the SHRM Competency Model is that it goes beyond testing knowledge on policies, procedures and laws. After all, Silva pointed out, employees won’t come to HR asking for the details of Title VII, Section 2000 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They might, however, voice concerns over how they’ve been treated. Then it is up to HR to bring its knowledge to bear on the situation, drawing on competencies in communication, consultation and cultural awareness.

“If you want to be successful in HR, you certainly need a thorough understanding of the technical details,” he said. “But that knowledge is useful only if you know how to apply it.”

Silva had one of his best learning moments 18 years ago from his brother Kevin, who works as a chief human resources officer (CHRO) at a financial services firm. After Silva got promoted to CHRO at Linens ’n Things, he was gloating about the new position and daydreaming about the corner office. His brother brought him back to reality by challenging him to continue planning for his future. “Kevin asked, ‘Now that you've finally gotten the role you've worked so hard for, what's your next goal? And, what's your plan for getting there?’ ”

It was a great lesson in continuous professional development. “None of us should ever feel complacent about what we know, or what we've accomplished. We have to be prepared for the future, be prepared for our next assignment and be prepared to make the greatest contribution we can.”

And so, Silva in turn challenged the attendees: What’s your next goal?

Christina Folz is editor of HR Magazine.

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