How SHRM Certification Has Made Me a Better Lawyer

By Stefan A. Mecke, J.D., MBA, SHRM-SCP Nov 1, 2016
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Stefan A. Mecke, J.D., MBA, SHRM-SCP

​We've all heard the phrase, "the business of business is people," but now that I've obtained my SHRM-SCP certification, I know it's true. Learning from the SHRM Competency Model and the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge really has made me more focused on people as the most important business of business. I'm more aware of the importance of the work I do and its impact on people, at all levels of the organizations I work with. I'm also more engaged and satisfied with my work. I see the bigger picture.

As a business and employment attorney, my clients include companies, management, HR professionals and front-line supervisors. I assist them with the difficult aspects of being an employer. They want to know how best to reduce risk, avoid litigation, prevent or mitigate employee claims based on state and federal laws and regulations, and maintain a productive and engaged workforce.

Achieving SHRM certification has been a game-changer. I have a sense of accomplishment and a stronger level of confidence. I'm driven to share my newly gained knowledge, skills and abilities with others. I'm more engaged with the HR professionals in my community, who have shared their wisdom and practical knowledge with me. Understanding the needs and challenges of the HR profession has enabled me to serve my clients more effectively.

The Basics and Beyond

My journey to certification began a few years ago, when I joined SHRM to increase my understanding of best practices and approaches in HR. Ever-changing workplace laws and regulations made the field increasingly complex and more difficult to navigate. Having graduated from business and law school eight years earlier, I was starting to feel less than current in certain topics. When my local SHRM chapter began promoting the benefits of the SHRM Competency Model, it sounded like just what I needed to get up to speed.

That the SHRM Learning System offered a comprehensive review of basic and technical HR knowledge and skills was thrilling enough; what I hadn't expected was its extensive coverage of important topics in business management, finance and law. This information filled in gaps in areas I was already familiar with and served as an excellent refresher course. It was like being back in law school or business school, but at a flexible pace and location: I could study on my own, when and where and however was most convenient for my clients and family.

To this day, my SHRM certification study materials remain prominently displayed on my desk. I refer to them often—when questions arise, when I'm preparing for a speech or presentation, when I just need a quick reminder about a matter, or when I want a good place to start tackling a client question. I rely on their teachings to improve strategic relationships at the office, on corporate boards, during internal team and shareholder meetings, and even at home.

New Opportunities Open Up

While business owners and executives regularly contact me for business and legal advice on employment and human capital challenges and opportunities, now that I'm SHRM-certified, colleagues within my law firm contact me more frequently as a reference to assist them with business, management and HR functions.

Being a SHRM-SCP credential holder has led professionals in my community to view me differently, too. This has led to unanticipated opportunities. HR groups asked me to speak on employment and legal topics. The local bar association asked me to chair its employment law section, to educate other attorneys on the latest issues. SHRM and Junior Achievement asked me to participate in their high schools initiative, facilitating career readiness and skills training for 150 seniors.

Had I not known the SHRM competencies through my certification training, I wouldn't have had the confidence to accept all of these opportunities to interact with and help others. Once equipped with the right knowledge, skills and abilities, I could get involved and make a positive impact—and I'm very thankful.

The Consultation Competency at Work

Here's a specific example of the real-world effects of the SHRM-defined competencies. I was reading through SHRM.org to find out about the imminent changes to the DOL overtime rule, thinking of how to use that information on behalf of my colleagues and clients. Reflecting on the Consultation competency—in particular, how important it is for HR professionals to take the lead on educating their organizations—motivated me to do additional research in the area. Based on my findings, I determined that all of the firm's business clients needed to know about the new rule. I sent out an alert, notifying clients of the pending regulatory changes and their potential impacts, and welcomed questions or requests for guidance.

The response was favorable in every respect. Most important, I assisted many longtime clients in preparing for and navigating changes in their workplaces prompted by the legislation. Within the firm, I was dubbed the in-house expert on the topic. I gave talks on the matter at a local industry trade group and at the bar association.

Had I not been aware of the Consultation competency and the other areas of emphasis and focus surrounding SHRM certification, the articles on the SHRM website would have just prompted a mental note to myself as I moved on to other things. Instead of taking action right away to help all of my clients by delivering important news, I would have waited until one client called me and then responded only to that inquiry. The SHRM-SCP mindset made a positive difference for everyone affected by the rule changes.

Building a Strategic Mindset

Most business clients approach my firm for technical information regarding laws, regulations, statutes or best practices relating to a particular situation. In the past, our responses have usually been limited to supplying the information requested. These days, however, thanks to our awareness of the SHRM behavioral competencies, we proactively ask more questions—to understand the reasons why our clients want that information and to find out what outcomes they are ultimately trying to achieve.

There is a greater interest throughout the firm in discussing the various impacts of certain decisions (regarding policies, employees and people) on clients' larger goals. Indeed, we are undergoing a transition from being primarily information providers for our clients to becoming their strategic partners. Both the firm and its clients have benefitted from this new focus on competencies—factors that affect our day-to-day work as well as our long-term overall business strategy. Such a mindset strengthens existing relationships as it generates new ideas and approaches.

Training for and receiving SHRM certification has made me a more informed, capable and confident practitioner and has expanded my opportunities to advise and support others. By implementing the behavioral competencies and assisting organizations in their efforts—to implement long-range planning and strategy, grow and develop the workforce, and compete more successfully through better use of people resources—we move together beyond the technical roles traditionally thought of as belonging strictly to HR. We can have a more strategic presence within all organizations served by HR professionals.

 Stefan A. Mecke, J.D., MBA, SHRM-SCP, is an attorney with Barber & Bartz in Tulsa, Okla.

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