Honing the Craft of HR with Certification Training

By Rena Gorlin, J.D. Aug 3, 2016
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​Peter Persson

Peter Persson had been in operations and customer relations at Entergy for 15 years when he was brought in to HR in 2011 as a change agent. Entergy's HR department, whose 160 employees serve the Fortune 500 power company's 13,000-strong workforce, had done "a good job with compliance but struggled, at times, with process and getting projects done. There had been budget cuts. There was stakeholder feedback to improve knowledgeability," Persson said. 

Persson's assignment as director of HR Operations for Entergy Shared Services was to lead a transformation of HR, which would in turn lead to improvements throughout the company. "The move to HR lit a fire for me," he said. "I knew HR could help build Entergy as a strong organization."

His HR team knew it, too. While Persson and a few other team members lacked a formal background in HR, several on staff were already credentialed in HR-related fields, including project management and Lean Six Sigma. As he and his staff discussed competencies and the craft of HR, Persson kept in mind Entergy's mission to create sustainable value for its stakeholders—owners, customers and "importantly, our employees. Helping employees become dedicated to their craft not only enables our business strategy, it's an engagement opportunity," he said.

Persson actively supported his employees' professional development as part of his effort to transform the HR department. This led Entergy HR representative Amber Lopez to approach him about the value of advancing to the next level of employee development, by pursuing SHRM certification.

Motivation for Certification

Soon Persson was telling Entergy about the importance of HR certification, in support of Lopez and her colleagues who were already organizing certification preparation activities. That's when he realized that he needed to get certified himself. Persson chose the SHRM program because "it had greater momentum, beyond book knowledge. There was more focus on applicability and usability." He also decided to obtain the SHRM-CP credential on his own, so that he could speak to his staff from experience before the group started certification classes.

Persson used the SHRM Learning System self-study course to prepare. When he encountered problems with comprehension and managing his schedule, he called on SHRM's Organizational Training and Development department for help with additional resources. "Time gets the best of you," he said, acknowledging that he realized a bit late how much effort and how many hours it would take to prepare adequately for the exam.

SHRM training and client relations manager Julie Aten directed Persson to SHRM's virtual cert prep course, which he accessed from SHRM's fee-based library of competency-based seminars. "Anyone using the Learning System who needs help with their studies can expect similar support from SHRM," Aten said.

Now armed with the assistance he needed, Persson went through all 18 recordings, read the accompanying online texts, took the SHRM-CP exam and passed. His only disappointment during this period of intense study and preparation? "I missed Mardi Gras!"

Soon thereafter, Entergy hosted SHRM's three-day, onsite, instructor-led corporate training session for 23 of the company's HR staff. Persson attended as well. "We solidified as a group, going through the books and practice tests, asking questions. Even the flashcards were very effective," he said.

Less Noise, More Benefits

Persson had expected the SHRM classes to focus on soft skills, but as he witnessed the rigor of training, especially the connection of each module of the SHRM Learning System to the SHRM Competency Model, he gained a greater appreciation for the HR profession overall. "This was a robust education that put resources at our fingertips," Persson said. "Certification training gave structure to things we already knew and took out the noise. Now we're all operating at the same level in the same fashion, so we can deliver a higher level of service to our customers and employees."

Even more important, Persson said, these benefits "are not necessarily tied to the company. SHRM training helps employees reach a point where they could get a job with any employer. But by providing this education and culture at Entergy, we're also providing employees with an environment in which they want to stay."

Value for Employees and Organization

Persson has also observed stronger connections between the HR department and Entergy as a whole, particularly in the areas of corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, talent management, and leadership. "Employees get great value from these relationships—HR employees in particular, having learned about them in detail," he said.

To date, Persson and 14 other HR staff members who took the cert prep training have sat for the SHRM-CP exam. "The pass rate has been outstanding, with the support of the onsite class taught by the SHRM instructor," Persson said. Ultimately, he would like at least half of all 160 HR employees at Entergy to become SHRM-certified.

"The SHRM training experience substantiates our efforts over the last few years," Persson said. "We've put work into a certification that demonstrates a high level of professionalism in the craft of HR and its value to the organization."

Learn more about SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP Certification Preparation Onsite Training

Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

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