‘More Knowledge Equals More Value’ for Florida Municipality’s SHRM-Certified CHRO and HR Staff

By Rena Gorlin, J.D. May 31, 2016

A highly experienced HR executive with multiple professional certifications, currently at the helm of an essential division of a large municipal government, has nevertheless seen his career grow even more with his newly acquired SHRM credential. “Thought processes improve; you’re thinking ahead,” observed Edward F. Sisson, chief human resources officer of the City of Pensacola, Fla. “SHRM certification has definitely affected my work, as a guide to the strategic vs. the nonstrategic.” 

Sisson said the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (BoCK) comprises “all HR professionals need to be successful.” He said proficiency in relationship management, ethics and leadership is especially relevant today. “The competency-based model is much better than what was available in the past,” Sisson said. “It illustrates the significance of balance. We can’t be masters of every aspect of HR, but we can be familiar with everything. There are no silos of knowledge.” 

Before becoming SHRM-certified, Sisson explained, some days at the office “were more like ‘choose-your-own-adventure.’ Now I focus on the functional areas that need attention, and I know when to bring in from the back burner the matters that should get attention.” 

Sisson, who has been in the HR field since college, holds the SHRM-SCP and SPHR credentials, as well as the CEBS (Certified Employee Benefits Specialist) and RPA (Retirement Plans Associate) designations issued by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. 

The City of Pensacola HR Division serves employees, potential employees, the public, applicants, retirees, and the city’s departments and administration. It is responsible for recruitment, onboarding new employees and responding to employee concerns. As an internal consultant, the division provides personnel management and employee insurance information, policy interpretation, and new program development for departments and the mayor’s office. 

As CHRO for the government of the city nicknamed “The Upside of Florida,” Sisson obtained his SHRM certification via the online tutorial pathway (an option available from Jan. 5 through Dec. 31, 2015, to holders of certain qualifying credentials). Eight of his 10 HR team members (the two registered nurses on staff excepted) are taking the certification exams to earn their SHRM credentials. 

A Positive Impact on How Other Departments See HR 

“There are tons of certifications out there, so you want the largest, most recognized, well-rounded organization behind you,” Sisson said. A devoted reader of daily SHRM e-mail updates and HR Magazine, he was aware of the new SHRM credentials early on. “I knew right away we would apply, because of the SHRM brand. It’s what sets you apart,” he said, adding that SHRM’s effort has “helped grow our profession by leaps and bounds.” 

The presence of SHRM-certified staff members has had a positive impact on how Pensacola’s city HR division works with, and is perceived by, other municipal departments. “More knowledge equals more value. It makes us all work better,” Sisson said. “There’s less emphasis on HR as just a day-to-day operation” and greater recognition of HR as “a leading voice and a major factor in moving the whole organization forward.” 

Respect, Reinforcements, Rewards

On the individual staff level, the pursuit of SHRM certification has also enhanced employee confidence and interactions, Sisson said. Candidates prepare for their exams with self-study materials and may do so during office hours, which “builds rapport and collegiality.” In addition, “the great number of study tools, answers to questions, guidance from SHRM—that is, support—relating to certification has made staff much more comfortable going into the exam,” he said. 

“The SHRM approach ties in relevant professional material with practical application. It’s not just reading seven or eight books, then—good luck,” he noted. What’s more, Sisson offers as part of total compensation a financial incentive to employees who obtain their SHRM credentials. 

Sisson’s recertification plans for his team include watching webinars sponsored by local SHRM chapters. Staff currently attend meetings on pertinent topics to provide for their continuing education. When employees obtain their credentials, Sisson will pay for their SHRM memberships if they haven’t joined already. 

Another post-certification perk, which will also count toward certificants’ professional development credits (PDCs), is attendance at conferences in employees’ areas of expertise. “The recruiter will get to go to the SHRM Talent Management Conference, for instance, and the benefits manager will get to go to the meeting of her own organization,” Sisson said. This year, the CHRO himself attended SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference for the first time—SHRM-SCP badge on display. 

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


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