Primitive Notion

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, November 15, 2010

The Voice of HR site has been running an excellent series of blogposts offering suggestions to improve SHRM entitled "2011 SHRM Strategic Guidance." My contribution was published Sunday morning and I am reproducing it here. Go check out Voice of HR for more interesting thoughts.

One of my favorite movies is Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” which tells the story of a lonely bureaucrat (Sam Lowry) railing against the system in the hopes of winning the heart of his true love. As a long-time SHRM volunteer at the local, state, and national level, dealing with SHRM can often make me feel like Sam Lowry (though love rarely had anything to do with it).

I currently serve in the role of District Director for the WI SHRM State Council. In May and October, we held chapter president forums to discuss general state council expectations as well as the strategic role of SHRM. Using quotes from the movie, “Brazil,” I will highlight the good, bad, and ugly of SHRM from the perspective of our local leaders.

Jack Lint: “This is information retrieval not information dispersal.”

This is a mixed affair. On the one hand, SHRM send a TON of e-mail. In October alone, I received over 20 e-mails (not including several duplicates) from the SHRM Store, HR Week, SHRM Education, SHRM Express Requests, etc. As a District Director, it is expected we pass along a lot of this information. However, it is often difficult to separate the signal versus the noise; the relevant from the non-relevant.

On the other hand, SHRM gathers a lot of information, which is not necessarily shared. All chapters and state councils are required to fill out a Chapter Leadership Information Form (CLIF), which provides SHRM with information about who is involved in the various roles. However, this information is rarely conveyed back to the chapters and state councils themselves. Core Leadership Directors are often left to fend for themselves to determine who fulfills the College Relations or Government Affairs role for a chapter. Similarly, SHRM holds on to the at-large list of members like it was gold, and getting access to it is more difficult than a camel going through the eye of a needle.


  1. Limit the e-mails, or at the very least, give me the option of choosing when to receive them (daily, weekly, etc.). We have the option to opt out of receiving e-mails, but not the choice.
  2. Once the CLIFs are received, send out the list of chapter leaders to the respective Core Leadership Directors
  3. Free the at-large list. Trust the state and chapter leaders to use those lists with discretion.

Harry Tuttle: Listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a 27b/6… Bloody paperwork”

Sam Lowry: “Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Harry Tuttle: Listen, kid, we’re all in it together.”

Collaboration amongst chapter leaders is highly encouraged, but carried out ineffectively. A prime example of this involves recommended and HRCI-approved speaker lists for chapter meetings, state conferences, and the national conference. It is rare for a chapter leader in Green Bay to know what quality speakers have served at other chapters in the state, let alone across state lines.


  1. Create a national database of HRCI-approved programs. Chapters can look at the HRCI website and select a speaker that meets their demands
  2. Shift the burden for becoming a certified program from the chapter to the speaker, and expand the Approved Provider program. Any speaker who wishes to speak to a SHRM chapter should have to get approved by HRCI. As speakers get recognized, their topics would be added to the database.
  3. Recruit past state conference programming co-chairs to serve as panel members to review RFPs for the SHRM Annual Conference. While this duty is currently performed by SHRM staff, the experience of these volunteers would improve the quality of programming at the national level.

Dawson: “I’m glad to see the Ministry’s continuing its tradition of recruiting the brightest and best, sir.”

While Dawson’s quote is intended to be sarcastic, one of the best aspects of SHRM is its volunteers. Hundreds take time out of their busy schedule to serve the organization. However, as expectations of volunteers have grown, the sheer number of meetings, webinars, and conference calls are turning many away, particular in this tough economic climate. Those that do volunteer are not recognized. As one member put it, “It used to be that SHRM sent out a constant reminder that it is a volunteer organization. That message no longer is stated and many volunteers no longer feel that appreciated.” Perks are offered at the local chapter, but it is not enough to attract volunteers.


  1. While the current discount for registration at the SHRM Annual Conference is $55, is that significant enough to truly recognize the hard work of volunteer leaders?
  2. Create SHRM Pinnacle Volunteer Leader Awards. While SHRM recognizes the significant and innovative work that chapters perform with the Pinnacle Awards at the SHRM Leadership Conference, why not recognize the significant volunteer work at the SHRM Leadership Conference and at SHRM Annual.

Charlie, Department of Works: “Bloody typical, they’ve gone back to metric without telling us.”

Of late, it has been felt by several chapter leaders that there has been too much emphasis on SHRM membership. To some, it gives the perception that there is a problem at SHRM. Are many members no longer renewing? Further, the percentage growth for SHRM membership in the SHAPE document was too demanding, especially for only one year. Some felt it was unfeasible, particularly in today’s economic environment. Further, it focuses too much on numbers instead of the substance of services to members.


  1. Lose the tote bag promotion. If you need to attract members by offering a tote bag as a lure, something is amiss. If you have to offer an incentive, why not offer a discount to the SHRM book store or an additional discount to attend a SHRM conference?
  2. Lower the percentage growth rate for chapters.

Brazil, where hearts were entertaining
We stood beneath an amber moon
And softly murmured someday soon
We kissed and clung together

Then, tomorrow was another day
Morning found me miles away
With still a million things to say

Now, when twilight dims the sky above
Recalling thrills of our love
There’s one thing I’m certain of
Return I will to old Brazil

Music by Ary Barraso/English lyrics by S.K. “Bob” Russell

With the suggestions made above, there’s one thing I’m certain of….Return I will to old SHRM!

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