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Oh yes, SHRM members have testified before Congress in the past. One exchange has stuck with me. It was a testy discussion in 2009 between then-SHRM COO China Gorman and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey. The California Democrat twice referred to SHRM as “shoorum” during testimony on the Healthy Families Act, which would have required companies to offer paid sick days. When Gorman corrected Woolsey, the congresswoman declared, “that doesn’t say anything to me” after Gorman gave her the proper pronunciation.
That moment wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of SHRM’s clout as a legislative influencer. I’m sure they’ve had successes but largely they’ve been in the background of conversation, not out front.
That’s changing, and it was in full evidence at the just-concluded 2018 SHRM conference in Chicago. New SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. clearly defined the 300,000-member organization’s goals: workplace harassment; second-chance legislation for those incarcerated for crimes; pay and gender equity; and immigration reform. He explicitly noted SHRM will push for workplace immigration issues, not humanitarian reforms. “We need to figure out what our lane is,” Taylor said on immigration during his Monday afternoon press conference. “Separation of families is not our space. It’s about the workforce – smart, sensible immigration.”
As Taylor and SHRM’s staff ponder what lane to take, he made it clear that they will not shy away from the encounter.
“We’ve spoken out on different positions,” Taylor said. “Before we were less vocal and steered away from controversial topics. That position is changing now. We will speak out on some of that.”
Taylor later added: “I’m not afraid of taking positions. Be a force for social good. We stepped into the DACA conversation. You can sit on the outside or step in and engage.”
Well, a funny thing happened Wednesday as the conference wound down. An email dropped into my inbox with the subject line, “Society for Human Resource Management Under Fire for their Flawed Paid Family Leave Legislation.”
The sub-head read: Over 50 HR leaders call SHRM’s policy “out of step” with top U.S. employers on paid family leave. So, just as Taylor wants to step out into a much brighter advocacy spotlight, his organization is criticized as out of step for its support of Workflex in the 21st Century Act.
The group critical of SHRM, known as Paid Leave for the United States, or PL+US, wants SHRM to drop its support of the Workflex Act and instead get behind Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act.
Said Alice Vichaita, head of global benefits at Pinterest, in the June 20 press release: “I’m proud to join my HR colleagues in calling on SHRM to re-evaluate its support of the Workflex in the 21st Century Act. This policy isn’t good for working families or a working business. It’s time we put working families first.”
Added Annie Sartor, PL+US’ workplace program director, “Their advocacy highlights just how out of touch they are with their membership and industry trends.”
My Workforce colleague Andie Burjek wrote about the Workflex Act during the conference, and it’s unfortunate that PL+US waited until the waning moments of the final day to publicly address their opposition. We would have gladly spoken to their representatives during SHRM18.
This also is different than past groups critical of SHRM. The one, of course, that most readily comes to mind is the SHRM Members for Transparency, which called for reform within the organization versus addressing external HR policy stances.
PL+US is making a play to sway HR policy discussions from outside the 70-year-old organization. I find that to be a very healthy and productive conversation.
Because if Johnny Taylor is a man of his word – and the jury is still out on that one for me after his obfuscation about an alleged meeting with HR Certification Institute leaders that never took place – and truly wants to elevate the HR profession then he will be the type of leader willing to listen to factions within the organization’s membership.
“The HR profession involves risk,” he said. “You have to know and accept certain obligations. That’s where we have to get.”
I think that goes for SHRM as well. The association has often been isolated and insulated against outside influences and opinions. That’s certainly within their right.
And for what it’s worth, I recognize that SHRM largely advocates for employer-friendly legislation, and the bill pushed by PL+US feels much more employee-centric. Still, this is a golden opportunity at the outset of Taylor’s run as SHRM CEO to be the inclusive leader willing to hear out his HR constituency.
Yes, it involves risk. But that’s part of Taylor’s ethical obligation as he pushes to “tool up the profession” and speak out on issues that past administrations may have seen as too controversial.
Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. Comment below or email email@example.com.
The post SHRM as an Advocacy Organization Gets a PL+US-Sized Test appeared first on Workforce Magazine.
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Changing times call for an evolving role for HR. Business operates in a world that demands transparency and honesty. News – good or bad – travels fast. Failure to adapt just might mean that HR gets left behind.
That was one message Johnny C. Taylor Jr. shared with the approximately 17,000 members gathered in Chicago for the 2018 SHRM Conference and Exposition as he addressed them for the first time as the association’s president and CEO.
The challenges facing HR are significant, Taylor said. From the 6 million jobs that will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates, stop and start efforts at immigration reform and the apparent failure of HR to adequately address workplace harassment as evidenced by the #MeToo movement, there’s no shortage of issues to occupy HR’s time. But tackling those challenges will require HR leaders to step out of their comfort zone.
“Our very existence as a profession depends on it,” Taylor said. “If we don’t … business leaders are showing us they will find someone else to do this work.”
One of those business leaders took the stage to begin the second day of the conference on Monday. Oscar Munoz, CEO of Chicago-based United Airlines, the world’s third-largest air carrier, told the assembled group there is an opportunity for HR to grab and keep a seat at the executive table.
It used to be HR was the last resort when a problem already arose, Munoz said. That’s no longer the case. “HR is evolving,” he said. “I don’t think it has evolved yet but it is evolving.” The success of that continued evolution depends on HR’s ability to address critical business issues as they arise, often unexpectedly.
Munoz knows that firsthand. United faced a series of PR disasters in 2017, beginning with the rollout of a poorly received bonus program that sent employees into revolt and followed by the release of a video showing airport police forcibly – and bloodily – removing a paid passenger from his seat at the request of gate agents so United staff could make a connecting flight.
Rules and policies are important especially at a 130,000-person company that aims to operate as efficiently as possible, Munoz said, but in that case United got it wrong. “It’s important that we have rules and procedures … but they cannot reflect the values of the company when it comes to customers,” he said.
HR played a role in helping United redefine its approach following those missteps. United’s head of HR is formerly the company’s chief customer officer and is working to directly tie employee experience to the experience of United’s passengers. As a result, Munoz said the company has defined four core values for employees to rally around, with safety as the top priority. “Caring” is the no. 2 value, leapfrogging over efficiency and dependability. The aim is to make sure the human touch is a core part of the company’s operations.
As Munoz can attest, business is unpredictable and the actions of just one employee can put a company’s reputation into a tailspin. HR is increasingly part of the strategic value chain of a company, Munoz said, and businesses need their HR departments to elevate their game. “Increasingly we are a visible world,” he said. “Human interactions are going to be a part of the dynamic for a long time.”
As he closed out his conversation with Taylor on the main stage, Munoz offered some final advice to HR: Speak plainly and be empathetic. “It’s not only what you do but how you do it,” Munoz said, adding that the strategic evolution of HR is more than just a temporary trend. “That prospect of where HR is headed is a valid one and a real one.”
SHRM’s Taylor echoed that point during an afternoon press conference, saying he aims to make SHRM a vocal advocate for workplace issues in a manner the association has avoided in the past. He pointed to immigration, workplace harassment and the #MeToo movement, gender pay inequality and “second chance” legislation for ex-convicts as issues that SHRM plans to directly address.
“There are positions that clearly require the voice of the profession … and we’ve decided to speak out on that,” he said.
In the past, SHRM has avoided taking a position on controversial issues, Taylor said, but he sees his role as the association’s leader to speak out as a force for social good, specifically as it relates to the workplace. Failure to do that risks irrelevance. “That’s what delineates us as a profession [and] we’ve ceded the work to other organizations,” Taylor said.
Addressing the risks inherent in that evolution to a more forceful approach, Taylor said HR has to accept those risks as part of the obligation of being in HR.
“We’ve got to dig deep down and be courageous,” he said. “If I’m willing to sell myself out for a paycheck then shame on me.”
Mike Prokopeak is Workforce’s editor in chief. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.