The SHRM and HRCI Battle Is Not Critical to Good HR

I love HR
If you’re in the HR industry, unless you’ve been hiding in a cave the last couple weeks, I’m sure you’ve read countless posts about the fallout between SHRM and HRCI regarding HR certification.  While SHRM has always promoted HRCI as the place to go for HR certification (PHR, SPHR and GPHR), it has suddenly done an about-face and now announces that they will provide their own certification.

This whole debacle has left thousands of HRCI certified HR professionals in a bind- not knowing whether they should continue to keep up their HRCI credits or switch to what SHRM offers.  In either case, the part of the discussion, or lack of, that gets me is that there are hundreds of thousands of successful HR professionals who actively choose NOT to be certified. For those like me who have made this decision, it’s interesting to read posts by SPHR’s thumbing their noses at us, saying they wouldn’t hire us.  They say that without “demonstrating a body of knowledge” we are not able to progress and also that people like me are choosing not to stay up to date.

I have a news flash for those that think like this…

I personally know many people who stay up to date without HRCI certification.  After all, some of us are the very people that SHRM and other conferences call in to teach you so that you can get your credits.

Now, I do greatly respect anyone who has become certified.  My personal reasons for not getting it are just as valid as the reasons some people get it.  It has never hurt me from doing a good job, it has never stopped me from being promoted, it has never kept me from getting a job at a higher level at a new company, it has never prevented me from being the head of HR.  It has never stopped me from being chosen to speak at SHRM annual nor many other state SHRM conferences.  In fact, it has never kept me from being completely current in my chosen profession.

For me, the point is not to judge people who want to be HRCI certified.  It shows their dedication to being the best in HR they can be.  We also should not judge the people who are very excited about the idea of a new way to train, measure and certify HR through SHRM’s certification program.  They too have very high aspirations of being the best HR professionals.  Oh, and of course, not judge those who are doing it on our own, our own way.  We too are doing all we can to learn and stay ahead of the curve so that we can drive the profession forward.  All three types of HR pro are really going after the same result.  We want to be able to provide the best knowledge and advice to our leaders and employees.

Spend the time and energy on ensuring you are comfortable with your course of action instead of worrying about whether someone communicated something the “right” way or not.  We’ll all be better HR pros for it.

13 thoughts on “The SHRM and HRCI Battle Is Not Critical to Good HR”

  1. I like your take on the HRCI vs. SHRM debacle. In my opinion, it was a poorly executed PR campaign – from the view of a SHRM member. If the purpose was to make a sudden and unexpected break from HRCI, then mission accomplished. If the purpose was lost due to poor execution, not good on SHRM’s part.

  2. You have found a nice way to say “I told you so.” I also chose not to be certified because it was always just a memorization test – if you prepped to take their type of test you passed. SHRM made money off the certification, having to keep up the credits AND the prep materials and classes. It was marketing people!

    it in no way validated my 25 years of experience or knowledge, nor did it enhance my BA or Masters degrees. Not having it also didn’t limit my speaking and teaching requests, nor prevent my career path upwards in the HR profession.

    I do not know if the new SHRM method is better or will actually certify a body of knoweldge more than the HRCI test. But I don’t need to worry, I won’t be getting this new certification either.

  3. @ Kyle- Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right. It’s amazing how many people with the certification from HRCI are still just hearing about the change. I’ll be interested to se show this plays out. Do you have your certification? If so, what’s your plan of action?

  4. @ Deanna- Thanks for your insight. I knew there were other HR pros like me. That said, I must admit that what SHRM is doing has at least piqued my curiosity. On the surface, I’d buy into the testing for competencies more than I would the current model. Since you’re not certified, have you ever encouraged your team members to get certified? I don’t think I strongly encouraged anyone to do it, however, I did pay for people to get their certification if it was in their personal goals. I’d love to say in touch on your thoughts as this unfolds. Thanks again.

  5. Trish – Yes I always supproted those who wanted to be certified and put in my budget for staff who wanted to pursue taht. II agree with you – at leasst a competency based moldel sounds more meaningful. We shall see.

  6. Anyone who thinks the certification process is a memory test is kidding themselves. Without the actual knowledge you could not pass, however, if you decided not to get certified it is fine, just don’t down play the hard work, knowledge and skils that go into passing the certification. It does not make you shine in the best light to pass this off as memory because you don’t have it or don’t want it.

  7. @ Kate- I do appreciate you reading and commenting but I’m a bit confused by your comment. This post was about using our time to appreciate those who have HRCI certification, those who are interested in the new certification and those who choose to teach themselves. In no part was HRCI called a memory test, so I’m not sure how this makes me not “shine in the best light”. At any rate, thanks for the comment and as my post said, I respect those who have certification and wish you the best.

  8. Trish, Kate (not Katie, as you referred to her) was responding to Deanna’s first comment, in which she asserted that HRCI’s vetting and examinations were “always just a memorization test” and identified that apparent failing as the basis for her personal decision not to seek certification from HRCI. You later validated Deanna’s assertion and statement by thanking her for her insight and further stating that you are intrigued by the SHRM Board’s currently unsupported assertion that its credential will validate competencies in addition to knowledge. I will assert that it is fair to read your response to Deanna as agreeing with her assertion that HRCI tests only memorization and not application. You did not disagree with Deanna’s assertion or challenge her for having extended the scope of your original post to include a dismissive characterization of the HRCI’s programs. You reserved disagreement for Kate, who was objecting to Deanna’s characterization, which you implicitly adopted.

    Everyone reading your response to Kate knows that you do not cast aspersions on the currently certified and non-certified members of the profession, which is a good thing. We are justified, though, in wondering whether you agree with Deanna that HRCI tests only memorization. Admittedly, you did say that you were confused by Kate (especially her name -an interesting competency for an HR professional to lack, that of remembering a colleague’s name from one moment to the next). Hopefully this explanation reduces the confusion. If you don’t agree with Deanna’s assertion as to memorization, please say so.

    That out of the way, let me address the crux of your post.

    You said “For me, the point is not to judge people who want to be HRCI certified. It shows their dedication to being the best in HR they can be.”

    This is a good point. The HR profession in the U.S. has over 40 years of effort and millions of dollars invested in establishing that HR professionals who want to demonstrate their dedication to being the best HR practitioners that they can be do so by applying for, qualifying to sit for and passing an HRCI credentialing exam and then maintaining that credential via continuing education and actions in the field. Therefore, members of the profession are justified in turning to HRCI for help in communicating to others in an easily understood way their initiative, mastery, professional achievement, and continual development. That is HRCI’s purpose; one that SHRM’s public-facing message supported right up until the SHRM Board announced that HRCI-issued credentials are worthless compared to SHRM’s new credential, whatever that ends up being. Your statement establishes the premise of the dilemma the SHRM Board created: HRCI is the mechanism our profession has agreed to use to document initiative, mastery, professional achievement, and continual development in an easily communicated way. Yet the SHRM Board has suddenly withdrawn its agreement with that premise, asserted that HRCI’s credentials are inadequate, cited no evidence to support that changed assessment, and expects all members of the profession, as well as the leaders and members of the organizations we support, to accept its assertion at face value.

    You then said: “We also should not judge the people who are very excited about the idea of a new way to train, measure and certify HR through SHRM’s certification program. They too have very high aspirations of being the best HR professionals.”

    Why not? Why should we not judge the members of our profession who have accepted the SHRM Board’s unsupported assertion at face value? Up until the SHRM Board’s unilateral withdrawal of support for HRCI-issued credentials, our profession has spent 40 years asserting and maintaining that those credentials are the mechanism for documenting initiative, mastery, professional achievement and continual development in an easily communicated way. (See your comment above for support for this position.) If a member of our profession is suddenly very excited about the idea of SHRM issuing credentials instead of HRCI, even though the SHRM Board has not publicly provided a single iota of data to rebut the 40-year presumption of HRCI credibility, why cannot another member of our profession judge that person? To judge is to evaluate and make a decision about something. I would certainly want to evaluate the rationale of an HR practitioner who can assert today, without any supporting evidence, that as of January 1, 2015, any SHRM-issued credential will be better than any HRCI-issued credential. And then I would want to make a decision about whether to credit that assertion. In fact, I may even come to agree with it, if it is well supported. But that assertion has to be made and judged before it can be accepted by others. SHRM President and CEO Hugh Jackson, a CPA and not a member of our profession, has made it but not supported it. Bette Francis, the Chair of SHRM’s Board and a holder of the HRCI-issued SPHR credential, has made it but not supported it. In fact, Ms. Francis has been inconsistent in her discussion of the difference between her SPHR credential and whatever SHRM will issue. She says that she “will add” the new credential to her list of credentials. Not substitute. The President and CEO of her organization has said that the credential her organization will be issuing will be a substitute for, not additive to, credentials currently “available elsewhere.” Does she disagree with her President and CEO? Did she not get the memo that this is an effort to replace a set of credentials the Board of which she is Chair has determined to be irrelevant? Is this topic open for debate? If so, why was the announcement not made to start a discussion. Why was it announced as an already-made decision? She concluded her blog post by saying “we can’t afford to wait.” Of course, she did not explain that assertion either. She did not support her assertion that this new credential will be better, and she does not seem to understand her organization’s intentions for this new credential. But it is urgent. So, yes, I am able to assess (judge) her excitement about SHRM’s new way to train, measure, and certify HR professionalism and to find it lacking in seriousness and good judgment. There may be others who are excited about this SHRM Board initiative who have provided serious discussion about it and arrived at a sound judgment in favor of it, but I am not aware of them. If I do encounter them, I will judge and decide. As I said, someone may actually convince me.

    Further, you said: ” Oh, and of course, not judge those who are doing it on our own, our own way. We too are doing all we can to learn and stay ahead of the curve so that we can drive the profession forward.” To the extent that your point here is that members of our profession can independently learn and stay ahead of the curves of the profession and drive it forward without recourse to an HRCI- or SHRM-issued credential, this is a true statement. The question is what you mean by “doing it.” The basis of the controversy you posted about is the mechanism by which members of our profession document their initiative, mastery, professional achievement and continual learning for others to note, recognize, and assign a value to. HRCI-issued credentials have been that agreed mechanism since 1973. As discussed above, considerable effort has been expended to build the credibility of HRCI-issued credentials for this purpose. HRCI has obtained accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) for its PHR, SPHR, GPHR, PHR-CA and SPHR-CA programs. That means that an HRCI-issued U.S. credential has validity beyond HRCI’s saying so. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an individual practitioner to achieve that level of validity in communicating professional standing to others. That is not to say that an HR professional who does not have a credential that has been accredited by the NCCA is not professionally qualified, does not have initiative, has not mastered the Body of Knowledge and continued to progress in the field. Surely hundreds of thousands of current practitioners have those attributes. But an HR professional who does not have an HRCI-issued, NCCA-accredited credential cannot be said to be communicating their mastery, etc. to others in the same way a professional who does have such a credential is doing. To the extent “doing it” is communicating a discrete fact of professional standing, those without an accredited credential cannot be said to be doing so at any scale beyond person-to-person contact. Any given non-certified HR professional may even be BETTER than the average certified professional, or even ALL credentialed professionals. But the audience for that fact would have to have personal knowledge of that professional’s attributes, skills, experiences, etc. in order to make that assessment (that is, to judge him or her). As with most others, I don’t have time to gather the information necessary to assess non-certificants, so my judgment of them is limited to a determination that they are not interested in me knowing anything about them. And I am fine with that. As apparently the non-certificants are as well, since they choose not to avail themselves of the industry standard mechanism for doing so. The fact that our profession has devoted so much time, effort, and money to convince leaders of businesses and other organizations to accept HRCI credentials is irrelevant to these members. That’s O.K. But I am allowed to consider that position and reject it (that is, judge it unfavorably).

    From 1973 to 2014, HRCI-issued credentials have allowed us to communicate our professional standing to others quickly and easily. The SHRM Board has asserted that this is no longer the case and that it will replace all of HRCI’s programs with SHRM programs, in less than a year from the announcement, and without any specifics. This is a problem because SHRM is a trade association, required by its by-laws to avoid actions which discredit or embarrass the profession or the Society, violate the Society Bylaws, or are otherwise not in the best interests of the Society. It is not an accredited certifying agency. It has not stated its intention to become one. SHRM’s role has been to develop cutting edge HR practices, maintain the best-possible legal environment for the practice of the profession and to develop and deliver training programs on these topics. HRCI’s role has been to assess (that is, judge) those members of the profession who have put themselves forward to be tested and judged. I submit that the SHRM Board’s announcement on May 12, 2014, that it will take unto itself the testing and judging role has greatly embarrassed the profession, is not in the best interest of the profession (as viewed by certified professionals) or of the Society (since the Board has taken such a drastic measure without explanation or an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of discussion) and should not stand.

    You went on to say: “All three types of HR pro are really going after the same result. We want to be able to provide the best knowledge and advice to our leaders and employees.” Again, this description of the work motives and ethics of HR professionals who seek HRCI’s accredited credentials or are excited by the SHRM Board’s announcement of not-yet accredited credentials or choose to communicate their professional standing without a credential is probably true. It is also beside the point of the controversy you are seeking to address. This controversy is not about what an individual can do at work. It is about being able to communicate a certain level of mastery and commitment to continual development at a glance, without the audience having to obtain and assess our individual work records. Our profession has until recently agreed that HRCI-issued credentials are how we do that. An HRCI credential has value in the labor market. It may not be a constant value, and that value may not be universally recognized. I submit that there is no credential anywhere that has a constant value and is universally recognized. But in HR, an HRCI credential has enjoyed a pretty good run. Market value is inherently flexible, and it is vulnerable to reckless action. The SHRM Board has acted unilaterally to destroy that value and expects the profession and our outside stakeholders to accept that destruction without comment. Whether the SHRM Board has acted within its authority by doing so is questionable.

    Lastly, you advised your readers to: “Spend the time and energy on ensuring you are comfortable with your course of action instead of worrying about whether someone communicated something the “right” way or not. We’ll all be better HR pros for it.” This is fallacious. First, communicating in the “right” way is a major HR competency. The HR practitioner who speaks without consideration of the audience, message, and potential for misunderstanding is demonstrating something far less than mastery of our profession. For the leadership of our largest trade association to have done so is a significant problem. For them to have done so in the context of asserting that our credentialing body inadequately measures competency is ludicrous. Secondly, the injured parties in this controversy are those who have subscribed to the four-decade-old consensus that HRCI-issued credentials are valuable. This includes the individuals who have sought those credentials, those who accepted those credentials at face value in staffing and selection decisions, and those who have supported the train-certify-re-certify cycle for all of those years. Simply by creating the confusion we are discussing, the SHRM Board has destroyed all of the value stored in those credentials. So, those who have chosen an HRCI-issued credential as their course of action have all the reason in the world to be worried about this issue. You have acknowledged above that this has been a valid course of action and no one should arrive at a negative assessment of anyone who has pursued it. Those who have chosen the other two courses of action (being very excited about SHRM’s nebulous proposal or going it alone) have no vested interest in the course of action that the SHRM Board has devalued. They have no reason to worry. In fact, their chosen courses of action stand to increase in value as the HRCI route loses value.

    So, in all, your post is really intended to discredit those who have obtained HRCI-issued credentials and to tell them to shut up about the disruption the SHRM Board has inflicted on the profession. Your platitudes about all three courses of action being equally valid are worthless, since only one course of action can be adversely effected. You clearly have no real regard for the first course of action. You are willing to speak at conferences so that the members of the profession who have pursued the first course of action can receive re-certification credit, even if you don’t believe the certification has any value. You can likely continue to speak and teach and provide credit under the new SHRM-managed system. Your ox is clearly not being gored here. The second course of action is not yet a reality, and the third course of action is an avoidance of the purpose (demonstrating professional standing to others) of the credential at issue. It would be more intellectually honest for you to insist that your presentations not be used for re-certification credit, since that would be the only way to ensure that members of the audience are not simply there to collect more facts to memorize and regurgitate.

    For the record, I have held an SPHR certificate from HRCI since 2007 and am a graduate of the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics Master of Science in Industrial Relations and Human Resources program. I am a former SHRM member, but I do not believe that my area of practice in federal government health care HR management is sufficiently well-supported by SHRM programs to justify paying dues. I acknowledge that most SHRM products and programs have value, but I assert that the SHRM Board’s attack on the HRCI is wrong and damaging to the profession.

    I look forward to a continued discussion if you would like.

  9. @ Michael- Thank you for your comments. I cannot speak for anyone else but I do see that you have misinterpreted my stance and made some assumptions. I do not find it productive to counter point-by-point, so I will just agree to disagree. I stand by the point of my post- that I prefer not to judge any HR professional who wants to continue with HRCI, who is open to see what the SHRM certification holds, or who decides to continue their learning without a certification. I firmly believe we are all in this to do the best we can for our employees. I wish you nothing but the best as the situation plays out in the impact for you personally.

  10. @Trish – I find it interesting that you refer to the “current” HRCI model but seem to know nothing about it. It has been competency based for some time (most recently updated in the last few years to measure business acumen). It is not a means to test a regurgitation of “facts” but has been developed to differentiate those with practical experience at the exempt level from those who have little to no experience. In addition, the process for developing an exam is extensive, validated, and accredited. It is conducted by a volunteer(no financial skin in the game, only a desire to advance our profession to a respected level) team of currently SPHR certified practitioners. SHRM seeks to reinvent the wheel. They’ve laid out their list of competencies and has failed to demonstrate even one of them in how they went about announcing this new “product” to the world. SHRM’s board isn’t even headed by an HR professional. How can one say that SHRM is credible with a straight face?

  11. @ Linda- Thanks for weighing in. I kindly disagree with your assertion that I do not know about HRCI. I am familiar with it and that it was updated not too long ago. When I made my personal decision not to take it, it was more than 15 years ago and did not look like it does now. That said, I have always supported anyone on my team who chose to be HRCI certified and I respect them for it. I just choose not to judge those who choose another path whether that be people open to what SHRM creates or if they choose to create their own path. All in all, it leads to better HR. Thanks again for your comments.

  12. I just recently started with my HR business and was just unaware about its importance in Human Resource industry. But I agree that its of much importance to recognize HR profession internationally. For some big organization, it is very much a necessary certification to be considered. Thanks for sharing such a great content!

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