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Shaping SHRM’s political agenda

4 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in Smartbrief on Workforce — tracks feedback from managers and HR practitioners. We run the poll question each Wednesday in our e-newsletter and feature analysis from SmartBrief on Workforce Senior Editor Mary Ellen Slayter on this blog.

Last week’s poll question: How well do you feel the Society for Human Resource Management represents your interests on Capitol Hill?

  • No opinion, 37%
  • Not particularly well, 27%
  • Their activities have a negative impact on HR, 15%
  • Moderately well, 11%
  • Very well, 10%

SHRM has a tough job. It’s pretty difficult for such a large umbrella organization that represents so many different “tribes”  of HR workers to make everyone happy. After all, recruiters bring a very different perspective to the table than say, benefits managers. (The latter is far less likely to greet you with a fist bump, for one thing.) And political persuasion is as likely to influence your take on issues like health care, sick leave and unions as your job title, in my experience speaking with HR professionals over the past 10 years.

But the large “no opinion” vote among my readers, many of whom are SHRM members, is perplexing. I suspect that it’s because many HR professionals and managers don’t have a clear sense of the group’s legislative agenda. It’s a problem that SHRM is working to address, via high-profile visits to Capitol Hill (like last month’s testimony on the proposed sick leave bill by Chief Operating Officer China Miner Gorman), and various outreach activities.

I asked Bill Maroni, chief external affairs officer for SHRM, what he thought about the results of this (obviously unscientific) poll. His thoughtful response:

It’s not surprising that your readers are less aware of SHRM’s activities on Capitol Hill than the average SHRM member is. I suspect if you had polled SHRM members, you would have seen different results.

SHRM is not your typical Washington, D.C.-based trade association, which exist primarily to protect the interests of big corporations, industries or organizations in the public policy/advocacy arena. We are a professional membership society made up of 250,000 individual HR practitioners. The positions we take to Capitol Hill are driven by our diverse membership base.

As an individual membership society, our members join SHRM for a variety of professional and job-specific reasons, most notably career development and education, technical support, networking and certification opportunities, as well as to be on top of the latest trends and research in HR. Additionally, many members join SHRM to lobby or advocate on Capitol Hill. We are very fortunate to have a core group of passionate members who care deeply about public policy. In March, these HR professionals — about 700 SHRM members — came to Washington at the height of the recession to voice their concerns about HR-related public policy matters. In the first six months of 2009, SHRM members have sent about 75,000 letters to their representatives on Capitol Hill on a variety of workplace and workforce issues.

For these reasons, SHRM historically has worked behind the scenes to influence public policy, but this is starting to change. We know that right now most of our efforts are not likely to be widely visible because we are concentrating our resources on communicating directly with legislators and policy-makers — and keeping SHRM members informed of policy developments. We know that we don’t have the resources to target a broader audience of people who may have a general interest in any number of workplace issues — some of which we may or may not take a position on, or which we may support or oppose. We still serve as an “expert witness” or objective resource, and are sought out by congressional committees and staff to provide very specific information to a very specific (and usually small) group of legislators and policymakers. This has benefited us greatly because like our membership base, we truly are bipartisan.

As we broaden our footprint in Washington and move to become more active in the advocacy space, we look to our members for guidance and support. I suspect your readers will be seeing more of SHRM and hearing about our positions in the coming years.

What advice do you have for SHRM leaders as they work to craft and promote the group’s legislative agenda?

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