Conscious Uncoupling – HR Style

uncoupler-3There are, no doubt, a number of awkward encounters occurring in the elevators, hallways and at the vending machine stations at 1800 Duke Street in Alexandria, VA.  For those unfamiliar, that’s the HQ address of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  Currently, but one can only guess for how much longer, the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) also resides in the building – cubicles of HRCI employees are cheek to jowl with SHRM staffers. Based on the events of the last 10 days, I doubt there’s been much “hey Tammy…wanna grab a drink after work tonight?” friendly banter going on across the carpeted aisles.

We have been in a tsunami of drama with a general hubbub of angst, uncertainty, veiled accusations and guessing games churning amongst HR professionals.  While the outside world could care less, those of use who are either SHRM members, certified HR professionals, interested parties or any combination of the three have been consumed with this mess.

Since it’s poorly planned announcement last Monday, SHRM has found itself in damage control mode; CEO Hank Jackson and Board President Bette Francis have been, justifiably so, trotted out to release statements and stories and blog posts.   And they are not alone; HRCI’s Board Chair Clarissa Peterson released a post yesterday titled “Let’s Be Clear.” 

Among the statements made in that HRCI post, came this: “May 19 (Yesterday): A SHRM executive notified HRCI that it would be excluded from the SHRM Annual Conference – an event the Institute has participated in for years.”

That one gave me pause. I want an answer to that one.


I was invited to participate in a Certification Q & A webinar/press call today with Bette Francis, SHRM’s Board Chair, and SHRM CEO Hank Jackson. Also on the line were Bob Carr, SVP for Membership, Marketing and External Affairs and making his SHRM debut Andrew Morton, SHRM’s new Director of Social Engagement.  He has been fortunate enough to start a new position for which he will always have the best “1st day on a job” story.  He started on Duke Street last Monday – also known as  the day when all the crap hit the fan.

So what were some highlights from the call?  Not many; seemed like some canned PR talking points including, from Hank, “My job is to ensure a smooth transition.  We wanted to make sure our partners had plenty of time.”

As learned on the call, SHRM believes that this new competency based exam/certification will better meet the needs of employers as they look to hire HR professionals and Jackson cited a major difference between the HRCI version and the “yet-to-be-named” SHRM version.  In his view, the current certifications validate knowledge where someone can “have read a book and can then regurgitate information.  The new certification will demonstrate you can apply that knowledge appropriately.”

(That, of all that was said, ticked me off the most. How SHRM, as our professional organization, could go from holding up and promoting the PHR/SPHR.GPHR certifications as a professional mark of distinction and then, within a few short weeks, categorize these same certifications as nothing but knowledge-spouting memorization implies of sour grapes and bad taste).

Although all involved stayed on their best behavior Hank did state “I would work with HRCI if they would agree to add competencies to the certification” and he further went on to continue down the path of refuting HRCI’s assertion that they were left out of the loop.

There’s still a lot to be rolled out, clarified and shared.  It’s been promised that more details will be unveiled (including the mysterious name!) at the SHRM Annual Conference in a month.

Oh – and no one answered my question about HRCI saying that it would be excluded from the SHRM Annual Conference moving forward. (I submitted the question twice).


You know…when Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin consciously uncoupled they added a new phrase to our pop culture lexicon.  As normal people everywhere collectively scratched their heads, Gwyneth offered up a definition from Dr. Habib Sadeghi and his wife, Dr. Sherry Sami:

“conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation

and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify

a negative internal object that needed healing.”   

I hit the google. All the new-agey wtf mumbo-jumbo I found online about conscious uncoupling appears to rest on the point that whatever occurs that leads to the dissolution of a relationship is neither the fault of one person/one-party nor the other person/party. Each person/party brings power, dynamics and a pattern of behavior that can contribute to the downfall of the relationship.

Gwyneth allegedly decided to approach the divorce with this method for the sake of Apple and Moses (the kids). It’s unclear if she’s going to memorialize it with any sort of separation ritual; burning her wedding dress or swapping out one macrobiotic diet for another. No doubt she’s got some fabulously meaningful activities in mind to assist Apple and Moses with this transition.

At this stage I would say Gwyneth gave a bit more thought to her uncoupling than SHRM did to the uncoupling from HRCI. 


  1. Robin Liggett says:

    I am losing my faith in SHRM. This appears to be all about money and who can make it. Color me very disappointed.

    • John Underwood says:

      The money thing keeps creeping into the picture for me, too. The whole bit of conflict from last year was about board members and spouses flying first class on “business” (vacations)… improper use of funds etc… My first impression about SHRM taking the certification process to themselves was that it was about another potential income stream… Makes one wonder for sure. My SPHR was a difficult thing to accomplish and to be told HRCI is weak… suggests the same of me. Ticks me off…

  2. Ron says:

    Usually agree with Robin’s articles and this is no exception.

  3. caracarroll says:

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop Robin!

  4. Kelly O says:

    I’ve been reading HR blogs and following the profession for years now, working toward joining your ranks at some point in the future. I’ve read with great interest the SHRM Members for Transparency and I’m wondering how transparent the response to this will be. I know there are always three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth – but judging from the slapdash way this appears to have been put together, and the timeline presented by HRCI, it just seems a bit… curious.

    On the outside this appears to be flavored very strongly with sour grapes and a desire to get a finger in the income pie for certification. SHRM hasn’t really done anything yet to make me not believe that.

  5. Sari Schwartz says:

    Thank you for this insightful and relevant post. The whole situation is particularly troubling for me because I’m scheduled to take the PHR exam at the end of June. I’m an experienced HR professional from Canada, having relocated to the US in 2013 and am trying to get my career on track in a new country. If I understand this correctly, if I pass my PHR exam (with 25 years of HR experience), I will be then considered “entry level” in the eyes of SHRM’s competency based system, which frankly, stings. Right now I’ll continue with my plan to write the exam, hopefully pass, and then take it from there. I’m not sure SHRM will have my membership dollars in the future, but I’m not sure how the certification credits will be acquired in this new paradigm. I guess it’s a wait and see.

  6. H R D says:

    Surely the folks at SHRM have been around long enough to know that everybody was going to have an (uninformed (mostly)) opinion. Other than your participation on a phone conference, I have seen no other opinions based on any conversations with any of the decision-makers at SHRM. Look, if someone is a SHRM member and is violently opposed to the decision or the way it went down, push to have the people fired who made the decision and the announcement. Or give them a fist full of your emotions and opinions. But please don’t drag this out and make it a Flight 370 story. Whatever their method or their motive, they were right: the HRCI Certification is weak, and it makes HR professionals look weak when compared to, say, a CPA. Agree that it should have been done a long time ago, but better late than never. 100 years from now, and probably much sooner, nobody is going to care that this happened or how it happened. It is the right thing. Let’s move on.

    • ayanna313 says:

      I fail to understand how you can say a certification held by 140,000 professionals, for over 20 years, and asked for by dozens of companies in practically every HR job description is deemed “weak”. And your Flight 370 quip is in poor taste given the lack of closure for the families. It’s easy for people without the cert and a decent career to crap on those of us who have it or pursue it.

    • Carla McCabe says:

      Are you certified? If so, backup your comments about HRCI certification being weak. I strongly disagree!

    • dka says:

      That’s a load of crap. You’re probably not certified because if you were, you wouldn’t say the HRCI cert is weak. It’s a difficult exam only passable with years of HR experience and intense study.

    • Rob says:

      That’s an interesting perspective, given one of the complaints about the SPHR is that it only has a 48% pass rate. I also find your reference to CPAs interesting; I just checked the AICPA Board of directors and fournd that only3 of the 24 members are not CPAs – 2 are “public members” and the other is the Staff Liaison. SHRM has 13 board members only 5 of whom are HRCI certified – interestingly there are 3 CPAs. This is something the SHRM Members for Transparency rallied about a couple of years ago – perhaps it is time to renergize that organization.

    • Your term describing HRCI certification as weak probably means that do not hold any of the HRCI Certification’s at all, “HRD.” Also, the fact that you are hiding behind an acronym instead of your real name is a cop out. Get some “skin in the game” and maybe someone will care about your opinion. BTW: SHRM had no problem taking our $$$ for their Learning System all these years to pass the HRCI exam. Maybe they should refund those $$$ to members like me who paid it if they think the credential is inferior to what they are now proposing?

  7. Lyala L Walters says:

    Robin you are on point. I am so glad I just spent a lot of $$$ on the learning system, classes and exam fee for something that may end up being useless. Let’s hope they can all get their ducks in a row and be a cohesive group for our profession.

  8. sbrownehr says:

    Robin – Thanks for posting about about this. This is a personal issue for certified HR professionals no doubt about that. As a member of the MAC (Membership Advisory Council) for SHRM (and an SPHR myself) , I’ve been in contact more after the announcement came. I think in the end people need to be informed so they can make decisions as to how they’re going to proceed with both HRCI and SHRM.

    I’ve been trying to have one-on-one conversations with people to fill in context so that people can (1) be heard and express their concerns and confusion and (2) hear from someone who was there when the decision happened.

    I know this is emotional and will continue to be. It’s encouraging that people are passionate about their credential and their profession. It hurts when it seems that in trying to communicate to members, the message was thought of first and the impact on how members would respond wasn’t.

    However, I think we can move through this transition to see what will come of both bodies. I’m still engaged and supportive of HR and it’s good folks. I’d encourage people to connect with someone who can talk about this because I find that context always helps. Then people can make the decisions they feel they need to.

    This is going to be an evolving situation on all fronts. I know that I will be actively connected to see what’s coming and how we move forward.

  9. Grey says:

    Wow. I can’t believe SHRM CEO Jackson even insinuated that the Institute’s exams were not competency based. As the person who directed development of the SHPR, PHR, and the CA Certification for 6.5 years, I can correctly say this is the furthest thing from the truth. This is very troublesome.

    • Jim says:

      Grey, thanks for that first-person perspective. I am disturbed by the lengths to which Mr. Jackson is going to devalue the certifications that until only recently, SHRM touted as essential. When he says, “current certifications validate knowledge — that you have read a book and can regurgitate that knowledge” he clearly demonstrates that he is not familiar with the content or structure of HRCI’s examinations.

    • Linda Haft, CCP, SPHR says:

      Grey – it’s wonderful to see that you chimed in! As a member of your team for all of those years, I will reiterate your sentiment. We’ve worked hard to ensure that the exams ARE competency based and focused on application instead of regurgitation of “facts”.

  10. AR_HRCom says:

    So frustrating indeed! My thoughts shared on my blog.

  11. Shelley says:

    What surprised me by the announcement by SHRM is how unfitting the communication seemed in light of the profession the organization represents.

  12. Kelli says:

    Jackson cited a major difference between the HRCI version and the “yet-to-be-named” SHRM version. In his view, the current certifications validate knowledge where someone can “have read a book and can then regurgitate information. The new certification will demonstrate you can apply that knowledge appropriately.”

    Really? Based upon this description, a college degree doesn’t really validate anything but knowledge, so why bother? I’m anxious to see how one will be able to “demonstrate” “appropriate” application of the knowledge to SHRM. Will it be like getting certified for CPR, where someone watches what you do and grades it?

    Organizations have finally come to the point where they value & respect these designations and certifications. Wonder how long it will take for any new certifications to gain traction? Especially from an organization who says the last certification they championed really isn’t worthwhile.

  13. hrmargo says:

    I agree with Steve Browne. You made some very compelling points. I feel sorry for the people who made negative comments here. I don’t think they understood the context. As a blogger, you have a right to your own opinion. Brava, Robin, Brava!

  14. Robin Schooling says:

    Thanks to all for chiming in; we all are pretty passionate on this topic. As the dust settles there are a few things that, to me, remain the most troublesome: (1) SHRM did a piss poor job of communicating the change. In addition they had THREE YEARS to inform us of their intent with the competency model and opted to not even do that (2) the denigration of the validity of the HRCI certifications is patently absurd. Hank made the 1st ‘announcement’ on 5/12 when in essence he started the now-understood-story of “we at SHRM think HRCI certification has no value.” HOWEVER.. .up until that moment (i.e. on 5/11) SHRM chapters and state councils were encouraged, admonished and forced to not only track the number of HRCI certified members/attendees at conferences but also required to promote certification. So…within a seemingly 24 hour period we went from being told “this is what we stand behind cuz it’s valuable and necessary” to “this is crap and we don’t think it’s much more than book spouting.” SO WHICH IS/WAS IT?

    I’ve had my issues/disagreements with HRCI over the years (from a service and pre-approved for credit standpoint as an event organizer); the dueling PR spin on this is fascinating – fascinating even as it leaves 140,000 certified HR pros in the dust of the netherworld.

    Oh… and I will miss that HRCI Hidewaway with the free snacks and massages at the SHRM Annual Conference…

  15. Julia Mendez says:

    Thanks for the post, Robin. I am confused. Does it sound like for those of us who have PHR credentials that we can continue to go to HR-related webinars and conferences and renew our PHR AND also get credit towards this new SHRM credential? That’s where I am confused.

    • Robin Schooling says:

      Julia – as of yet no details have emerged on how the new (as-yet-to-be-named) #shrmccert will award recertification credits or how any of it will be structured. Some event planners will, no doubt, for at least the initial stages, seek to have content approved to meet both HRCI recertification credits/approval AND whatever the #shrmcert thingie will be. Now, many people forget, you have ALWAYS been able to submit pertinent content to HRCI for your recertification credit; it did not have to be pre-approved; as long as it met the Body of Knowledge HRCI would review and (more than likely) approve it.

  16. SHRM wants us to prove that we can practice what we preach with their new yet-to-be-named “thingie”, as Robin so aptly describes it. In our profession, we are supposed to be one of the best agents of change in our respective organizations. The way this was handled, or rather not handled, SHRM has not applied the knowledge they (should have) learned.

  17. Kevin Boswell says:

    HRD (WANNA-BE) Buzz off! Clearly – you’ve not studied for the SPHR and haven’t a clue as to it’s validity. I find it entertaining at best SHRM is now saying they have a “new, competency based” certification”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in their own certification handbook, they describe the SPHR exam as being more “putting knowledge into action. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck… It’s a Duck!

    Thank you for your blog, Robin. It’s SPOT ON!!!!

  18. Kevin Boswell says:

    and please excuse my failure to proofread… I may or may not have been a little fired up!!! 🙂

  19. Rob Orr, SPHR, MHCS says:

    So the question becomes, “What are we, the certified, going to do about this?” Do we have the capacity to effect change in OUR organization and what can we learn from our devoted colleagues efforts with the SHRM Members for Transparency group? My thoughts are about boycotting the new SHRM certifications, but how do we mobilize a critical mass that will impact the organization? What are your thoughts?

    • Linda Haft, CCP, SPHR says:

      It behooves every member of SHRM to read the transparency report. I, for one (and there are many others who share this feeling), will probably not renew my SHRM membership this year. There is no ROI for the $185 in annual dues. I get most of my information from other sites in order to stay current. I’ve been dismayed at just how out of touch SHRM has been with it’s membership base these last few years. And, for all their talk about competencies, SHRM certainly has failed to demonstrate that they can live up to them.

  20. Cathy SPHR, PMP says:

    I was hoping the SHRM BOD would hear to the outcry of their members and find some way to resolve this new certification issue. They proved at the conference they are continuing with amateur hour and will not listen. For all of you who have worked to achieve your current credential and want to stop this devaluation of your efforts and those of you who want to be part of a society that retains its credibility the time to act is NOW. The SHRM BOD needs to go. This means we have to work to remove them and replace them with a group who is competent enough to work with HRCI to resolve this.

    I am not an attorney, nor have I ever tried to change the bylaws of an organization or fire the whole BOD. However, within the membership we do have that capability. The following URL is a link to SHRMs bylaws.

    We need past BOD members, regional, state and local councils and chapters to activate their membership. From what I understand, if 10 percent of the membership write in calling for a Special Meeting we can get a chance at changing SHRMs bylaws and allowing the membership, not the BOD to decide who stays on the BOD.

    From what I have read in various posts there are a lot of regional, state and local SHRM leaders more than qualified to take over for the current BOD. I am guessing they likely have access to resources that can write up a new set of bylaws and help us figure out how to oust the current team that is taking us down this destructive path. At the very least we could take a resounding vote of NO Confidence.

    Bottom line if you do not like where things are going, you can do something about it. How many no confidence vote or emails calling for the firing of the entire SHRM BOD will it take, before the national media picks up the story? Or, better yet, the BOD begins to listen.

    What you can do:

    1. Look at the contact pages listed below to find your local regional/state and local chapters contact info.

    2. Send them an email titled: Member # (Your SHRM member number) requests special meeting to Fire SHRM BOD

    3. In the body of the email, let them know you believe the dual certification is a mistake, and that the current SHRM board has demonstrated a complete lack of competence and needs to be fired. Ask them how to help you make it happen. Be sure to Include your full name and contact info in body of message.

    Pacific Region Contacts

    North Central Region Contacts

    South Central Region Contacts

    South East Region Contacts

    North East Region Contacts

  21. Linda Haft, CCP, SPHR says:

    I would strongly urge readers of this post to visit HRCI Voices on LinkedIn. Mr. Losey (former SHRM CEO) has chimed in on several occasions including what we, as certificants should/could be doing). Please note that SHRM has decided to censor Mr. Losey’s comments on other boards.

    Regarding the HRCI exams – they test application, not memorized material. They are meant to differentiate those with exempt level experience from those who are primarily in entry level, tactical roles. The exams are validated after a lengthy process. The writers/reviewers are senior level HR practitioners (SPHR certified) who are volunteers with a passion to serve and promote the HR profession.

Leave a Reply