SHRM All Things Work

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., on SHRM’s 75th Anniversary

Episode Summary

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) launches its 75th Anniversary year, SHRM now counts more than 323,000 members, and plans to welcome more than 18,000 guests to Las Vegas in June for the SHRM23 Annual Conference. In this episode of All Things Work, host Tony Lee speaks with SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, on the plans for commemorating the anniversary, reflection on SHRM’s key accomplishments, and his goals for the organization’s future.

Episode Notes

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) launches its 75th Anniversary year, SHRM now counts more than 323,000 members and plans to welcome more than 18,000 guests to Las Vegas in June for the SHRM23 Annual Conference. In this episode of All Things Work, host Tony Lee speaks with SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, on plans for commemorating the anniversary, SHRM’s key accomplishments, and Taylor's goals for the organization’s future.

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This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by Upwork

Episode Transcription


This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by Upwork. Upwork is the world's work marketplace. Access the top 1% of talent on a full-service enterprise platform, customized to meet your needs. Upwork, this is how enterprise companies work now.

Tony Lee:

Welcome to a very special edition of All Things Work, a podcast from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thank you for joining us. All Things Work is an audio adventure where we talk with thought leaders and taste makers to bring you an insider's perspective on all things work. Today, we welcome SHRM President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor Jr. as SHRM launches its 75th anniversary year. As an organization, SHRM now counts more than 323,000 members, plus an additional 1,280 members of the SHRM Executive Network. In June, the SHRM '23 annual conference is expected to welcome more than 18,000 guests to Las Vegas for a gathering that will be more robust than any of SHRM's previous annual conferences. It's shaping up to be a very exciting 75th anniversary year. Johnny, welcome to All Things Work.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Well, it's so good to be here with you, Tony.

Tony Lee:

So SHRM is 75, how is the organization commemorating the anniversary?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Gosh, how aren't we doing it, right? As I said with the team, we sat down in the third quarter of 2022 and I was just clear. I said, we've got four or five months at that point before we actually opened 2023, January 1st, and I told the marketing team, the branding team, the executive team, everyone, let's not let anyone forget that this is our 75th anniversary because it's such a significant milestone for an organization like ours. Frankly, it's this milestone for any organization, but especially given the work that we've done in transforming the organization. Couple of things we specifically are going to do, it starts with our annual conference. We are going to have the most differentiated annual conference that we've ever had in our history. We put aside a nice sum of money to make sure that we could fund any special ideas, speakers, entertainers.

As you've no doubt learned, we announced Janet Jackson, which would be the most expensive and biggest name that we've ever had, entertain the SHRM crowd. And it's our event and so she was doing a national tour, we are her only private date, so she'll be coming off of the road to do the full show for SHRM. So very excited about that. In honor of SHRM's 75th anniversary, anyone who purchases something at the SHRM store, we're going to add a 75 cent donation to the SHRM Foundation. So in addition to just what you're doing in the normal course of business, we are going to make sure that 75 cents goes to the SHRM Foundation for all transactions.

We're also have a beautiful pin that I'm so proud of. It was designed, I learned last night, in house. We believe that will become a keepsake in the future for SHRM members, those who are currently, and those are who to come because it's beautifully designed and we're going to continue to find ways to go into communities that are non-HR communities and let them understand not only the import and the criticality of the work that we do, but that SHRM, the organization, is actually going to change and impact lives. It's nice to have done what we've done for 74 years, but we're looking forward as we talk about driving change into the future.

Tony Lee:

Yeah, well, SHRM has evolved pretty significantly through the years. So what are some of the key accomplishments you think of when you consider SHRM's history?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Wow. If you mentioned at the outset some 323,000 members, actually this morning we're at 324,621 or so, we've actually broken all of the barriers. I consider that huge and it's not just for the sake of being a large organization, but when you can amass that volume of people, it says what you do matter. It says for SHRM that what we're offering people they value because they have to pay for it, and we charge a little more than we've had in times past, so we're actually delivering a value to members more than just belonging to the group. They're getting something out of it, we're helping improve their HR practice.

So when I think about a great accomplishment, when you talk to our members increasingly, including non-HR members, non-HR professionals who are members of SHRM say, I'm not a member of the profession, but I joined because you are a go-to organization from a content standpoint. Everyone speaks to the high-quality content that we either create or curate and so that helps and equips people to do their job. I'm most proud of what we've done in short to elevate the practice of HR.

The other thing I'm really proud of is certification work. Like we have grown a certification business for those of us who knew for years, we had a partnership with the HR CI, Human Resource Certification Institute. And then seven, eight years ago, the decision was made to separate and for SHRM to launch its own certification, the SHRM-CP and the SHRM-SCP. It's amazing that at this point, just five or six years into this, we have blown it out and we are now the leading HR certification in the country and indeed the world. So that's very cool as well.

We also launched something that may not appear to be such a direct HR product, but my God was it, and that is the People Manager Qualification. What we were hearing was that HR professionals were saying 30, 35% of my work is spent cleaning up bad people management decisions and actions. And so it took us away from doing the mission-critical value add strategic work that many of us want to engage in. We'd find ourselves walking in and having to do employee relations investigations and breaking up disputes amongst employees and being an arbitrator, we were not doing the work. That's great work, but it wasn't the work that our business leaders thought was value add and strategic. So we created, for the first time on ever, our own product which is outside of HR. It wasn't a product for HR professionals, it was a product for everyone engaged in people management. And the PMQ has really taken off, SHRM research tells us that 75% of US workers agree that managers, not HR, set the tone of workplace culture and that over 60% of workers who leave a job do so because of their people managers.

So the idea that we said, yes, we can make great HR, you can have the greatest HR function within your organization, but at the end of the day, if the people managers don't know how to do what they're doing well, you will have high turnover, high dissatisfaction, high lawsuits, et cetera.

And then finally, when you think about something that I'm very proud of, we led the conversation around bringing parody to physical health and mental health. We have forever ever focused on people's physical health. Smoking cessation programs, we've funded gym memberships and Fitbits, and everything that we do to focus on people's physical health, we weren't as committed to and as focused on people's mental health and our employee's mental health is really the issue. There's no way they're to break them apart, in fact. They're just a part of each other, the physical and the mental. And so SHRM has taken the lead on de-stigmatizing mental health, prioritizing mental wellness in the workplace, such that we are treating and managing our entire human, not just their physical health. So that makes me very happy that it's a priority in 2022, and it's really a super priority in 2023 and beyond.

Tony Lee:

Yeah, and don't forget to mention you are one of the leaders in terms of expanding our presence on Capitol Hill and making a difference in legislation. Do you want to talk about how important that's been?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Listen, I remembered when I first joined SHRM, it wasn't that SHRM wasn't involved in policy, but there were a lot of organizations in DC who felt that it was their space to lead and direct workplace policy. And these are wonderful organizations, there's nothing wrong with it. The US Chamber of Commerce, BRT, the Business Round Table, NAM, the National Association of Manufacturers, even HRPA, Human Resource Policy Association, and SHRM was largely charged with implementing the policy once those policies became law or were made regulations. One of the things we committed to, and I'm a lawyer by training as you know, I'm just like, wait a minute, it's a little backwards here that HR is not involved in the development of policy. Instead, we're just charged with implementing the policies that the lawyers and these other folks come up with. So we decided with a lot of intentionality six years ago that what we would do is dig in even more deeply than we had in times past around advocacy, around getting globally influence in policy.

And so now we have 19,000 members of our A team, and that's an advocacy team, is what that A stands for. These are SHRM volunteers in every State of the Union, and now in Dubai as well as in India, whose job is to advocate and to influence work and workplace policy. And we've done a great job now. So focusing on everything from underrepresented workers and the diversity, equity inclusion work, to untapped pools of talent. What we can do to remove the barriers for those who are differently abled or who have experience with the criminal justice system. We're advocating for equal pay, for equal work, and in other words, all of this legislation that's been around for years, we are now moving the needle so that we continue to focus on ensuring that we have a compliant, but a manageable and business-friendly legislative environment for the workplace.

And that's been SHRM's drive. What I'm most so proud of is that the temptation when you do this work is to get drawn into politics and I remember so vividly the day I was riding to the White House to accept my appointment to the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board when President Trump was in an office. And I struggled with, do I want to do this? Do I not want to do it? Is this going to put SHRM into a position where it appears that we're supporting one administration over the other? And we then came up with the tagline, sitting in the car riding to the White House, that SHRM would forever be about policy, not politics. Irrespective of whether they came from the left, the right, the libertarian, the independent, but we were going to focus on good policy and that would keep us above the political fray in Washington DC. And it has served us well because under the last two administrations, the Trump administration and the Biden administration, we have been seen as a go-to independent credible source on all things work.

Tony Lee:

It's a great evolution. And speaking of evolution, I mean the role of HR itself has evolved pretty dramatically, probably more so in the last few years than the 70 years before that, thanks to the pandemic. So has that been a primary driver of change or are there other factors that have come into play?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Listen, we were changing, no question. The workplace given ultra-low on unemployment and low participation rates and low birth rates, et cetera, those were changing the workforce. But nothing in the workplace, nothing impacted it more than the pandemic. You think about it, and I remember this day, it will go down in infamy Friday the 13th, March 13th, 2020. That was the day when essentially every office worker, the desk workers of America, 40 plus percent of the US workforce had to go home to work, overnight. That Friday it was like, don't come back, when you leave your computers, take whatever you have, but because of the pandemic, we're going to have to change the way we work. We're going to redefine what the workplace is and all of the attendant workplace rules. And it just forced us to revisit HR.

And that of course, gave SHRM an opportunity. We were luckily well positioned being the agile workforce and flexible workforce that we had assembled here in our culture within SHRM walls. It gave us an opportunity to be leaders so that we could mobilize. We had annual conferences, as you know, in person and we had to figure out how do you deliver high-quality content fully, remotely? And so on a dime, we were convening 40, 50,000 people to help our employees, as well as our non-HR leaders, navigate what no one knew how to navigate. It was new to everyone, what was the COVID pandemic, and it was literally just in time. Every day things were shifting and then we went through the mask wars and then we went through the vaccination wars.

I mean, in other words, we had the opportunity, and luckily we were positioned to do this, we were, as I like to say, we were built for this. And it gave such the opportunity for HR the profession and SHRM the organization to showcase the criticality of the work that we do. Anecdotally, I was talking with the Fortune 25 CEO in the financial services space and he said something to me, he said, as a result of the pandemic, I've spoken more with my CHRO in the last eight weeks than I had in the prior eight years. And I don't mean literally, he'd say hi and bye, but I mean substantive strategic, I need you conversations, was his point. And so the pandemic gave us the opportunity to show up and we did as a profession and we did as SHRM.

Tony Lee:

Yeah, it's been an amazing transformation. But another piece of that, finding and retaining talent. I mean, we've had talent shortages in the years past, no question, but it seems to have just risen to a level like never before. Do you think talent management is getting the attention it should be getting?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Listen, it is without a doubt top of mind when I meet with CEOs and I spend as much time with CEOs, non-HR folks, as I do with HR members, HR professionals. It's getting the attention partially because as one CEO said to me, I don't have a problem accessing financial capital, the problem is human capital. It was really a profound statement when you hear someone saying, the world is filled with cash, I can find cash. In fact, we joke and say pre-interest rate increases, money was cheap and they were funding bad ideas. So accessing financial capital was not the problem. What we've seen over the last five, seven years is an inability for organizations to put that financial capital to work because they can't find people to grow their services, build new product, innovate, et cetera.

So yes, the industry has said and given enough attention, now they get that we have a talent problem. They don't know exactly how to solve for it and most of them though, which is really profound to me, is they fully now appreciate, based upon SHRM research, that this problem is not going to go away anytime soon. The reality is the American, and I'm talking specifically in the US, we could talk globally as well because all of the globe is aging, but one of the things that happened in America over the last two decades is that Americans stopped having children at the rate necessary to replenish our workforce. And at the same time, going into a knowledge-based economy, we needed more workers than we needed in the past. So we have this real problem. There's more demand for workers than we have given them. And 2020, the year of the pandemic, the American birth rate dropped a whopping 4%. 4% fewer people and it had been on decline since 2000. So now you take a 4% further drop.

Luckily, we saw a little bit of a rebound in 2021, about 50,000 more babies were born in 2021 than 2020. But remember, 2020 was such a low number. People didn't want to get pregnant and go into hospitals because there were no hospital beds during COVID, et cetera. So the real problem is we have a shortage, and this shortage, even with a softening economy, will not easily reverse. We are at 10.2, 10.3 million open jobs in America and only 5 million people or so looking for jobs. So we do have a big problem and what that has led to is all of the things that we know, the great resignation, major turnover, quiet quitting. Quiet quitting is in part people are working harder than they want to and it's because, at least in part, we have too few people doing the work.

So you're putting the work, the burden of the work, on a smaller population of people which means they must work harder. So there's a lot going on and then that all has led to wage inflation because the reality is people can demand more in this environment. There are fewer people, it's supply, demand, right? Fewer people therefore the cost and the rate that those people can demand is higher. You put all of that together, and to answer your question, there's no shortage of conversation, focus, attention to this because it has now become a business problem, like a big business problem.

I don't know if you've experienced it. Now, you go into restaurants, I had this the other night Tony, walk in and they can't seat you for 20, 30 minutes. And you're looking saying, why? I see open tables. Well, the issue is not capacity, they have the tables to sit you at. They don't have the workers to serve those tables. One of the chefs came out of the restaurant I visited recently and he said, I'm down four chefs in the back. So even if I had servers, my output in my kitchen is compromised because we don't have enough chefs in the back. So this has become a real problem, not just in tech industry and in the big jobs that we all hear about, it's the small businesses, small and medium-sized businesses that power America.

Tony Lee:

And I'm so glad you brought that up because SHRM, as you know very well, represents big companies and a lot of very small companies and HR departments of one. Do you think the practice of HR differs greatly between the two? Or is this type of topic what unites them all?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

The fundamentals are the same, right? Finding people, keeping people, promoting people, paying people. So the fundamentals of HR are the same. The availability of resources is what distinguishes small and medium-sized employers from the big ones. The big ones are staffed, have resources to get staff outside, can buy the best technologies, and therefore they can operate at a different level. And the smaller companies have to do more with less because they don't have the advantages of all of that.

But fundamentally, every company that I've spoken with, and in some ways may be worse, this war for talent has affected smaller and medium-sized companies precisely because they don't have five people in line to do a job. They're built with one person. One person quits, they have a gaping hole in their capacity to do what they do with the service that they deliver or product that they build. Whereas the major companies say, oh, I'm going to miss Johnny, but there are eight more people standing in line and do Johnny's job and because of our brand, there are 8,000 more Johnny's wanting to come work at Apple versus a small company somewhere.

So the challenges are the same in the sense that the work is the work. The real problem is you just don't have access to the tools and the money necessary to compete. So the challenges for small and medium-size enterprises, it's really bad as a result of all of this that's occurred over the last four or five years.

Tony Lee:

So as we wrap this up, our 75th anniversary now, when you think about our 80th anniversary, what do you want to achieve between now and then? What's next?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

This will probably surprise you, I think we have some nice market dominance. We're the largest HR professional association in the world. Our next two largest competitors, out of the UK and out of Canada, combined are smaller than we are. So it's really not about membership growth in the traditional sense. Obviously, we want to grow and continue to provide great resources to more HR professionals, what I want to see us do is grow outside of the profession in addition to our membership. Make sure no one hears me, I'm not going away from our core, but HR accountables, CEOs, politicians, people who are going to impact the world of work need to have a better understanding of what SHRM does.

So over the next five years, in short, we're going to be very intentional about spreading the gospel, if you will, because HR people know who we are. We've got to make sure that everyone else does and everyone sees the value in a SHRM because at the end of the day, unless your trust fund baby or extremely lucky, you are going to have to work. And we need to be the organization that everyone thinks of when they have questions around work, workers, and the workplace.

Tony Lee:

That's great. Well, that is going to do it for today's episode of All Things Work. A big thank you to Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. for sharing his insights into the future of HR and the future of SHRM. Before we get out of here, I want to encourage everyone to follow All Things Work wherever you listen to your podcast. And listener reviews have a real impact on a podcast visibility so if you enjoyed today's episode, please take a moment to leave a review and help others find the show. Finally, you can find all of our episodes on our website at Thanks for listening and we'll catch you next time on All Things Work.


This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by Upwork. Upwork connects businesses with proven talent to cover any and every need. With their proprietary matching technology, you can quickly pull highly qualified talent from their community of independent professionals and agencies, or have their team help you do it. Upwork helps you find the perfect fit for every need, every time. Hire the best with the world's work marketplace. Upwork is how enterprise companies work now.