The Future of HR: A Q&A with Henry G. Jackson

Retiring SHRM CEO Henry G. Jackson looks back on his legacy and forward to the future of HR.

Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), will soon retire after serving since 2010 as the Society’s sixth CEO. During his tenure, the world’s largest HR association grew to a record 289,000 members, launched SHRM competency-based certification exams and created the SHRM Competency Model, which supports practitioners in their professional development and helps organizations identify strong HR leaders.

Jackson recently spoke to HR Magazine about his tenure at the association and his plans for the future.

What does HR need to do better?

The profession is in a great place. Today, people issues are the main catalyst for conversations in business, government and even the larger society. But one thing we can do better is make sure everyone truly understands that good HR is the central driver of organizational success. I think that most enlightened CEOs and business leaders know this. But we need to make sure HR’s role is widely known to all, because that is how we will advance the profession.

What was your most difficult undertaking at SHRM?

Identifying the right professional standards for SHRM’s competency-based certifications, which ensure that all HR practitioners—not just those at the very top—are meeting the highest criteria for leadership in the business community. The fact that, to date, more than 100,000 individuals have earned their SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) or SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) credential is proof that it was absolutely necessary.

How will SHRM continue to impact the profession?

SHRM is HR. We are the embodiment of our field. As its representative, we must be constantly mindful of how we can serve our members and provide them with timely, relevant resources at all phases of their careers—from student to entry-level professional to CHRO. SHRM’s focus must be on satisfying the profession’s evolving needs. 

What was your biggest surprise during your time at SHRM?

I came from the financial world, where I rarely saw a job posting that didn’t require a job seeker to be a certified public accountant. So, I was surprised by the number of HR jobs that didn’t require an HR certification or deem it preferable to have one. I think we have made strides in stressing the importance of certification and continuing education and ensuring that the standards of the profession are recognized as necessary to do the job.

What’s the future of SHRM’s HR certification?

Certification is bigger than SHRM because competency-based assessment is a huge trend across many professions, including the legal, medical and financial sectors. SHRM has proved itself to be a global leader in HR certification, and I see us continuing to grow in that area as businesses understand the value of good HR.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connnect

What was your top accomplishment as CEO?

Becoming more responsive to our members and the business community, and creating an environment that set new standards and competencies for the profession.

What was the most frustrating aspect of your tenure?

I am not easily frustrated. But like many business leaders, I find the pace of change can sometimes be slower than one would like. HR is regarded as the leader in change management, but we often struggle with it ourselves.

What’s your advice to HR for increasing the stature of the profession?

Define the practice of HR, set standards and make the public aware of the important role HR has. The term “human resources” was coined by management expert Peter Drucker about 60 years ago, so we are a relatively young profession. But we’ve moved light years from where we were then. We’ve evolved from business partners to business leaders. And we are at a critical point where we need to spell out exactly what makes up good HR. It’s important for that to be done by HR professionals—because if we don’t, someone else will. 

What advice do you have for HR leaders who aspire to become CEOs?

First and foremost, focus on understanding your business. For someone to become a CEO, he or she has got to know what drives the bottom line and what’s important to the organization’s success.

What advice do you have for incoming CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM-SCP, who takes over after you retire?

He’s pretty smart, so he probably doesn’t need any advice from me. He led SHRM through some challenging times as chair of its board of directors in 2005 and 2006, and SHRM was better for it. One thing I tried to do was to listen and learn every day from everyone around me and let them know they were a valued member of the team.

What do you plan to do after retiring?

Well, this is my second retirement. I was at Howard University for 30 years before I came to SHRM. I thought that I would be here for four or five years, but that turned into 12 years.  

And I’m glad to have been a part of it. But it’s time for me to figure out what retirees do.  I’m sure I’ll do some volunteer work, especially with African-American males to make sure they have positive role models and guidance.

I’m also an avid cyclist, so I’ll be biking more. It takes my mind off the stresses of the day. I have six grandchildren—three of them are under 2— so I’ll spend a lot of time watching them grow.

One thing I’m trying not to do is have a formal schedule.


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