Without question, we've all gotten news of a resignation and uttered the following words, or something like them:
"Oh, Crap". (usually stated stronger)
That's how I feel today about the news out of SHRM. China Gorman, formerly the COO of SHRM and the acting CEO during the interim period between Sue Meisinger and Lon O'Neil, is leaving SHRM. I was originally going to call China and ask if the timing of this post was OK, but then the crosstalk on the email interwebs got to the point where I felt like I wasn't actually breaking news.
The question is, do the folks at SHRM feel the way I do? Do they really know what they've lost?
It's a valid question. Gorman was a visible, energetic agent of change for SHRM, an actor on the stage that SHRM really hadn't had before. I can't really describe the fresh take she brought to SHRM better than a post I did in 2009 called "The Great SHRM hope":
"Things might be changing at SHRM. The great SHRM hope is China Gorman.
China Gorman is the COO of SHRM. Whether or not she was passed over for the CEO spot vacated by Sue Meisinger is SHRM's business (China was COO under Meisinger's leadership). What's important is that she's emerged in the new leadership structure at SHRM as an engaged leader and active face of the organization - even though she's not the CEO.
Need proof? Watch China go toe-to-toe with a clueless legislator on capitol hill, defending the big (our legislative interests) and the small (how to pronounce "SHRM"). Watch China out-tweet the so-called HR bloggers on Twitter(present company included) during the SHRM Conference in an effort to promote what's going on. Watch China look for new ideas that can freshen up the mix at SHRM (sponsoring broad coverage for bloggers) while staying true to the needs of the organization (warning said bloggers not to curse during a blogging panel to be held on Wednesday - which was outright funny, but crafty smart on her part).
I've had some brief exposure to China, and here's the true value of what's going on. Pros like China have always had the capability to engage customers in different ways that help their organizations grow - regardless of the line of business. The problem is that the culture of the organization they're in doesn't always support it. However, once an engaged pro is released at a high level in any organization and starts doing stuff not ordinarily tolerated, the culture can change. People below that leader start taking risks, and everyone figures out that engagement is good. Nobody dies when mistakes are made or opinions are shared. Pretty soon, the organization becomes a lot more open and the customers start raving.
That's my hope for SHRM - that lots of SHRM staffers start engaging members the way China does. Because if 20% of them do and SHRM embraces it, SHRM could be scary good compared to its past.
China Gorman is the great SHRM hope."
Sadly, the great SHRM hope is leaving. Have no idea why, but it's easy to see that China will be successful wherever she goes. Whether she does her own thing or takes a leadership position elsewhere, China will do great.
For me, I track back the beginning of the end to a restructuring that happened at SHRM sometime in the last year. China was the COO, and in the restructuring she lost the #2 title and became one of a group of five, picking up the title "Chief Global Membership Engagement Officer". Seemed like a backwards track, and one unfitting of the leadership she had shown to that point. China's so classy she'll probably post a comment to this post and talk about how great SHRM is and how her leaving has nothing to do with any of that. That's China. She's a classy, strong HR pro.
You know, the type you like to see in a leadership position at SHRM.
For SHRM, who knows if they truly understand what they lost with China leaving? So, I'll tell them. You know the Dave Ulrich books you sell, folks? Ulrich has a competency called the Credible Activist. It means you have to have all the other competencies in a deep, deep way, then you have to become an activist. That means you have to be out in front more than the average HR Pro, have opinions, use the new tools to advance the profession, force your will.
You no doubt have tons of credible people. But, it's clear you don't have enough activists, at least ones who are visible. The role model in your organization for the credible activist is leaving.
Good luck, China; I have no doubt you'll do great things wherever you land...