After years of battling what they saw as American biases at the International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM), two Canadian chapter presidents recently resigned and founded a new Canada-based association.
IHRIM was formed in the early 1990s in a merger of two HR technology associations, the Canadian Human Resources Systems Professionals and the Human Resources Systems Professionals, based in the United States.
But a drastic drop in Canadian members, along with a refusal by the executive to address specific Canadian needs, led to Allen Doran (president, Ontario chapter) and Richard Rousseau (president, Quebec chapter) quitting the international association.
“The concept of IHRIM is excellent. It’s just the way that it’s been executed that’s wrong,” said Rousseau, who’s the president of the new Human Resource Management Systems Professional Association (HRMSPA). “Many people told me personally that they felt that there was no use to be part of a U.S. association.”
Since 1996, IHRIM membership has dropped 73 per cent in Canada and 51 per cent in the U.S., while all other HR associations have experienced significant growth, said Rousseau.
Lynne Mealy, president and CEO of IHRIM, agreed that there has been a drop in membership over the past decade but said the decline isn’t as drastic as Rousseau claims. She added that in the past year she’s seen membership begin to rise again.
Initially IHRIM was formed because the only difference between the Canadian and the American associations was geography. Both dealt with the same vendors and the same issues. The merged association was to have a global focus, said Canada-based Ian Turnbull, a former president of IHRIM.
But unfortunately the American contingent remained solely focused on the U.S. and ignored the rest of the world, he said. Attempts to expand into other markets — Australia, Europe and Mexico — all failed.
“The Canadian arm was living proof that things were similar but different. We wanted to celebrate all the things we had in common, while at the same time understanding and dealing with the things that are different,” said Turnbull.
“To a large extent, most of the Americans don’t understand the global construct. They’re focused on what’s going on in the United States and they seem to think that the rest of the world works the way they do, or should.”
Mealy said that IHRIM has always had an international focus. “IHRIM feels that technology is borderless. We’re not a U.S. organization; we’re not even a North American organization. The majority of our members are North American but we continue to market to the international arena.”
At the time of the merger, the Canadian arm was promised its own offices in Canada, its own conference and to have all materials and communication done in English and French. But Turnbull said every single promise was broken.
One of the biggest sticking points for the Canadian contingent of IHRIM was the association’s insistence on only operating in English. For a bilingual nation, this didn’t make sense, but Turnbull said the issue went beyond French.
“It’s about recognizing that multi-linguistic issues form part of the challenge of putting together systems,” he said. “How do you manage a global system when you may be operating in 120 countries and English is only one of eight primary languages and 10 or 15 secondary languages?”
IHRIM isn’t averse to offering some services in another language if an organization with which it has partnered operates in another language, said Mealy. However, she said that back when the Canadian and American associations merged to form IHRIM, the steering committee, composed of members from both countries, agreed that English would be the primary language of the new association.
In March, Rousseau and Doran wrote to the IHRIM board of directors and suggested the creation of IHRIM-Canada, an affiliate association that would address issues such as currency and language, and create a stronger identity in the Canadian marketplace.
“They just ignored that proposal,” said Rousseau. Instead, the board created a new governance model that didn’t address Canadian members’ needs. So the two branch presidents, as well as other key Canadian members, including Turnbull, took matters into their own hands and formed a separate association.
Rousseau and Doran mailed letters to all the Ontario and Quebec members of IHRIM to inform them of their resignations from IHRIM and to give the members the choice of renewing their memberships with the international association’s head office in Boston and/or joining the new Canadian association. IHRIM chapters in Winnipeg and Vancouver are still fully operational. Rousseau said they plan to recruit those members next year, once HRMSPA has gathered strength.
Other associations have their own designations and training requirements, but Rousseau said that there’s a lack of technology support in those groups that HRMSPA hopes to fill.
“We want to create partnerships, not to get their members but to provide them with the right information,” he said. “Everyone is concerned with technology today. If they’re avoiding it, they’re missing something.”
The response has already been positive with people joining everyday and other associations supporting the new organization, said Rousseau. “I always thought there was a bad perception of us being that we were a U.S. association sitting on the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations — we could not connect properly. If you’re talking Canadian issues, you have to be a Canadian association.”
He said he hopes to build the membership of HRMSPA back up to the 700 members the Canadian arm of IHRIM used to have. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’ll achieve it.”
Letters to the editor
Not everyone is abandoning the IHRIM ship
We read with interest your recent article “Ontario, Quebec IHRIM branches go it alone” (Dec. 5, 2005), and as presidents of the B.C. and Great Prairie Chapters of the International Association of Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM), we wish to provide our perspective.
The proposal put forth by Al Doran and Richard Rousseau was not “just ignored” by IHRIM. It is far more accurate to say that it was not accepted because it claimed to have the support of all the chapters in Canada when in fact, it did not. The IHRIM Canada model proposed by Doran and Rousseau in March 2005 was rejected by the chapters in Western Canada as we felt it to be more productive and responsible to our members to work within the existing IHRIM organization.
Service to our members is our raison d’être and we feel that “Canadian” issues can be best addressed through co-operation in the larger organizational context. We have two Canadian representatives on the International IHRIM Board (one on the executive committee) and frankly are encouraged by the level of support and co-operation we receive.
We are, and will remain, a Canadian organization — not unlike other Canadian organizations — where our strength lies in our gentle but persuasive influence. For example, we proposed a Canadian listserv to address our unique issues — it now exists. We proposed a special student membership to build interest and succession strategies — an international committee has adopted and moved forward with our proposal.
An initiative under the new IHRIM Affinity Group structure that was well under way prior to the Ontario and Quebec Chapter presidents’ resignation has the B.C. and Great Prairie Chapters amalgamating to form IHRIM Canada West effective Jan. 1. This re-organization has the unanimous support of our respective board of directors and the international board of directors and will bring a greater sense of purpose and enhanced programming to all of our members.
To say our uniquely “Canadian” issues and concerns have been ignored or not addressed is not accurate and certainly does not represent the views of all IHRIM members — geography notwithstanding. It is indeed unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation. Our members’ interests should be our first order of business.
Great Prairie Chapter, IHRIM
B.C. Chapter, IHRIM
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