Palace Intrigue at SHRM: What is Really Behind the Board Chair’s Memo?

Current SHRM Chair Robb Van Cleave. From the HR blog at TLNT.
Current SHRM Chair Robb Van Cleave. From the HR blog at TLNT.

Leave it to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource management, to never, ever do anything simple.

Below is a memo from Robb Van Cleave, chairman of the SHRM Board of Directors, that pertains to the actions of  “a small group of SHRM members” who  “have indicated that they may launch a website designed to raise the group’s concerns to a larger audience.”

Some of those concerns were reported here at TLNT this past summer, including the Board increasing the “honorarium” paid to Board members without any public accounting of the action to the larger SHRM membership. The SHRM Board, and Chair Robb Van Cleave, refused to respond to questions from TLNT about these actions taken at the June meeting, nor did they have any explanation for why the summaries of Board meetings were no longer on the website.

Now, the summaries of Board meetings have quietly resurfaced on SHRM.org — you can find them here, if you are a SHRM member — including information on the Board raising the dues for SHRM members.

One piece of information that didn’t come out until the posting of the Board meeting summaries resumed: the Board in June also “voted to implement a process whereby membership dues would be raised every two years based on average increases in the CPI, as set forth in the member dues analysis report.”

What is SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust?

Many former SHRM Board members, as well as other current members of the organization, have expressed concerns about the Board’s seeming lack of transparency and inability to stand up and explain what it is doing — particularly the increase in the “honorariums” and perks for Board members, and the lack of open discussion about the reasons behind the dues increase during the ongoing economic downturn.

The group Robb Van Cleave is referring to in his memo below — called SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust — is made up of a large number of well known and respected former SHRM Board members, executives, and current SHRM members.

The following memo from Van Cleave was apparently issued after the leadership of SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust was threatened with legal action by SHRM if the group’s actions “interferes with SHRM’s contractual relationships with its chapters.”

Article Continues Below

TLNT has again asked the SHRM Board for comment on the actions of the SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust group. Once again, the Board has opted not to respond to TLNT’s questions.

Memo from the SHRM Board Chair

Subject: Notification from SHRM Board Chair Robb Van Cleave

State Council Directors and Chapter Presidents;

I want to make you aware of an issue you may be hearing about in the coming days. A small group of SHRM members may contact you and have indicated that they may launch a website designed to raise the group’s concerns to a larger audience about such issues as Board governance, the $20 dues increase, transparency, and the Society’s efforts to continue its global presence. One of the group members even took actions that may have hindered the Board’s efforts to search for a new CEO.

SHRM has always welcomed comments, suggestions and constructive criticism from all of its members. An open exchange of ideas is essential to remain a vibrant and responsive organization for more than 250,000 members in 140 countries.

If the website is in fact launched, regrettably, some of the information in the website will be misleading, inaccurate, outdated or just plain wrong. For example:

  • Some members of the SHRM Board, the CEO and I have met with a representative of this group on more than one occasion; we have listened to their concerns and exchanged views. The claim that we have not met with them is inaccurate.
  • More than six years ago, the then-SHRM Board determined that we needed to serve HR professionals wherever they worked in the world, especially as major U.S. and global organizations expanded operations in India and China. As “people management experts,” we need to be where people are – and where businesses are investing in people strategies.
  • The first membership dues increase since 1990 – $20 per year or 39 cents per week – is necessary because the cost of serving our members has increased. We also are providing far more free services and resources as part of a SHRM membership than we did 20 years ago.
  • The SHRM Board’s governance practices are comparable to organizations of similar size and complexity. Summaries of Board meetings are posted on the SHRM website. In keeping with standard board practices, an independent outside consulting firm conducts regular reviews of our practices and policies, the latest of which was completed in June 2010.

As has always been our policy and practice, SHRM appreciates receiving responsible, constructive comments based on factual information. We also believe that reasonable people can respectfully disagree on complex issues, especially when serving the needs of 250,000 members from different types of organizations around the world. We are still in contact with this group of members and hope that we can assist them in understanding SHRM’s position.

As representatives of the most respected human resources association in the world, we have a professional responsibility to demonstrate respect for the truth and for each other in everything we do. I want to assure you that this is the Board’s practice and I know I can count on all SHRM employees and volunteer leaders to model this behavior.

Regards,

Robb Van Cleave, SPHR, IPMA-CP

Chair

SHRM Board of Directors

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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9 Comments on “Palace Intrigue at SHRM: What is Really Behind the Board Chair’s Memo?

  1. I don’t know where this “surprise” came from when talking dues increases. Every year for as long as I have been involved as a volunteer leader, when announcing the dues level for the next year, we have been told that there are no guarentees for future dues level and at some point, the dues would have to be increased. The $20 dollar increase to $180 still makes SHRM national membership a good deal for the services received for its members. Similar organizations that serve the general HR community charge at least twice as much.

    Is SHRM perfect. Far from it. The Voice of HR blog is running a series of posts on suggestions to SHRM on how to improve services and relationships with members and volunteer leaders. It is an interesting and thought provoking series.

    IMO, there are transparency and communication issues within SHRM, as there is for most organizations of similar size. For an organization called SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust, I would love to see them step out from behind their curtain of secrecy and say who they are and what their agenda is.

    1. Hey John,I can appreciate your perspective as a highly respected state leader. At the same time, the timing of the raise in dues, the secretive raises for board members and absolutely shutting out media access when they are unwilling to report their own actions to their membership continues to ring tone deaf to me. Other organizations may struggle with these issues but I don’t think that should be the expectation. Quite honestly, there is a disconnect between the state and local chapters (whose volunteer leadership is second to none) and the national organization. Maybe those who go to SHRM Leadership Conference will share their insight into that.

      1. Lance, the setting of dues is usually announced at Leadership every year so the leaking of the information beat that but as I said the news of the increase should be a surprise to no one. How many years has SHRM been able to hold the line on the increase of national dues? They have not gone up since I can remember.

        I cannot and will not defend the secreracy of the boards actions. I feel there should be more open communication from Duke Street on many things. The disconnect between local/state leaders and national have been around for a while and is nothing new. I can tell you things seem to be getting better in the time I have been interacting with national. Has it gone as rapidly as I would like, hell no. Will it ever be perfect, I doubt it. Am I going to abandon SHRM, no. I am going to do what I can to make my (ILSHRM) organization the best I can and hopefully improve SHRM in some way.

        1. John: I only know of you by reputation, but somehow, I think that SHRM national would be better served if they followed the lead of how you operate your state SHRM organization in Iowa.

          Yes, there should be more communication from Duke Street, but the tone for full and open communication, and transparency, needs to come from the Board and Robb Van Cleave. Unfortunately, they seem to be tone deaf in this regard.

  2. Oh good lord. First of all, there are serious HR professionals who are continuously thinking of ways to splinter off and form a new association. I would worry about that first because those people have cash.If this new website is my fun little Voice of HR page, I’m going to laugh. Or cry. Or maybe both. Good grief. Embarrassing all around.The next time there’s a memo about a rebellion, I want my full name on it. Spelled correctly. R U E T T I M A N N.Don’t forget the SPHR.

    PS – Remember when Robb was fun? http://www.monsterthinking.com/2010/06/28/shrm-surprise-monsterlive/

    1. Laurie: I’ll have more on all of this next week, but the website in question is NOT the Voice of HR. And to John Jorgensen’s point, he’s right; SHRM was due for a dues increase.

      The concerns I hear aren’t about that, but about the timing of doing it now in the wake of the economic turmoil, and, after the SHRM Board secretly raised the amount it is paying Board members. What is the thinking behind all of that? Sadly, no one knows because the Board won’t say.

      The summaries of the Board meetings had stopped being posted on SHRM.org, and the SHRM Board seemed to not be too concerned with explaining publicly what it was doing. They still haven’t addressed the justification and thinking, behind the increase in the “honorariums” for Board members, or the other perks, and they do not seem interested in standing publicly and openly behind their actions. There is little to no transparency here, and that seems to be what caused the SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust Group to be created.

      Good governance is driven by open and honest communication and transparency. As someone who has tried to get the SHRM Board to simply give a full explanation about what they are doing, and to respond to the criticisms directed their way, I can tell you for a fact that they don’t give the sense that they care about being completely open, accountable, and transparent.

      You would think they would want to err on the side of going overboard in this regard, but they seem to be doing the opposite. THAT is what has so many well-known and well-regarded former SHRM Board members and executives so troubled and concerned.

      1. I can’t believe there is a revolution without me. LOL. Got the URL/name of the group from a few friends and it’s still just so. unbelievably. interesting. that Robb would write that amateurish memo.

        The good news? When the bar for performance is so low, anyone can look like a superstar.

  3. As a long-term volunteer at the state and local level, I would agree that SHRM is struggling to provide the support we need. And I’ve noticed that distance to be growing during last few years.

    Now…many organizations have had issues arise with “Watch Dog Groups” or concerned stock holders, so I don’t view what’s happening to SHRM as out of the ordinary. But SHRM should have seen some of this scrutiny coming after the way they handled the Lon O’Neil situation, for example. He was the CEO, brought in to orchestrate change. They put him out there in front of everyone at the Annual Conference in San Diego talking about all of these wonderful things. And then he’s gone the next week and a fluffy letter comes out saying he’s pursuing other options. What else is there to pursue in HR? LOL. Either he pushed too hard or got too much pushback.

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