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

Article main image
Nov 13, 2010

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 — 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.”

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.


Robb Van Cleave, SPHR, IPMA-CP


SHRM Board of Directors

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!