Beyond the Board Chair’s Memo: What Got SHRM so Hot and Bothered?

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

See two (2) updates below.

Here’s a good question: Just what was it that got the Board of the Society for Human Resource Management so worked up?

Saturday’s post here at TLNT about a memo from SHRM Board Chair Robb Van Cleave that was sent to SHRM State Council Directors and Chapter Presidents, said that it was in response 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,” as he put it.

This “small group,” called SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust — is made up of a number of respected former SHRM Board members, executives, and current SHRM members. They have expressed concerns (that are growing and getting louder) about the current SHRM Board’s seeming lack of transparency and refusal to stand up and publicly explain what it is doing — particularly the June vote to increase pay and perks for Board members, the lack of open discussion about the thinking behind the decision to increase SHRM’s annual dues during the ongoing economic downturn, and, the decision to make future dues increases “every two years based on average increases in the CPI.”

What SHRM’s General Counsel said

In addition, SHRM had its legal counsel send an e-mail to the leadership of SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust that was viewed by that Group, and just about everyone else outside the Group who saw it, as defensive and threatening. One section, written by SHRM general counsel Henry Hart, was particularly pointed:

The very name of the website you threaten to publish in the attached email, “SHRM members for Transparency & Trust” is defamatory in that it is a very thinly veiled insinuation that the SHRM Board members are untrustworthy.  That is the type of intentional defamatory term which is totally unnecessary, benefits not a single SHRM member, and is indeed harmful to the SHRM brand.  Indeed notwithstanding your expressed concern that SHRM’s search for a new CEO is somehow deficient, your campaign to discredit the SHRM Board of Directors could interfere with SHRM’s current CEO search and ironically hinder SHRM’s ability to fill the CEO position with the best possible candidate.

You should also be aware that if your campaign interferes with SHRM’s contractual relationships with its chapters, this will constitute tortious interference with SHRM contracts by improper means (i.e., defamation).

I note that you attempt in the attached email to impose, unilaterally, a two day deadline for SHRM to review and inform you of any inaccuracies in your draft website.  Such a thin veneer of notice the week before SHRM’s Leadership Conference in no way protects you against what will be a reckless disregard for accuracy if you publish your website in its current form.

With that said, the draft website is full of inaccuracies, many of which have been conveyed to you before; and SHRM reserves all rights against you for defamation in the event that you publish it in its current form.”

The content that has the SHRM Board worried

That leads one to wonder: Just what is on this website — www.improveshrm.org that has the SHRM Board so worked up?

Although the website is password protected (and TLNT does not have a password to get into it), sources familiar with SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust group shared a document with what they say is the content that is posted on www.improveshrm.org. You can find that document here:

If this is indeed the content that bothers the SHRM Board to the point that they would direct the organization’s general counsel to write a letter threatening legal action against the SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust for defamation (among other things), it raises the question: just what is it about this website content, and its critique of the Board’s actions, that is so threatening to their leadership and decision-making?

It’s a good question, but don’t expect the Board to give a public answer anytime soon. TLNT has repeatedly asked the SHRM Board and Board Chair for comment on the Board’s actions, to no avail. TLNT also asked last week for the Board’s reactions to the issues raised by SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust group. Once again, the SHRM Board has opted not to respond to TLNT’s questions.

Article Continues Below

As for the future of SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust, it is uncertain what they will do next. The group seems to have delayed opening up the www.improveshrm.org website to wide access in the wake of the e-mail from SHRM’s general counsel threatening legal action against them, and sources familiar with the group say that they are rethinking their next steps.

Only one thing is certain: the issues raised by SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust, and the SHRM Board’s subsequent reaction, will likely be the main topic of discussion this week at SHRM’s annual Leadership Conference being held in Arlington, VA.

It’s unlikely anyone at SHRM is particularly happy about that.

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UPDATE No. 2: TLNT has been asked by SHRM Members for Transparency — the new and now revised name of the group — to remove what they say is an “unauthorized copy of their unpublished website content,” from the TLNT website. After considerable consideration and discussion, TLNT has opted not to remove the early draft document of the content that was intended for www.improvseshrm.org. Although TLNT understands the many reasons why SHRM Members for Transparency does not now want the document to be posted, we believe that it reflects the thinking of a number of prominent former SHRM Board members and others about highly newsworthy and compelling issues concerning SHRM, corporate governance of not-for-profit organizations, and the HR profession.

UPDATE: As a point of clarification, the document attached here may not reflect the exact and current information on www.improveshrm.org. It is an early draft document and likely has been edited and changed somewhat, especially since SHRM objected to many of the points and claimed there were some inaccuracies. Sources familiar with the SHRM Members for Transparency and Trust group say the group is working to revise the content on www.improveshrm.org to address SHRM’s concerns, and that the group “may” have something ready to go on the website later this week. Stay tuned.

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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