SHRM Members for Transparency Goes Public, Pushes “Grassroots” Effort for Change

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

Last November, before the SHRM Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia, then-Board Chair Robb Van Cleave did something curious: he sent out an e-mail warning attendees that a “… 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.”

The “small group of  SHRM members” Van Cleave was referring to but failed to identify was the SHRM Members for Transparency group, described here at TLNT as a “number of well known and respected former SHRM Board members, executives, and current SHRM members.”

Why former chairman Van Cleave felt the need to send such a widely circulated e-mail warning about an anonymous and unidentified group is unknown – Van Cleave and the SHRM Board of Directors have ignored repeated requests from TLNT for comment on the Transparency group  – but one thing is certain: SHRM Members for Transparency was largely anonymous to most of SHRM’s 250,000 plus membership.

Until now, that is.

Transparency group reads like a “Who’s Who” of SHRM members

Earlier this month, SHRM Members for Transparency sent their own e-mail out to SHRM’s 2010 and 2011 State Council and Regional Directors with the subject line “SHRM Issues of Concern.” It not only took Van Cleave to task for his comments, but also shared the governance and other SHRM Board issues that the Transparency group has been concerned about.

In addition, the e-mail listed the names of those affiliated with SHRM Members for Transparency, and it reads like a “Who’s Who” of some of the best and brightest SHRM members who have given their all to the organization. The e-mail adds, “we are proud to confirm not only the names but the incredible SHRM leadership experience of our SHRM Members for Transparency Steering Committee. Those members are:

  • Ronald C. Pilenzo, SPHR, who served as SHRM president and COO from May 1980 to January 1991;
  • Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE, who served the HR profession for more than 45 years and retired in 2000 after a decade serving as SHRM’s president and CEO. The Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award that is named for him has been presented annually by SHRM, the SHRM Foundation, and the Human Resource Certification Institute. The award includes a $50,000 check that was endowed with a $1.25 million gift, funded by SHRM and the sponsoring boards in 2000. In addition, the SHRM headquarters building in Alexandria, Virginia is named after Losey.
  • Some 17 former chairs of the SHRM Board of Directors, including Merle Alvis, SPHR; Neil Bondy, SPHR; John Blodger, SPHR; Chuck Gallagher, SPHR; Bruce Ellig, SPHR; Gary Howard, SPHR; David Hutchins, SPHR; Elmer Jackson III, SPHR; Tom Kelly, SPHR; Wanda Lee, SPHR; Kathleen McComber, SPHR; Kathryn McKee, SPHR; James Parkel, SPHR; Jerry Sellentin, SPHR; Ommy Strauch, SPHR; Jim Skaggs, SPHR; and, Jim Ware, SPHR;
  • Another 18 former SHRM National, HRCI and SHRM Foundation Board Chairs, members, as well as SHRM state and local volunteer leaders including Gerry Crispin, SPHR; Cathy Fyock, SPHR, CSP; John Goodwin, SPHR; Keith Greene, SPHR; Hank Hennessey, Ph.D, SPHR; Arthur Hershey; Marilyn Hoppen, SPHR; Alan M. Jaramillo, SPHR; Thomas Little, SPHR; Arthur (Arte) Nathan, SPHR; Tim Orellano, PHR; Steve Rice, SPHR; Michael Rogers, SPHR; Fran Sincere, SPHR; Sue Tempero, SPHR; Jac Fitz-enz, Ph.D; and, Susan Warner, SPHR, Esq; and Ray Weinberg, CCP, SPHR.

Unanswered questions from TLNT

TLNT has again asked the SHRM Board, new Board Chair Jose Berrios, and former Board Chair Robb Van Cleave for comment about the SHRM Members for Transparency group, but as of this writing have not gotten a response back to these three questions:

  1. What is the SHRM Board doing to address the concerns of the SHRM Members for Transparency group?
  2. Is there any concern on the Board that this group represents some of the best and brightest SHRM members who have given their all to the organization, and is not just a small group of disgruntled members as has been mentioned in the past?
  3. Does new Board Chair Berrios plan to meet directly with the leaders of the Transparency Group and perhaps handle them differently than Robb Van Cleave did during his term as Board Chair?

In their e-mail to SHRM’s 2010 and 2011 State Council and Regional Directors, the Transparency group starts by challenging Robb Van Cleave’s characterization of the group:

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Many of you attended the recent SHRM Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Prior to that meeting as an attendee, you probably received an email from SHRM’s then Chair of the Board of Directors, Mr. Robb Van Cleave. In that e-mail, he warned that a “… small group of disgruntled members who wish to remain anonymous” may try to interrupt the Leadership Conference.

Subsequently, at the conference other derogatory comments were made in reference to our efforts to reinforce transparency in the governance of our Society.

We are that “small group of disgruntled members…” We were asked by SHRM not to interfere with SHRM’s Leadership Conference, which was never our intention, and we did not do so. Now we write you in your critically important role as a State Council and/or Regional Director to make it clear who we are and why we have created the SHRM Members for Transparency…

The only thing correct about Mr. Van Cleave’s statement is that we are (intentionally) a small select group. We are neither “disgruntled” nor have we been anonymous. SHRM officials know exactly who we are.”

As TLNT reported in November, SHRM Members for Transparency “was planning to launch a website to air their concerns publicly (it was supposed to be called improveshrm.org), but pulled back after receiving an e-mail from SHRM’s general counsel warning of possible legal action if they went ahead with the website as is.”

(SHRM also threatened legal action against ERE Media, the parent company of TLNT, for using the SHRM logo in our coverage and allegedly misleading consumers “into believing that SHRM is the source of, or has sponsored, approved or is affiliated with the content” of the TLNT website. ERE Media has declined SHRM’s legal request to remove the organization’s logo from TLNT coverage of the Transparency group “because we believe that SHRM has overreached in its legal demand to try to intimidate us and stop our ongoing reporting and commentary on this issue.”)

What is next for Transparency group?

After the warning from SHRM’s legal counsel, SHRM Members for Transparency went silent, until now, while they weighed their next step. They detail what that is in the e-mail to the 2011 State Council and Regional Directors:

We also want you to know that all the issues we shall share with you have previously been shared with SHRM Board officials. SHRM officials suggest some of our content is inaccurate and have refused to meet with us to discuss any issues. In addition, we have asked those SHRM representatives, and specifically their legal counsel, repeatedly, to identify any inaccuracies and told them we would voluntarily make any necessary corrections. Despite our many requests to identify any inaccuracies, the SHRM officials have refused to do so.

The only response was that if we shared our issues about SHRM Governance with you, they threatened to take legal action against us. We are dumbfounded that SHRM could make such a threat against the loyal SHRM members of our group who represent greater than one thousand two hundred years of SHRM membership and service. Particularly repugnant are their threats against the large number of Past Chairs of the Board of Directors that have served the Society’s interests for decades.

We believe that we, like you, as SHRM members, have the inherent right to speak to other members about shared SHRM interests. This is the way it should be in any democratically administered professional society. We resent greatly the current administration’s efforts to threaten us, distort our intentions and other efforts to keep us from bringing to your attention, as a critical Regional or State Director, important issues that we believe should be brought to your attention. We, therefore, invite you to review the attached document to learn what is of concern to us..

Likewise, we believe others on your state’s council, need to know and discuss these issues. Therefore, we encourage you to make these issues an agenda item for your next State and/or Regional meeting. We would appreciate knowing if your state council agrees with us that the issues summarized in the attached should be addressed by the SHRM Board of Directors…

Please understand this may be the last opportunity for all of us to try to influence important changes within our beloved Society. As you shall see from the attached, our group has been fighting for Board transparency and meaningful change for a longtime. However, our appeals for change have been met by the SHRM Board with threats; the withholding of important information and other disturbing actions. It seems they simply do not want our issues to see the light of day.

We hoped these important issues could be addressed discreetly and without the possible consequences of wholesale member involvement and negative public exposure. Regrettably, by the Board’s choice not to communicate, that will not be the case. To make the necessary changes, the only option left now is for SHRM’s formal Regional and State organizations to advance these issues or these initiatives will die. The large number of Past SHRM Chairs, President and CEOs, former officials of HRCI and the SHRM Foundation and other very distinguished and senior volunteer members can continue to provide assistance, but now we need a “grassroots” effort.”

You can find the complete letter sent this month from SHRM Members for Transparency to SHRM’s 2010 and 2011 State Council and Regional Directors here:

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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