If you are a journalist or blogger and plan on being in Las Vegas for SHRM next week, you should put this on your calendar.
I got the following note the other day. I hadn’t been following the issue closely (though the folks at ERE tell me it’s been gurgling for a while.) A significant number of ex SHRM Board Directors, ex SHRM Foundation Board Chairs, State and local leaders and key figures (like Gerry Crispin and Jac Fitz-Enz) are really dissatisfied with a series of things that are going on at SHRM HQ.
TO: Human Resource Management Journalists and Authors/Bloggers
SUBJECT: Important Press Conference
Attached is an invitation to attend a very important press conference and luncheon at Las Vegas’ famous Piero’s Italian Restaurant on June 26, 2011, at 12 PM.
This press conference will be held in conjunction with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference and Exhibition on Sunday. The press conference is sponsored by a voluntary group of SHRM members who are trying to reinstate transparency within the Society’s governance process. Our group has assumed the name of SHRM Members for Transparency (SMFT).
This group was established in 2010 after many long-time SHRM volunteers and members became concerned about the establishment of some SHRM Board of Directors’ policies that the group believes were not in SHRM members’ best interests and, in some cases, were unknown to SHRM members. In addition, there are concerns about SHRM’s financial and operating performance and long-term direction.
Examples of such issues are summarized on our website: www.shrmmembersfortransparency.com
Since August 2010, the SHRM Members for Transparency group has repeatedly requested to meet with the SHRM Board of Directors to work cooperatively and discreetly in reviewing those policies and to take other efforts to restore transparency to the society’s governance pressures.
As had been previously reported, to date, the SHRM Board has refused to meet and/or discuss these issues with our group. Thus we have taken our issues directly to the SHRM regional and state leadership.
At the press conference we shall briefly summarize our group’s progress, make an important announcement, and provide an opportunity for questions.
We anticipate that some professional associates of yours may not be known to us, yet may also have an interest in attending our luncheon and press conference. If so, feel free to share this invitation with them, after checking with us to ensure space availability. You can reserve space by emailing Kate Herbst, event coordinator, at Kate.L.Herbst (at) altria.com.
This is not your standard-issue social media war party. It’s a collection of long time SHRM members who have demonstrated their commitment with service and leadership. They are upset by the behavior of SHRM’s board and refusal to meet with the group.
These days, SHRM’s legal counsel has a hair trigger on his straight from the 1950s tendency to threaten legal action against anyone who would criticize the organization in public. Here’s how SMFT tells the story:
In September, 2010, following the recommendation of a MAC representative, a member of our group, Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE, former SHRM President & CEO, outlined the SHRM Members for Transparency concerns to Hank Jackson,SHRM’s CEO. Mr. Jackson, after reviewing our concerns, told Mr. Losey that “The Board should see this.” Since then SMFT representatives have been trying to obtain a meeting with the Board to more fully discuss our concerns.
Prior to the SHRM Leadership Conference we sent to the Board Chair and the CEO of the Society a copy of exactly what the SHRM Members for Transparency were planning to share with the Regional and State Council leadership and, if necessary, subsequently the general membership. At the same time, we extended the Board the professional courtesy of reviewing and identifying any statements or content that they thought were incorrect or misleading. We offered to make any required changes prior to publication on our proposed website and dissemination of our information to the Regional and State Council leadership.
Our response was a prompt reply from SHRM’s General Counsel, Mr. Henry Hart, threatening to sue Mr. Losey personally and our group collectively on unjustified and intimidating grounds if we published our findings and recommendations for improving SHRM. SHRM’s legal counsel also suggested there were a number of errors in our proposed message to SHRM leaders and members. We have continued to ask repeatedly for identification of any such errors and SHRM either refuses or cannot specifically indentify errors.
Last week, I had the chance to speak with a member of SHRM’s leadership team. He assured me, when I suggested that the organization may be out of touch, that the members are happy and that these are the best of times. It was one of those Nixon style conversations where every question was taken as an opportunity to define the problem away. He was really good at it.
Professional Associations, like the music business and the news industry, had a long monopoly rooted in their control of information distribution. The time has ended and they are taking their last laps around the track. Increasingly, the real strength of the SHRM organization involves local chapters. My conversation partner was quick to point out that they (the local chapters) weren’t really part of SHRM.
That said, the story seems to be like the old fairy tale about the Princess and the Pea. In that tale, a princess is someone who is sensitive to something small, many layers below the surface. It’s a great metaphor for describing the difference between appearances (symptoms … like the princess’ sleeplessness) and actual causes (a pea under 20 layers of mattress).
A quick scan of the outstanding issues raises the question of what the real issue is. SMFT describes seven issues:
- Board Compensation (SHRM’s Board gets paid, many non profit boards don’t)
- Board Perks (notably First Class travel)
- Dues Linked to CPI (SHRM intends to raise its dues to match inflation)
- Lack of HCI Priorities (SMFT believes that board members should be HCI certified)
- CEO Job Specifications (The hunt for a new CEO is taking too long and the spec doesn’t require an HR background)
- Board Election Issues (The last election didn’t involve the required staggered terms which gives the board an advantage in pursuing its agenda)
- Reversed Policies (The Board changed policy on Board member speaking fees – it’s okay now; the CEO is now a voting Board Member; and, the custom of publishing board meeting summaries was discontinued for a year.)
From way outside the politics, this looks like a battle over whether the SHRM Board is supposed to be a Board of Directors or a representative body. It smacks of an organization in deep transition for cultural, political and technological reasons. It feels and smells just like newspaper boardrooms did in the late 1990s. It’s the non-profit version of the Board reform that is sweeping the private sector.
The SHRM board has a certain Marie Antoinette quality to its handling of the issues. The SMFT faction evokes a bit of the Arab Spring. Hopefully, SMFT has a game plan for the moment that the board says “Hey, this is a low paying gig at a non-profit. Maybe, we should turn this over to the membership.”
What’s missing from this polarized situation is any teensy-weensy bit of conversation. The SMFT sounds shrill while the SHRM Board stonewalls.
If you’re in Las Vegas on the 26th, this ought to be an interesting show.
In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to visit the SMFT website, review the issues and form an opinion.