How I made a difference: How I made a difference: David Cooper, HR director, Royal College of Nursing

When I arrived here six months ago, the organisation was ready for change. The RCN has talented people but had developed some habits that were stifling good management and productivity.

There was an unhealthy culture of organisational inertia, old-fashioned employment practices and trade union confrontation. The HR department sat very uncomfortably in the middle, refereeing relationships between individual staff and management. It had lost its purpose in the organisation – and its value.

The first calls I made were to the full-time convenors and local representatives of the unions dealing with RCN staff. I wanted to re-establish the right of managers to take decisions without having to consult everyone in advance on every detail and to re-contract with the unions that, sometimes, you can’t reach agreement on everything before you have to move forward. I built new, personal, relationships with the convenors and reps.

We now have a level of trust and confidence that means negotiations are meaningful, productive and mutually respectful. Together with the RCN’s chief executive, Peter Carter, we began to resolve some of the issues that had been on the table for far too long. Just one example puts this into context – after 16 years of backwards and forwards haggling, we finally put into place a new policy on lease cars.

Having opened up the possibility that change could and would benefit staff, my next move was to employ a specialist to bring the RCN’s HR policies and procedures up to date and to move them above and beyond best practice. We want them to be the standards others aspire to. 

Managers desperately needed clear guidance on a whole range of employment policies and procedures. There was a great deal of inconsistency and unfairness in the organisation, which had led to a disproportionate number of grievances and disciplinaries.

It is early days, but managers, staff and the unions are telling me that it’s starting to feel like a different organisation. As we move through a period of organisational change, modernisation and restructure, we are re-establishing boundaries and re-training ourselves to accept a more balanced and genuine partnership with the introduction of new schemes such as long service and staff achievement awards, the people who work for the RCN are finding themselves feeling valued by it.

Lessons learned…

  • Build good relations with unions

  • Go above and beyond best practice

  • Open up to the possibility of change

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