Why HR needs vision on staff consultation

Plenty of companies – and trade unions – are big on ‘the vision thing’, but
sometimes people never value those who actually make things happen.

There are vast numbers of end-of-the-pier presentations about human resource
management. There are more than enough one-day conferences on the need for a
better world. Legislators, of course, are big on the vision thing, but less
sensible about how that vision will actually work in the factories and offices
of Britain.

HR has had its fair share of this. Who can ever forget the exquisite
confusion surrounding the regulations on the Working Time Directive? Things
seem to be settling down now, but no thanks to the Parliamentary drafting
squad. Need I mention the state of pensions legislation? Here, too, the best
intentions of reformers are being confused by the actual rules.

Only the goodwill and hard work of HR managers is helping often anxious
workers to understand what’s going on.

It’s not always the case. Unions had to show everyone what was required over
recognition legislation in 1999. The restoration of some level of trade union
rights was fairly new to many employers and a challenging opportunity to trade
union organisers. The regulations and institutions set up by the legislation
quickly got under way and I think that the mechanisms to accept or deny trade
union recognition are clear and operable by us all.

We may not like the results from time to time. The company that flowed in
foreign executives to personally threaten each individual not to join the union
or watch the company shut was particularly painful. Nevertheless, the way the
legislation gets implemented is, by and large, working as the legislators
intended.

So vision is vital, but the process management of change at work is just as
important. The whole partnership agenda shows this up well, with some companies
wanting partnership to mean cheerful acceptance of managerial wisdom. When
workers want to take part in new institutions that give them an equality of
respect, the vision goes blurred, the birth of partnership activity slows down
so much that cynicism reigns.

I think that the implementation of the European Framework Directive on
national company level works councils will again challenge us all to design
working structures that encourage change at work. Once again, it will be HR
managers who explain to other key managers what it means and how it will work.
Whether other managers see this directive as more red tape or a great
opportunity to get their workforce onside with company ‘visions’ is the great
question. It will be the union officials – lay and professional – and the HR
managers who will make it work. Hurrah for us! Hurrah for the bureaucrats!

By John Lloyd, National officer, Amicus

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