How can the CIPD boost its clout with the Government?

With HR professionals calling for a
‘more political’ CIPD, Stephen Overell looks at what the institute can learn
from other organisations

Personnel Today’s
survey on the political profile of the CIPD harvested comments from the
profession that are unlikely to bring smiles to the faces of the institute’s
senior hierarchy.

The CIPD ought to be more
politically proactive, many HR managers say (News, 14 November). It should have
a stronger presence on the national stage, stimulate clearer thinking on
employment policy and try to head off badly drafted legislation before it can
do any damage.

Such calls are not new. Whenever the
issue of political influence comes up, as it does every few years, senior CIPD
officials pointedly say they do not want to become jabbering TV pundits
objecting to this or that or be found skulking at the back of press conferences
handing out photocopied sheets of ready-made quotes. Leave it to the TUC or the
CBI, they say, with a faint air of distaste. The CIPD is not that kind of organisation.

The institute is about professional
standards, best practice, quality research and practical insight into how to
manage and develop people. So the issue dies down and it is back to the usual
business.

Differences

But there are two possible differences
this time. First, the storm of legislation that has affected HR professionals
in their daily lives has had a profound impact – some 15 new employment rights
in the past three years at an estimated cost of £12.3bn. It is perhaps going a
bit far to say this has politicised the profession but it has had a profound
impact none the less.

Second, this is a government that,
to put it kindly, places a high value on presentation – or as head of HR at
Prêt à Manger Bruce Robertson prefers, “So much of the Government’s approach is
swayed by public opinion.”

Perhaps, as the senior HR
professionals surveyed by Personnel Today seem to be saying, the CIPD should
reposition itself as more of a representative organisation. As well as being
“the leading professional body”, it could also be the “voice” of its members.

The obvious comparison lies across
the Atlantic in the form of the Society for Human Resource Management, the US
equivalent of the CIPD. At 150,000 members to the CIPD’s 105,000, it is not that
much bigger, given the disparity in the size of the workforces.

But
there are some very different intentions behind the way it describes itself.
The SHRM says it is “the leading voice of the human resource profession”.

Representation

As well as the expected education
and information services, conferences and seminars, it also offers “government
and media representation”.

Last week it, along with other
business organisations, took the US Government to court to try to block
legislation imposing a duty on employers to implement ergonomics programmes to
cut down on repetitive strain injuries among workers.

The CIPD has a far quieter take on
representing its members. When the Government seeks views on new legislation or
initiatives, the CIPD duly consults its 48 branches and feeds back what it
finds. But while this may be a version of representation, HR managers seem to
feel it is not giving the CIPD the presence and clout of, say, the Institute of
Directors or the Law Society. Participants seem to want a more aggressive tack,
more of a stand.

“The CIPD should be involved in the
thick end of politics and legislation development with the Government and trade
unions,” says Suzan Grant-Foale, assistant personnel officer for Anglia TV.

Such a perception of the institute
arguably places it in the role of a functional-specialist version of the CBI.
The CBI – which claims to speak for business, despite having only 2,000
companies and 180 trade associations in its membership – has parliamentary
officers lobbying heavily behind the scenes, six officials in Brussels and a
press office of five that is not averse to placing stories and redirecting
journalists. Not quite the CIPD’s style, perhaps.

Two survey respondents say the CIPD
should become more like the Law Society. But according to Simon McGrath, UK HR
director of insurance group Willis, CIPD procedures limit its ability to
represent HR in the way that the Law Society represents solicitors. “Unlike
virtually any other professional body, the CIPD does not elect its council and
officers by a ballot of the members,” he says.

“We are far less democratic than,
say, the British Medical Association or the Law Society.”

That is true. The Law Society –
perhaps a bad example, given recent bad press – has a directly elected council,
an elected president, elected vice-president and deputy vice-president but an
appointed chief executive.

The CIPD is run by a council, made
up principally of 48 branch chairs elected by the branches, and an executive
board, which is appointed.

But then the two organisations are
different: the Law Society also regulates solicitors. And, it should be added,
not all well-known employer organisations that claim to be representative have
democratic structures – quite the opposite, in fact.

Ostentatious image?

Those respondents who want a more
political voice for the profession in Westminster, or a more ostentatious
national image for the profession’s principal body, are likely to be
disappointed in the short term. But since the CIPD’s Harrogate conference, when
president Don Beattie first indicated that the institute would seek greater
influence over policy, it has not been idle.

The institute argues that it has
stepped up its political contacts by the appointment of Dr John Philpott,
former head of the Employment Policy Institute and a well-known employment
specialist, as chief economist.

And it continues to stress that
while it believes it has excellent relations with civil servants in both the
Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and
Employment, the question of influence hinges partly on timing. It is not that
the messages are heard but when they are heard.

This line, however, may not hold
much water with its members for much longer
.

How the other bodies
compare

CIPD

Membership 105,000

Function “Leading professional body for those involved
in the management and development of people”

Structure Council made up of 48 branch chairs,
seven vice-presidents and senior officials. Executive board of 16 appointed
members. Senior officials are appointed

Parliamentary unit No

Places press articles No

Income £27.6m

CBI

Members 2,000 direct member companies, 180 indirect

Function Representing views of business

Structure Council of 110 members with positions
rotating between top 350 companies; president’s committee of 60 people
including 20 chief executives or chairs; 22 standing committees; appointed
director-general.

Parliamentary unit Yes

Places press articles Yes

Income Nearly £71m

Institute of Directors

Membership 53,000

Function Representing the views of company directors

Structure Policy and executive council of up
to 20 nominated members

Parliamentary unit No

Places press articles No

Income £23.5m

Law
Society

Members 100,000,

Function Representing and regulating
solicitors

Structure Directly elected council,
president, vice-president and deputy vice-president, appointed chief executive

Parliamentary unit Yes

Places press articles Yes

Income £57m

Society
for Human Resource Management

Membership 150,000

Function “Leading voice of the human resource
profession in the United States”. Offers “government and media representation”
and offers education and information services, conferences and seminars

Lobby unit Yes

Places press articles Yes

Income Not known

www.shrm.org

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