HR is too timid to make its mark on societal scorecard

Has the HR profession become too far removed from reality to face up to fundamental social issues?

Jo, a widow, lives in the terrace next door to us, down a typical street in leafy London suburbia, populated mostly by dual-income, professional couples with young kids – like us. She is 86 and has lived here since 1935. She remembers a stray bomb blowing out all their windows during the war, and her daughter going to the new girls’ grammar school at the end of the road soon after, in what is now the crumbling adult education college.

My girls love Jo – she always makes the time to potter around with them in the front garden. So do the burglars – she has been targeted three times since we moved in two years ago. It is because she can’t afford the fancy alarm systems the rest of us have.

I really enjoy my work as an HR consultant, but somehow my sense of achievement is severely diminished when I think of Jo. That new incentive plan with demonstrable business returns doesn’t seem so brilliant, that balanced scorecard and competency framework so clever, that research trying to “prove” a link between reward practices and business performance so relevant.

How are we in the HR profession scoring on the all-important societal scorecard?

How many of us welcome evidence of balanced, varied and interesting lifestyles in our recruits, and then accept the imposition of work pressures on them which drive out all but the most essential and basic activities outside work?

How many of us complain about the educational standards of the school leavers we recruit, automatically fire anyone caught in possession of drugs and “tut, tut” at graffiti on the station and office walls? Yet at the same time collect crisp packets to pay for our kids’ books, or send them to private schools but still feel guilty at the lack of time we have to instil our own social values into them?

How many of us have implemented equal opportunity and diversity training programmes, yet wouldn’t even park our car near an inner city estate, or throw a few coppers to the down and outs we pass on the way home?

How many of us have also supported business cost-reduction programmes and held down general wage awards, while simultaneously bemoaning the business council tax rates, and developing ever-richer executive reward packages? How many treat industrial tribunal claims purely on the basis of the costs of settlement versus loss, yet bemoan the loss of any sense of right and wrong in society and among our kids?

How many of us have implemented “work-life balance” programmes which serve to ensure staff work even more excessive hours, meaning that even at home they can’t escape from work pressures, and weaken even further their ability to make any form of contribution to their local community?

And how many in the name of choice and flexibility have reduced the cost of their pension and pensioner support schemes, so that – like a friend of my dad’s who died recently – despite working for 40 years for the same company, there is no representation from the employer at the funeral?

Dave Ulrich was speaking in London recently. It confirmed my belief that he has become increasingly frustrated – no, angry – with the HR community.

It is not that they are not buying his books in their thousands, or failing to faithfully apply his capability frameworks and HR effectiveness matrices. Nor even that they still lack strategic vision. No, it is that too many human resources people lack guts.

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