HR profession is its own worst critic

Directors attending the Richmond Events conference aboard The Aurora indulged themselves with a lot of self analysis during a question-time debate.

HR has a big image problem, but does not have an effective body to champion its cause in the public arena, according to delegates at a panel discussion at this year’s HR Forum conference.

The debate was based on research carried out by an expert panel prior to the event, with delegates expressing strong opinions over the non-appearance of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) on board The Aurora.

The panel consisted of HR directors Amanda Leonard of Compass, Martin Tiplady from the Metropolitan Police and Vance Kearney from Oracle, along with Personnel Today editor Jane King, and Simon Howard, founder of recruitment consultancy Work Communications.

Its study of 80 senior HR professionals found that more than eight in 10 believed the profession had an image problem, and only half the respondents said the HR function was represented on the board of their companies.

The poll also showed that HR professionals were disillusioned by the role played by the CIPD, with only 28 per cent agreeing that it provided the right leadership for the profession.

Tiplady said that HR had the potential to play an important role in business, but needed to make ‘more noise’.

“We still have an image of being inflexible, of being rule-keepers – a moribund outfit at times,” he said. “The opportunity is there for us to raise our game and have a lot of influence.”

King agreed, and said that, while HR was not a beleaguered profession, there were issues about how the it is perceived by the general public, company boards, industry chiefs and the workforce generally.

Those on board also expressed strong opinions on the CIPD’s absence and its unwillingness to act as a voice of the industry.

“This is one of the premier events of the HR year, and the CIPD is not here because it’s not its own business event,” said Kearney. “That’s ridiculous. Is it running a professional body or an exhibition company?”

The refusal of the CIPD to petition on behalf of HR was compared with other professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, which have been successful in helping the public to understand the challenges and pressures their members face.

Tiplady warned that if the CIPD was not willing to lobby on behalf of the profession, then discussion and views about employment would continue to be sought from the trade unions.

Leonard said the most frightening statistic was that while respondents said they had issues with the CIPD, almost half (44 per cent) insisted that staff have a CIPD qualification. “We are still looking for a qualification that adds value to business,” she said.

The survey showed that two-thirds (64 per cent) of HR departments did not use hard measures to measure the impact of HR, and the panel warned delegates that the profession should stop ‘navel gazing’, and get on with measuring effectiveness.

Kearney said HR needed to concentrate on delivering value, and stop the ‘ridiculous self analysis’.

“If you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and tell yourself you are ugly – trust me, you’ll feel ugly,” he said.

What the survey asked and the profession’s responses

Q What is the biggest challenge you face within your own HR function?

  • To develop and broaden the skills set of our HR teams while ensuring the basics do not suffer
  • Getting employees to see the benefit of HR
  • Finding good people with an in-depth understanding of the business we are in
  • Different specialisms ploughing their own furrow. This is at least in part because we in HR believe the ‘general’ management propaganda that HR is a specialist expert function, rather than an inseparable part of the greater general management
  • Having a life

Q Why does HR have an image problem?

  • We are still tarnished with the image of being a largely administrative function
  • HR is still often seen as a scapegoat for hard decisions and actions. It is seen as a cost centre and doesn’t have the glamourous appeal of other functions, such as sales
  • Senior HR professionals have to speak the language of finance and marketing to win credibility, and we really need to understand the business
  • HR needs to be able to demonstrate that it understands the business environment completely, and that what it can add at board level is ‘value added’. If it cannot, we might as well not turn up

Q If I hadn’t become an HR professional, I would have…

  • made my fortune by 30 and now be running my own foundation
  • been a barrister or beach-bum
  • gone into something I was good at and where I could make a difference
  • been a celebrity chef with a very successful restaurant
  • travelled the world as a wildlife photographer
  • taught the world to sing in perfect harmony
  • been a lawyer/psychiatrist/train driver, so I wouldn’t keep being defined and limited by others due to my profession
  • played football for Leeds United (openings are now available)

Responses from HR directors attending Richmond Events HR Forum 6-9 May 2004

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