It sounds like a job from hell. The first civilian head of
HR stepped into the breach at the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the same week
that the world’s media were dominated by pictures of children caught up in
violent protests over a route to school.
While Joe Stewart is unlikely to find himself the target of
a pipe bomb, he could be in the firing line in other ways. The huge task of
reforming the RUC into an organisation with support from both sides of Ulster’s
sectarian divide is predominantly an HR challenge. Successful reform will
depend on making drastic changes to recruitment, training and work culture in
an organisation where currently less than 10 per cent of officers are Catholics.
A lot of HR chiefs talk about overhauling corporate culture
as if it were a matter of life and death, but in Stewart’s case this is no
exaggeration. Stewart acknowledges himself that changes to work culture at the
RUC are vital to the success of the peace process. His planned comprehensive
review of HR will have a direct impact on the safety of officers and their
ability to protect both sides of the community. If ever there was a
demonstration of the crucial role of HR this is it.
It won’t be easy. He will have to bring down absence rates
from the current 10 per cent. He will have to restructure the force during a
period when the RUC will be losing up to 90 officers a month. And the
difficulties are compounded by the fact that every move the RUC makes is done
in the full glare of the media.
But Stewart and his colleagues will have the satisfaction of
knowing they are helping to make history. Stewart has an opportunity to show
what HR is all about and everyone in the profession will want to wish him