Identity crisis keeps DTI at the crossroads

What do you think of the Department of Trade and Industry? It would be
useful to hear about HR’s experiences of the department whose mission is to
work with business, staff and consumers to drive up productivity and
competitiveness.

It is all too easy to take a pop at faceless government departments and the
DTI has had its critics – from the small business community, to the Institute
of Directors and the unions. And in the past, the HR profession has also been
vociferous with complaints that it is slow to deliver, and that over-regulation
creates too much bureaucracy and stifles development.

In this issue, we question what the DTI is achieving, and take a considered
view of its role in a bid to further the debate. We conclude that the DTI is
having a bit of an identity crisis, and is far from convincing as a driver of
change or even as a support mechanism for business.

Some may consider this a harsh assessment for a department that’s had a
succession of good leaders and some brilliant civil servants within its
powerbase. But the problem lies in the lack of clarity of its role and
frustration over the way it communicates. As Professor Michael Porter recently
said, the future is about a collaborative effort between business and the
Government, not one side calling the shots.

HR is on the DTI’s radar screen at last, and is viewed as a vital partner.
There are definite signals that Patricia Hewitt’s department recognises the
value of people management to growing the economy. Several new initiatives –
from Porter’s productivity study, to the Higgs report on non-executive
directors – suggest her team has grasped that HR is critical to the
competitiveness challenge.

The most resounding endorsement of HR so far is probably the latest DTI
announcement of a taskforce to provide solid performance benchmarks and
guidance on how organisations can meaningfully account for their human capital
assets. It is disappointing that only one HR professional – Patti Bellinger
from BP – has been invited to join this working party, but let’s not be
churlish.

The DTI is clearly at a crossroads in its relationship with HR, and we watch
its progress with interest. Let us know what you think – send your comments,
views, and experiences of the DTI to personneltoday@rbi.co.uk

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