these times of economic change HR finds itself in the spotlight. But rather
than turn to gimmicks to prove its worth, it needs to focus on people
the HR mantra "to be even more exclusively business-driven" bec-omes
louder and louder the profession should be braced for more self-flagellation.
Today’s panel discussion of senior HR professionals, ("Tool Order",
24 July) showed this most clearly. But as Financial Times journalist Richard
Donkin points out in his new book Blood, Sweat and Tears, the external
criticism and constant self-doubt in the HR community is nothing new.
years ago in the first "modern" management textbook The Practice of
Management, Peter Drucker slated the personnel profession for being torn
between its administrative and HR activities.
mocked its "constant worry as to its inability to prove it is making a
contribution to the enterprise". This led the function to a preoccupation
with the "search for ‘gimmicks’ to impress their management
associates" – the same tool-addiction and lack of business focus referred
to in the Personnel Today debate.
pessimistic conclusion is that HR has always been about "sweating the most
valuable assets of the company". He traces a disturbing line of management
thinking all the way from the sweatshops of inhumane industrialists in the
industrial revolution, through FW Taylor’s narrow-minded scientific management
and its deliberate agenda of smashing the power of skilled labour, right the
way up to business process re-engineering and our current obsession with
shareholder and economic value-added and HR’s "bottom-line
looking for respite from the enslaving effects of the new knowledge and
information-driven work revolution (including e-mail overload and voicemail
asphyxiation) can only look to themselves for salvation.
see examples in my work every week of HR departments seeking the magic-bullet
solution from consultants and being unwilling to pay to uncover the problems
they face; of companies turning down business-aligned and innovative reward
schemes because "nobody else uses them".
also regularly meet line managers who ludicrously over-estimate the role of
money in motivation at work and who oppose work-life balance or job redesign or
training programmes because they can’t see beyond that month’s profit and loss
is precisely at these times of major economic and industrial change that the
need for specialists who focus on the human dimension, who understand human
behaviour and motivation becomes most vital.
is as true in the current industrial revolution as it was in the first. Rising
rates of workplace injuries and deaths, tribunal claims and stress-related
compensation payments are all evidence of the pressures our businesses are
under. Yet now, as London Business School’s Lynda Gratton has pointed out, is
precisely the time for organisations to recognise the unique features of human
capital – that we have feelings and we seek meaning in our work and in our
years earlier even than Drucker, Edward Cadbury, one of the founding fathers of
personnel management in the UK, observed that, "employee welfare and
company productivity are different sides of the same coin". If HR is to
prove Donkin wrong, it needs to be creating more work environments where, as he
puts it, people can "work at what they love doing and what is important to
do" – and in the process create the financial returns their employers lust
need to avoid any more "dark satanic mills" being built in the guise
of call and tele-centres, and recession-induced management styles.
pay attention to your business needs and your managers’ desires, but do not be
afraid to remind them of Cadbury, and of the human in human resources.
Duncan Brown is principal of Towers Perrin and chairman of the CIPD