Putting HR to the ultimate test

Brought in during a period of radical reform for the RUC,
senior director of HR Joe Stewart is charged with restructuring the force
within a framework of high political expectation. Mike Broad reports

Joe Stewart is taking on a big job. The new senior director of HR of the
Royal Ulster Constabulary is charged with driving forward massive change within
the police force.

The RUC is being extensively re-branded, restructured and re-trained to
better represent and police Northern Ireland. While a lot of the media
attention has focused on the disarming of the terrorists and the
decommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the RUC is also a cornerstone
of the Good Friday Agreement, negotiated in 1998, and vital to the success of
the peace process.

HR overhaul

Two weeks into the job, Stewart has initiated a comprehensive review of the
HR function in the force. Recruitment, outplacement, training and work culture
all have to be tackled to meet the demands of the influential Patten Report.

"We need to have a close look at where HR is adding value and ensure
that we are providing support in important areas," he said.

"We are suffering absenteeism rates of 10 per cent, for example. That
is a lost resource and it isn’t helping operational commanders deliver policing
on the ground."

The RUC has an HR team of 500 and spends £24m of the overall £654m budget.
"We have to make sure that every pound is adding value," explained

The Patten Report proposes over 180 reforms to the RUC. Chief among these
are the re-branding of the force as the Police Service of Northern Ireland; a
need to employ an equal number of Catholics and Protestants – the organisation
is currently viewed as largely Protestant – and the appointment of the first
civilian head of HR.

Stewart said, "We are in a strange situation where changes are being
prescribed from outside the organisation. Our challenge is to ensure that we
get real implementation rather than just acceptance."

In the past, the head of personnel was always an assistant chief constable.
But the demands of the role in the new RUC need considerable HR expertise,
which Stewart has. He is the former chief executive of the Police Authority for
Northern Ireland, and between 1989 and 1994 was the personnel director of
shipbuilder Harland & Wolff, during a time of dramatic change for the firm,
as it moved from the public to the private sector.

Recruitment is one of the key issues for Stewart, with Catholics currently
representing only 8.5 per cent of the RUC’s policing staff.

The RUC outsourced job advertising and the initial recruitment process to a
consortium of private sector companies last November. Called Consensia, it
brings together management consultancy Deloitte & Touche, advertising
agency AV Brown, occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola and health assessors
BMI Medical Services, in a ground-breaking move for police services.

A TV advertising campaign, promoting the idea that individuals could perform
a meaningful and fulfilling role with the RUC and still lead a normal life,
generated 10,000 applicants.

Consensia has whittled down the applicants to 540 candidates from which the
RUC’s HR team will recruit 264 to become officers by the end of the financial
year, with an equal split between the two religions.

Stewart said, "When the pool is finalised it will cause political
controversy because while the nationalists believe it is essential, the
unionists think it is positive discrimination."

These recruits are set to go into training on 4 November. Police officer
training at the RUC has already been overhauled. The 20-week foundation course
has become more academically oriented, with the training involving the
University of Ulster and the recruits receiving recognised qualifications.

Furthermore, new officers no longer swear an oath to the Queen but state
that they will protect the public’s human rights. They will only now become
officers after passing the foundation course. The passing out parade has also
been changed since it was deemed too militaristic. It will now be more aligned
to a university graduation.

The HR team has had to bring about this change without the leadership of a
Policing Board, which is still the subject of dispute. It is also supposed to
be more representative of the people of Northern Ireland, and its imminent
operation is much more likely following the unionist party SDLP’s recent
decision to sit on the board. The end of September is the anticipated start

Political tension

Stewart also faces the challenge of high political expectation. Staffing
levels have been a contentious issue with the Patten Report suggesting there
should be 7,500 full-time officers supported by 2,500 part-timers. There has
been disagreement over the role of the part-timers, but when resolved Stewart
accepts that his HR team will be expected to respond rapidly.

"We don’t have political agreement over staffing levels yet. But when we
get it, we will have to recruit the part-timers on a timescale not based on the
realities that personnel professionals experience throughout the UK," he

The number of regulars has fallen from over 8,000 to 7,271. In April 2002, a
final decision will be taken as to the future of the 2,339 full-time reservists
and 1,044 part-time reservists that currently support the regular officers. It
is likely that they will be phased out, so as part of his HR review Stewart is
developing the RUC’s redundancy policy. He is committed to offering reservists
a "pro-rata" financial package comparable to the full-time officers
who have taken voluntary redundancy.

He said, "We could end up losing up to 90 officers a month so we need
to ensure we have excellent support and guidance services in place. It is
important not to demotivate those who remain."

The outplacement support the RUC is developing will include re-training,
financial and pensions advice, and careers guidance, including advice on
self-employment and other job opportunities. Stewart is concerned that there
could be reservists who have worked for the RUC for 20 years and are not
equipped to perform other jobs.

Balancing act

The importance of the HR team’s role in the radical reform of the RUC and
the continuance of the peace process cannot be overstated. But against this
backdrop of change there is a long and proud history in a force that has
experienced the death of 302 officers during the troubles, with a further 8,000
or so injured.

Stewart explained, "I have advised and implemented significant change
in a number of organisations during my career, however, I have never
experienced the scale of change that is happening within this organisation.
There is political necessity for change and it is really challenging the hearts
and minds of many employees."

Comments are closed.