Straight talking is the way to win respect

The CIPD (of which I have been a member for over 30 years) has in the past couple of years initiated research into the links between good personnel practices and their impact on the performance of organisations. The results so far are encouraging. Indeed, if it were not so, the very raison d’etre for the personnel department would be challenged.

However, the task of taking those results into the board room, of explaining them and gaining acceptance of them is in many respects a potentially even more difficult job.

The head of one of the Japanese car giants said 20 years ago, and I paraphrase, “We don’t mind sharing our secrets as to how we achieve progress because we know the West won’t follow our example”. Be that as it may, proving the case for business success based on good personnel strategies is one thing, gaining acceptance and changing the behaviour of organisations accordingly is another.

Frankly, we, and some of our academic partners, are much to blame for this. Regular readers of this column will know of my antipathy for the terms human resource, HRM et al, but they are the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way in which we describe our work.

We must be open and transparent with the organisations that employ us and to all those whose interests we seek to serve. And this means, among other things, avoiding language that will distance us from the very people we wish to influence – our line managers, chief executive officers, and, of course, the colleagues and fellow employees who work for our various organisations.

Hence we should avoid the growing tendency for jargon. In the recent CIPD report, words like “configurational” or phrases like “bundles of policies” are unlikely to be readily understood or accepted by the average line manager, let alone the harassed plant supervisor in a small to medium-sized company – where most people are employed. There is a divide in this context between the big multi-nationals, with their sophisticated organisations and dedicated personnel departments, and the smaller enterprises, but there exists a common failing and that is the use of over-complicated, unclear jargon-ridden language that we use to describe our work and with which we seek to influence others.

Let’s face it, a great deal of what we do in the personnel department is, in essence, simple – we should be dealing with people and their problems in a commonsense, unambiguous way to gain mutual advantage. The academics have an important role to play in research and understanding and in establishing the links between good practices and good results, but it is up to us to take their work and translate it into ordinary language if we want to get the messages across. Fail in this regard and we fail ourselves and our profession.

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