Hail the Champions but remember the Backroom Heroes

There is a certain nobility to the new CIPD Manifesto for Work. I rather like to think of the Chartered Institute as being headed up by a gallant team of ‘Chiefs’ and ‘Heads’ leading a crusade against youth unemployment, low pay and skills gaps. I imagine them riding out from their Wimbledon Camelot, their standards flapping in the wind as they head for Westminster to educate politicians and employers alike in the ways of good people management, culture change and high productivity growth. I will leave it those of you who have read the document to decide whether those standards will have faint hints of red or blue…

If this sounds like I’m mocking the Manifesto then it’s only in an affectionate way. As a young Civil Servant I was held hostage by a group of employers at our training college in Sunningdale to be educated in the ‘business perspective’. It was sold to employers by the then DTI (Department for Trade and Industry) as an opportunity for them to influence the policy makers of tomorrow. What it became was angry business people shouting at us for a week that a) business people don’t need boffins to tell them how to make money, b) if boffins knew how to make money they would all live in big houses and c) if boffins leave business people alone they are unlikely to go out of business. That week of re-programming has stayed with me so some of the more earnest concerns in the Manifesto about wanting to help employers “stay ahead of the competition” or “persuade [them] of the business case” of something still make me wince a bit.

There are though parts of this document where the CIPD have not only got it right but have turned their attention to areas where they can make a really valuable contribution. The most convincing of these is Corporate Governance and the focus on improving standards of narrative reporting. The shift from HR numbers, to metrics, to analytics and, crucially, the development of stories and narrative have put the HR profession in the best place to lead this. This section of the Manifesto is the best written and most well thought through. The phrase “quantitative metrics and qualitative judgments” is a genuinely helpful way of trying to move the questions currently being asked at public inquiries back into the Boardroom before it all goes wrong. Susannah Clements (Deputy Chief Executive) uses Banking and the NHS as examples of where things have gone wrong and there are (sadly) many others. This is where the CIPD can make a difference.

I do have an issue with the concept of a Workplace Commission. The World is rarely made a better place by the existence of another QUANGO, NDPD, arms length body, or NGO. I do worry about exclusive groups somehow becoming the legitimate voice of a profession. In this World of instant feedback, online petitions and social media we should be opening discussions up rather than closing them down. We’ve had enough beer and sandwiches, we want lattes and smart phones now.

I also wonder how close many CIPD members will feel to this Manifesto too. By its own admission the CIPD is offering this contribution as an advisor. For all my teasing it is not claiming to be able to deliver this change or even have all the answers and I’m sure that anything it can add to fiscal and public policy thinking will be useful. Real change will be delivered by the organisations involved in meeting the types of challenges referred to everyday, be they commercial organisations, public bodies, Government departments, charities or independent players. Within those organisations there are likely to be HR practitioners and those practitioners are likely to be members of the CIPD. It is a shame that there is no reference to this in the Manifesto. I don’t doubt that there are CIPD members who will recently have renewed their membership who will flick through this document looking for where they fit in. This Manifesto was a fantastic opportunity to promote our profession and to make the case for organisations to invest in their HR and People Management capability. Failing that, perhaps some recognition for those practitioners who are championing better work and working lives on the ground on a daily basis and whose membership fees fund the CIPD.

I don’t want to end on a downbeat though. The CIPD is clearly working hard to engage senior opinion formers and decision makers and that isn’t a bad thing. A Manifesto and the existence of a Commission will get it more column inches and more radio play and I will be glad when that happens. At some point though the Institute will need to show how all of this is genuinely of benefit to members and promoting the profession in a positive way.

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