The failure of HR

Well, after much speculation, and a weekend of leaks, yesterday saw the publication of the Taylor Review into employment, entitled “Good Work”. Much of the focus has understandably been on the Employment Law implications (excellently summarised by Darren Newman) and there has been a mixed reaction to the proposals.

But one of the key things that struck me from the report was the implicit failure of HR Management over the last 20-30 years, in allowing this situation to develop. Taylor’s concept of ‘good work’ would not look out of place in any CIPD document (and isn’t radically different to the ideas of a Victorian-era Pope). But the fact that Taylor feels it necessary to state that:

·         Flexible working is currently one-sided, in favour of the employer

·         A culture has grown up of insecure work and unpaid overtime

·         Employees and other workers are not listened to and often have no way to put forward their views

·         Not enough time or money is invested in training and development

·         The over-control of workers leads to problems with individual wellbeing

Suggests the reality – of what HR are doing – doesn’t match the theory.

So why is this? There seem to me to be five main reasons for HR’s failure.

·         Clinging on to outdated ideas – like “Best Practice” – a set of theories that derive from a discredited 1980s management study

·         A mistaken perspective, that sees businesses as some kind of corporate North Korea where dissidents (anyone disagreeing with the management viewpoint) are trouble makers to be removed, or re-educated via ‘employee engagement’ programmes.

·         Alternating between scaredy-cat approaches where we hide behind “policy says no” and “we might set a precedent”, and macho ‘business partnering’ where we try to act like the corporate equivalent of mafia hitmen.

·         Dehumanising people by referring to them as “human capital” (an oxymoronic term that reduces people to data on spreadsheets)

·         Becoming obsessed with the process rather than the outcome. I don’t care which “Applicant Tracker System” is best or about the relative merits of an ‘e-learning portal’ v ‘online facilitation’.  

I’m glad to see that the CIPD are having a review and consultation around our professional standards. But it’s how HRM is put into practice that worries me, and it seems we are way off the game in a lot of areas.


7 thoughts on “The failure of HR

  1. Steady on Simon you are beginning to sound like me…..and rest assured there are limited spots on the ‘lunatic fringe’ who dare question what the hell Human Resource Management actual is or does…lol

  2. An alternative approach and thinking to HRM is that it was introduced rather rapidly into the UK in the early to mid 1980’s as a ready made solution to combat collectivism. Academic interest at the time was in Japanese management techniques but culturally the American anti trade union philosophy contained in the then ‘soft’ version of HRM with its emphasis on the individual employee was thought more effective. This philosophy neatly dovetailed into the then thinking of Thatcher’s intent to, if possible, eradicate trade unionism in favour of the then conservative governments’ newly conceived ‘individual’ employee. Her guru and mentor was F. A. Hayek whose ‘The Road To Serfdom’ was her nightly bedtime reading.

    Through a mixture of anti-trade union legislation, continual political reference to this newly created individual with ‘rights’ and ‘opportunities’ and the workplace philosophy attached to ‘soft’ HRM the transition from an Industrial Relations system based on collectivism and tripartism has been, over the years, transformed into what we see today.

    HRM has served capitalism well in this transition but now its practical usefulness has come to an end. However, HRM has morphed into a global business worth millions of pounds and like any business it has to have something to sell or provide a service to its core customer base. HRM is now into new product development, leadership, emotional intelligence and employee engagement, to name a few, attempting to ensure its relevance to its core customers, employers.

    Unfortunately, after 30+ years of rhetoric HRM is now being found out and employees (under whatever category Taylor in his review has identified) are questioning exactly what does HRM do for employees?

    But like the Banks HRM has now become to big to fail. Therein ls the paradox.

    A postage stamp history…….lol

    • While I wouldn’t agree entirely with that analysis, there are elements of truth in it – particularly around the 1980s move from collective approaches to individual ones which changed the nature of the working relationship significantly

  3. Hi so much I agree with here: sadly HR has become synonymous with ‘the process’. But maybe there’s also something about the dislocation between HR and line manager responsibilities that needs to be looked at? Thanks for the post. Adrian

    • Adrian, thanks for the comment. I agree that there is an issue about line management roles and HR, although I’m not sure if there is a common solution (I think it’s probably more of an organisation by organisation issue.) Interestingly, one of my first graduate projects in around 1986 was to look at the responsibilities of ‘Personnel’ v ‘Supervisors’, which shows if nothing else that it’s not a new issue!

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