As long as I’ve been around the HR profession there have been regular bouts of navel gazing. You only have to look at some of the most-shared HR blogs and join in the usual conference chats about seats at the table, making a difference and the need to change. I’ve facilitated discussions about the purpose and value of HR, whether we should do away with it and how to demonstrate the value.
I’ve often said that I know of no other business function that beats itself up so. I know of few sales people who responded to the PPI mis-selling scandal with a long hard look into their soul to question the job and personal values, and neither did I see a wave of accountants post-Enron self-flagellating over whether the finance function had lost credibility and could no longer be taken seriously as a business function.
Any who did have self-doubt would doubtless strive to show how the profession could improve to stop a repeat, with those guilty of wrong doing not just being wrong, but also rogue outliers and not indicative of the overall standards of most of the profession.
In my experience though the HR function never quite seems to have the same self-belief, which may be why it can sometimes be seen to overreact to perceived attacks on its credibility and value.
Hence my lack of surprise at the brouhaha caused by this week’s online opinion piece from the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Women’ Editor, Louisa Peacock – It’s Official: Lucy Adams Has Killed off the HR Profession Once and For All.
There are plenty of blogs and responses from both the online community and the online HR media on Peacockgate* and I don’t particularly want to add to the she was wrong/no she wasn’t/yes she was debate, however much of the immediate response seemed to me typical of a group who maybe lack the necessary self-confidence needed to brush this kind of thing off and hence end up taking offence at what they see as an attack.
What’s often missing from this kind of debate is perspective and context, so here are a few observations:
- The piece did not appear in the business or finance section but in the Women’s section. It queried the career suitability of a profession which is 70% female and was portrayed as a women’s issue and not necessarily a business issue.
- Although it was written by the Deputy Editor of the women’s section, part of the problem for the HR profession may have been that is it was written by someone seen as one of their own. Someone who learned her trade in the HR media, has covered CIPD conferences and interviewed many leading HR practitioners.
- It appeared in the online edition of a staunchly right of centre broadsheet newspaper. One who editorially challenge wastage of public funds and the BBC in general, who broadly support Beecroft and the stripping away of red tape around business, are seen as business friendly and often publish opinion writers (Jeremy Warner, Allister Heath) who ideologically appear to favour much looser employment rights. An HR function being profligate with public money would be in the firing line from an editorial viewpoint.
- It was an opinion piece. Not quite a Littlejohn or Clarkson, but as with many such pieces it is there primarily to provoke debate, promote sharing, create a noise, get traffic to the site. Some criticism has been levelled around the lack of supporting evidence – but this is fairly common with such pieces. Take something that’s happened, frame it slightly out of context and then use it to prove a different point is a modus operandi for many opinion pieces in the media (and some blogs for that matter). Whether it is the journalist or the sub-editor driving the narrative is unclear and hence I wouldn’t necessarily draw conclusions. **
Before I fall too far into the trap of over intellectualising, the reaction to all this displayed a siege mentality, but not necessarily one with the passion and belief that would indicate success…hence the name calling and umbrage.
I think the CIPD missed an opportunity to take the passion and desire to debate that was displayed by its members as a platform to open a wider conversation. After all, the main thrust of the piece was over career choices for young women so here was an opportunity to use it as a springboard to positively showcase the HR profession.
They could have produced a blog almost immediately, not criticising but summarising and showing an understanding of whatever points were being made. Reference the fact that any profession will have its rogue elements and that bad (or less than best) practice won’t be defended or tolerated, but also isn’t necessarily indicative of the rest of the profession.
Then let members debate, adding their views on the CIPD blog platform. No profession is one spokesperson but is the cumulative views of its members and hence they were in pole position to reflect the views of their members on this. Hell, why not look for a right of reply, a follow up post on the Telegraph site espousing the positives of a career in HR, why and how CIPD members make a difference to working lives.
As Neil Morrison says in his recent blog on this issue
…as a profession we should showcase good performance and role models AND we should hold bad practise to account. It isn’t a weakness to admit that HR is a profession in need of improvement, it’s a strength. And when we do, when we show the critical skills of self-analysis, you know what? We make people take us a whole lot more seriously
It’s often said that people rarely talk about good customer service but will always talk about bad customer service, and the same is probably true with HR. There’s plenty of good stuff out there – it doesn’t mean that the bad stuff doesn’t happen, but that you need to work a bit harder to get the good stuff out in the open.
And a healthy dose of context and perspective is a good starting point…
(* If you read this Louisa, I am joshing, treat it as a badge of honour 🙂 )
(** Later that evening I was at an event where the editor of the FT gave a short talk around the journalism profession and how it was reacting to the digital challenges. Listening to some stories from earlier in his career reminded me that not every piece that gets published is necessarily as the journalist originally intended)