The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development meets for its annual conference in Manchester this week. Thanks to some bad planning, I shall be out of the country for much of the week so I can’t go. I know plenty of people who are going, though, so no doubt I shall hear all about it anyway.
This is an interesting time to be in HR. Thanks to the financial crash and the resulting fiscal crisis, things that were once discussed in the bottom right hand corner of the business pages are now subjects of mainstream debate. Do bonuses work and what effect do they have on behaviour? What role does culture play in an organisation and how do you change it? How do you make public service organisations more efficient?
A lot of the things that HR people have been talking about for years are now of wider interest.
It’s not really surprising. The financial crisis showed that we need to change the culture of our banks. The new bank bosses have said as much. At the same time, the country’s fiscal position means that public services need to become a lot more efficient. For example, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that changes in healthcare productivity could have a significant impact on the national debt over the next 40 years.
The difference between annual productivity improvements of 2.2 percent (the OBR’s Central Projection) and 1 percent might not sound like much but, over time, the fiscal impact is huge. True, some of this is, as with most public services, is dependent on political decisions but much of it is a people management challenge.
From banks to local authorities, changing the way people behave in organisations is a crucial to the size and sustainability of our economic recovery. Of course, it always has been but the difference now is that people are beginning to understand its importance and there is a lot more public debate about it. So much so that, last week, a parliamentary commission was launched to improve the standard of management in Britain.
HR professionals get all this, both from a theoretical and a practical perspective. Good HR people have a good understanding of the academic research but also have a feel for what works in their organisations. They know how to ‘do’ change and they know it doesn’t happen until people decide to do something different. Whether it’s changing the culture in our banks, making public services more efficient or generally improving the standard of management in Britain, HR people will have to play a major role.
It’s no coincidence, then, that the profile of the CIPD is at an all-time high. As I’ve said before, it used to annoy me when Pandora Knownothing-Smythe from GodKnowsWhat organisation was wheeled out to comment on workplace or labour market news items, while the professional HR body was nowhere to be seen. You couldn’t say that now though. Whether it’s zero hours contracts, rising absence or people not trusting their bosses, when the CIPD speaks, the media listens. Sure, some of this is due to the work the people at the CPID have been putting in over the years but it also reflects the increased interest in the way organisations and people are managed.
“Now is the time when HR should shine,” says Kate. It’s an exciting time to be in the profession. People in business, government and the media are now talking HR’s language. It’s no longer bottom right hand column stuff. People management is now headline news.