Lord Monks was addressing a gathering of human resources professionals, trade unionists and academics to debate the contemporary role of HR, and posing the question: “Custodian of organisational conscience, deliverer of financial targets or strategic business leader?”
Opening the event, organised by Prospect with the Work Foundation, John Monks said that times had changed since the great industrial relations managers of the 1970s.
The decline of collective bargaining and union influence in the private sector had coincided with a decline in the influence of human resources departments, with financial function becoming more and more powerful and the assumption that if you run the money side, the human and technical stuff would run itself.
“An ever widening gap has developed with mediocre performance in so many companies. A code of practice including rules for leadership, and sharing of pain and rewards, could have an important role to play,” said Monks.
He challenged HR practitioners to be more assertive and re-establish a sense of leadership where people matter.
Monks’ message to companies was: “Your behaviour today will affect prospects tomorrow and the way people are treated today will affect how your firm is regarded tomorrow. Reputations are hard to build but easy to lose.”
Speakers and delegates discussed what good work is and how to measure it. Professor Steve Bevan, director of the Work Foundation centre for workforce effectiveness, launched his paper Performance Management: HR thoroughbred or Beast of Burden?
In introducing it, he highlighted the crucial role of HR leadership, saying performance management had become a “metaphor for the challenges that the HR function faces in building and maintaining its credibility in organisations.”
He said there was a real challenge – not just in the design of performance management processes but how they are implemented.