Stand up and be counted

first_imgWhen the IPD finally achieved its five-year ambition to win chartered statusfor the profession, the leadership attended a Privy Council session where thehonour was conferred in a ceremony dating back to Elizabethan times. Whilestopping short of donning garters, rosettes and other assorted regalia, allparticipants had to show their respect for the Crown and ancient tradition byremaining upstanding throughout.According to Nick Isles, head of external affairs at the institute, this hadthe effect of keeping proceedings short and sweet. But other commentators havedrawn uncomfortable analogies between the archaic nature of the ceremony itselfand the IPD’s own profile, both within the profession and in the wider businessand political spheres.Old-style management”The IPD is an old war-horse dominated by an old-stylemanagement,” says one senior academic specialising in HR development.”It is not a forward-looking organisation. There’s an arrogance about itsattitude – it seems to be saying, ‘This is how we are, and this is how we willstay’, regardless of how the profession is changing.”I have a great sense of frustration about the lack of vision anddrive. This is a huge organisation – the membership is vast, it’s got moremoney than many comparable institutions, yet it seems to be holding back insome way.”Really, you would have thought the IPD would have a huge impact onbusiness and policy-making:it is in as strong a position as just about anyother professional organisation in the country. Yet its influence remainsdisappointing.”I’d like the IPD to stand up and be counted. It needs to start gettingits point across.”Paul Kearns, senior partner of HR consultant Personnel Works, adds,”The IPD is mired in the 1970s. I’m not a great fan of its leadership.Their view of the world seems to be coloured by the bad old days of industrialrelations and conflict. They don’t seem to have any vision of the future of theprofession, indeed [general secretary] Geoff Armstrong often appears to standagainst innovation. New ideas are squashed; people aren’t allowed to grow. “The IPD at present is like a personnel officers’ institute, and Ichoose my words carefully – who refers to ‘personnel officers’ any more? It’sentirely focused on training people in procedures that were prevalent 20 or 30years ago but have little relevance to the way organisations operate now.StrategyKearns continues, “One of the most important subjects that upcomingpeople need to know about is HR strategy. The one thing organisations arescreaming for at the moment are good ideas on how to get the best out ofpeople. Yet the IPD has never geared itself up to fulfil this role. HRdirectors say that its courses are not aimed at their level, it has nomethodology to teach them. They have to go to informal networks or advanced HRmanagement courses to get these skills. “If I were paying the subscriptions, I’d be up in arms. The IPDoperates like a monopoly, and like most monopolies it has become lazy andcomplacent. People who want this profession to be important and influential arebeing let down by it. There needs to be a complete shake-up at the top and aninjection of new blood.”Admittedly Kearns is hardly an unbiased witness – he claims he has beenbanned from speaking at IPD events since he made a critical speech in 1993 andhas been operating beyond the pale of the institute ever since. Yet it is clearthat his is hardly a voice crying in the wilderness – dig beneath the surfaceand you discover his views are representative of a rising groundswell ofdiscontent and dissent with the management at the IPD and the old school valuesthey stands for. “Aloof”, “arrogant”,”blinkered”, “out of touch”, “too cosy by half” –these are just some of the criticisms levelled. The institute might be a broad church, but at present it is riven withintrigue. Nonetheless it speaks volumes for the power it continues to exertwithin the profession that few of these muttering critics are prepared to speakopenly against it.Yet there are loud voices raised in the organisation’s defence. “I’monly an affiliate member but it is clear to me that the IPD is a highlyprofessional organisation,” says Andrew Forrest, director of learning anddevelopment at the Industrial Society. He claims the institute does “agood job for individuals and the profession as a whole”. In particular hecites the quality of its research and publications, the spreading of bestpractice, and the establishment of a code for disciplinary procedures.Moreover, “its branch network is particularly good. I have attendedmeetings at other branches and have always been made very welcome”.But even Forrest concedes that the IPD has done itself no favours when itcomes to presenting a positive view of itself – and, more importantly, itsmembers – to the wider world. “The IPD has tried to represent the voice ofHR in the corridors of power but it hasn’t yet made the impact there that itneeds to. Many chief executives still don’t regard the senior HR person intheir organisation well enough to appoint them to board. “The IPD needs to make that point more successfully; it needs to pointout the particular contribution which can be made by HR. That hasn’t comeacross yet.”Need for leadershipForrest believes the rapid growth of the new economy is exacerbating thisneed for leadership. “The arrival of e-commerce and the Internet haveshown that some radical thinking needs to be done as to what structures futureorganisations will take. There’s an ongoing role for the IPD to clarify theseissues and to make sure that policy-makers are fully aware of the importance ofindividuals in all this. Other influential lobbying groups, such as the Institute of Directors, agreethat the IPD’s profile in both the media and in government circles is lacking.”I suggest its influence in Whitehall is limited,” says IoD businesspolicy executive Richard Wilson, who claims the leadership of his ownorganisation has already had two meetings with the Chancellor this year. To some extent this perceived failure to capture the attention of the powersthat be is not the IPD’s fault, he adds. Government departments are far morelikely to pay attention to the voices of “explicit industry sectors”than to one representing a particular profession. And anyway, the mood ingovernment is beginning to shift subtly in the other direction – particularlyin light of the TUC announcement that it will up the funds it pays into the NewLabour war-chest in the run up to the next General Election.Nonetheless, Wilson questions the IPD’s ability to grab the public agenda assuccessfully as his own organisation or, for that matter, the CBI, Federationof Small Business, or the Industrial Society. “The IPD should take a morecampaigning role – one wonders why it hasn’t.” It could, for example, have spoken out with authority on such recentheadline-grabbing issues as bullying at work, employment protection rights orthe dangers of stress in the workforce.One reason for what often seems like an echoing silence, Wilson believes, isthe IPD’s perceived lack of a media-friendly figurehead. The IoD hassuccessfully promoted the hard-hitting Ruth Lea in this role, while theIndustrial Society recently upped its own public profile by recruiting”Third Way” economist Will Hutton as chief executive and then immediatelyannouncing a raft of new campaign policies – including tackling bullying in theworkplace. Forrest argues that such a figure does exist within the IPD, in the shape ofits president, Sir Geoffrey Holland, an eminent, imaginative, and extremelywell-connected former senior civil servant, probably best known for his work inthe Manpower Services Commission in the 1980s. “He is precisely the sortof person who should be put forward more.”It will come as no surprise to most IPD members that the institute continuesto wholeheartedly reject such blatant appeals to popularism. Indeed, as Islesimplies, the organisation is far above such shenanigans. “In terms ofmedia strategy it is very nice if you have that policy, but does it actuallyget things done?” he asks. “When we have something to say on an issue, we say it. We have, forexample, talked about the bullying issue. But many people think that someonelike Ruth Lea is over-stretched. She is commenting on things she doesn’t have areal knowledge of. There’s a danger of becoming a rent-a-quote.” It issignificant, perhaps, that the most recent media controversy sparked by Lea wasprovoked by a policy paper she wrote on health reform, in particular herremarks on smear tests – an interesting subject matter for the head of the IoD,to say the least.”But the real point, maintains Isles, “is that the IPD is not geared upto become a lobbying organisation along the lines of the IoD or CBI, because wedon’t have the mandate to do so”. Its charitable status means it cannot campaign on political lines and, asIsles points out, the IPD was not set up to pursue a particular macro-economicagenda. “We are not representing a particular sectoral interest – we arenot there to represent the views of employers – we cover people and management.Our role is to represent all our members, we straddle both sides.” CBI representatives agree. According to one, “The IPD deals withprofessional practice and policy rather than public policy. In any one workingweek there are lots or organisations that I’d be interfacing with, buttypically not the IPD.”Although the IPD regularly gives its opinion on government legislation, itsresponse is hardly what you might call snappy. Isles insists this situation isunavoidable – wheels must grind slowly when you have to secure a consensusresponse. “We go through a consultancy process when we respond togovernment legislation. When we ask our members for advice, we base it onresearch rather than setting out to grind a particular axe,” he says. This is all very admirable and thorough, but surely such a reactive stancereduces the impact the IPD could make on government thinking? Isles denies thepoint citing the institute’s studied research input into such topical debatesas the New Deal and the Working Time directive. Yet even Geoff Armstrong wenton record to complain that in a recent government consultation the IPD had beenbypassed in favour of the CBI.”One thing we are trying to do is to increase our profile amongdecision-makers. For example, Geoff Armstrong is one of two non-executivedirectors on the Cabinet committee looking at the Civil Service changemanagement programme. We’re also very keen to get more involved in Europe, toinfluence the European agenda and run a network of European trainingorganisations,” says Isles. “There is more than one way of making asplash. We are becoming a ‘must consult’ body. We are commenting. But we tendto take a moderate line.”Isles is equally quick to refute the charge that the IPD is failing to keepstep with the professional demands of its members. The courses it offers arecurrently under review, he says, they will evolve but they will continue toreflect the organisation’s primary aim of “helping our members add valueto their organisations”. Moreover the IPD is well aware that, “Events are helping the professionas we move into the knowledge economy. There will come a point when the priceof stocks and shares will be decided by how companies treat their people. Sothere has been a coming together of the way the economy is developing and theway the profession itself is developing.”Nonetheless, the addition of the charter to the armoury – while important inallowing IPD members to rub shoulders as equals with their peers in otherdepartments – should not be taken as an indication of future change in theorganisation’s role. Indeed, the IPD sees the conferral as an endorsement ofits existing policies and practices. “The charter is simply a continuation of the work we’ve done. It’sbusiness as usual – but with that enhanced status,” says Isles. “Thereason we are going for chartered status is we wanted the recognition thatpeople management and development is a science and art in its own right.”Yet a wide consensus of IPD members maintain that if the body is to fulfilits stated aim of helping them “add value” to their organisationsthere must indeed be change. They argue that the most useful role the IPD couldplay in boosting their own standing within organisations is to present acredible, forward-thinking model of the profession capable of championing andformulating new ideas rather than merely reacting to those of others.Even if the institute continues to eschew what many believe should be itsnatural role campaigning on the importance of people as a central asset to theeconomy, there are signs that it is beginning to lose its grip on its chosenarea of expertise – namely the training and nurturing of the HR professionitself. As evidence of this you need only look at the widening chasm betweenwhat the IPD now provides its members, and what’s on offer in the universities.Meanwhile the establishment of a rival training organisation Itol (Instituteof Training and Occupational Learning) convinces at least one observer that theIPD “is less than robust in its training and development flank” (seefeature, p35).There is no escaping the conclusion that the IPD must shrug off therestrictive shackles of the past and be seen to be embracing change: the longerit procrastinates the greater its loss of initiative. As Forrest concludes, “Sometimes these things are down to perceptionrather than reality. But if that’s how people are feeling, then it becomesreality.” Related posts:No related photos. Stand up and be countedOn 4 Apr 2000 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. last_img

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