Is HR failing the public sector?
Yesterday People Management ran an article by a senior HR professional in the public sector regarding the skills and abilities of public sector HR teams. In a somewhat verbose and turgid rant, Graham White argues that the HR departments will “revolutionise the delivery of public sector working”. Despite the fact that I struggle to understand what is actually meant by that phrase (it has a sense of foreboding in my opinion) the sentiment is at odds with my experience.
Coincidentally, I spent the morning with a number of senior HR professionals from across the Public Sector looking at a specific element of working and proposals to make changes in that area. The single thing that struck me coming out of the meeting was the disconnect between the thinking from this group of people and the actual experience of workers and users of their services.
In short they were living in a bubble.
If you asked any healthcare professional what they wanted most from their employer, my guess is that they would say the ability to provide better and greater levels of care. Funnily enough, if you asked any patient what they wanted from the NHS my guess is that they would say the same. Likewise you could carry out the same process with Teachers and students, the Police and Joe Public and I would argue any single part of the machinery that forms our Local and Central government.
When I suggested that people should understand what their “die in a ditch” purpose was, I was met with blank looks. I’m sure if the room had been full of people actually working to deliver, they would have told me off the top of their head without any reflection. Sadly that is, in my experience the disconnect between senior management and the battalions of doers.
And this is where I come to HR. The function should be the organisational conscience, it should be the function that has the ability to stand back and challenge as a critical friend. Instead what I see is a lot of minions marching out and “doing” to people without any sense of leadership role.
Badly changing terms and conditions as part of single spine agreements.
Handling redundancies without a modicum of respect or understanding.
Restructuring and structuring without considering the actual people implications.
Failing to address the core concerns of frontline staff.
I’m sure there are good people out there doing good jobs. I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush. But if we want to get the public sector and services that we rightly deserve, the public sector and public services needs to get the leadership that it deserves. And from my experience, when it comes to HR, they are falling woefully short.