Lucy AdamsGATE – Hold yer nerve HR !



HR people react to the latest round of public criticism……..

It’s our turn now it seems…up and down the country the collective boot in the hee-haws for the HR profession is being dished out on the back of the BBC scandal regarding ‘corporate fraud and cronyism’ at the outdated and overly lauded Corporation.

Our profession’s so-called Gerald Ratner moment has personalised the debate around Lucy Adams and given the detractors the chance to lash out at our proud profession. I certainly won’t jump on the populist bandwagon. I find it ironic that she’s being judged by yesterday’s bête noir – our esteemed and expenses-laden MPs as well as those darlings of phone tapping journalism working at the rapidly declining print press sniffing round for its next lazy personality-led story in the hope that click through rates and circulation-creating headlines gives their egos the platform they crave.

The furore has given those who need no invite, the platform to roll out the old timeless classics – “It’s just Human Remains”…….”lackeys on behalf of management”…..”it’s not even a profession”, and on and on and on. Straight from the Des O’Connor book of jokes. 

The bankers jump with joy that they’ve been moved off pole position for the UK’s psychological need to create pantomime characters and suck out of us any attempt to debate a complex set of issues dispassionately. Those of a nervous disposition are worrying, looking at the Conservative party’s daily propaganda publication, The Telegraph and in particular Louisa Peacock’s spiteful headline grabber “It’s official: Lucy Adams has finally killed off HR. (Please note that this article contains cattiness, bitchiness, lazy journalism but the odd salient point that gets lost in the authors need to get herself noticed. Read at your peril).

Come on HR, we’ve got discussion groups popping up on LinkedIn giving in to the hysteria and twitter has, well, nervously twitched, exacted a few 140 character utterances to the CIPD account before going back to its safehouse of too many endless, seemingly motivating one-liners. Our revered CIPD, from what I can see, has stayed away from both commenting and showing any public leadership for the profession. Come on, where’s the leadership Peter, where do you stand ?   Dinner parties are being cancelled this weekend all over the country by worried HR professionals for fear of that awkward ‘I work in (cough, splutter, mumble)……HR’ moment that could arise ?

So, I have offered up a more reflective view in place of the simplistic newspaper soundbites in the hope of fostering a more sensible debate as follows  :

– It could be argued, peddled by some during the banking crisis, that HR could have prevented all of this. In its totality this is nonsense, as with the financial services crash there was a business strategy that many institutions followed and HR played its part in driving in the right aligned direction. Isn’t that what we ask for when at the proverbial table ? Revenue growth from a range of exotic products could be replaced in this instance by a ruthless need to push major change on an unwieldy organisation with illusions of grandeur about itself and an archaic model that is funded by the average taxpayer. That the business strategy was fundamentally flawed in the FS crisis is now obvious in hindsight and along with the captains of industry HR must take some blame. Therefore, in parallel at the beeb, believing that enhanced redundancy payments was a trade off for bringing down the paybill as requested and avoiding potential expensive litigation and bad PR is an unwritten approach across British industry at the senior end. In this instance the optics, the theatrics and the climate made it a risk that didn’t pay off. Business leaders endorsed it and HR tucked in alongside and macde it happen. 

– One of the major problems in any large scale change programme is how to take vested interests with you on the journey. You have to work inside major union dominated arenas to truly gain a sense of the entitlement that gets embedded into the very DNA of its organisation. With the NUJ and its demonization of the HRD for taking deep cuts into the corporation you are never going to be liked. I found the whole reporting of cheers from the news floors at the BBC unedifying of that profession, petty and coupled with slightly uncomfortable phrases like the ‘wicked witch’ by the Telegraph’s womens editor of all people, another sign that there is an underlying view that as a female she had to be warm, fluffy and journalist friendly. Would a male HRD have got this title or this criticism ?  mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

– Parallels again with the banking industry there is a sober realisation that the climate the organisation operates within can play a huge part in choosing the right HR strategy. There is clearly during recessionary times especially, a backlash at what feels like senior executives in both industries lining their pockets whilst the workforce get hit with statutory minimum payments, outsourcing and job losses. This feels fundamentally unfair. In a downturn many companies have underestimated the corrosive impact of comeraderie on the workforce as it gets dismantled piece by piece over time and this must go higher up the agenda from a business and social aspect.

– Many commentators would argue that the root of this crisis played out when Mark Thompson succeeded Greg Dyke and in the process the corporation decided to literally double the wages of the DG. What followed suit was plain old incremental increases across the piece, including the eye watering HRD salary that came with it. Saving millions on bureaucratic managers and overpaid ‘celebrities’ outwith the income being generated was the false premise of savings being made at redundancy time. Interestingly, from a talent agenda perspective, who follows Ms Adams will be key. The fallout will ensure that the person will be hired on a much lower salary but given the scale of change required this is a huge job and a short term populist decision might be the wrong one, especially if ‘private sector’ background is required once again to further reform the beeb.

– Despite these and other environmental decisions HR does need to reflect. When the circus has left town will history judge the episode more fairly in the development of the BBC at this time ? Does unwritten concerns about an accountable decision-making process deserve debate and what is the role of the HRD in this scenario – slavish order taker or CEO personal counterweight looking at the risk of a strategy from a human strategic perspective ? The BBC Trust has come under attack, Non Execuitive Directors recently have come under attack but the checks and balances in UK industry look in need of being toughened up. Perhaps this is a more negative fallout of british industry when the trade unions where neutered and replaced by unchecked new elites in banking and high commerce. Perhaps our professional body should reflect also. Perhaps a ‘barring’ mechanism similar to other professions is something we should aspire to. If a wrongdoing was being perpetuated perhaps this move could have strengthened the need to redefine the decision-making process in this and other bodies.

So come on HR, let’s have some sober reflection of what this tells us. Let’s show some leadership and learning that comes from a mature, sensible debate. Let’s see through the irony of MPs looking, for once, the most noble men and women in the room and let’s also remember that next week we will be debating another facet of our society and deciding who needs a simplistic kicking as part of the cure. The article  in the Telegraph will be back where it belongs, covering up fish suppers from Birmingham to Belfast and those of us truly aware of both our own strengths and opportunities as a proud profession will go on fighting the good fight.

Hold yer nerve.

Until next time.



6 thoughts on “Lucy AdamsGATE – Hold yer nerve HR !

  1. Great article Barry. I think the choice of HR doing management’s bidding is an easy choice to make in the short term, but there’s no doubt that this can create unfortunate and sometimes regretful outcomes as a result.

    Whilst HR is arguably in a no-win situation if pressure is placed on them from the senior team to support X or Y action, I think the challenge is to find a credible alternative, a different approach to the function and it’s role within an organisation’s power structures and politics.

    I think that has the potential to open up a great debate…

    • Thanks for that Bruce. It’s a tough one. We re either implicated in bad decisions as fellow business people or lauded when it goes well. Our detractors will never acknowledge any successful input as it goes against their one eyed view of the HR world.

      I think there is a debate to be had but there is a conflict amongst some that believe we must take sides in an old fashioned structure – the worker or the management. I think we are placed firmly in helping the enterprise succeed but we are uniquely placed to keep front of mind the people implications.

      • Hi Barry,

        Thank you for your reply…

        … but there is a conflict amongst some that believe we must take sides in an old fashioned structure – the worker or the management. I think we are placed firmly in helping the enterprise succeed but we are uniquely placed to keep front of mind the people implications.

        I don’t think it’s about taking sides… I think HR (as a profession and as a function that’s different in every org) needs to find its own raison d’être that’s recognised and valued by the business.

        Keeping the people implications front of mind is fine, but I’m not sure this alone satisfies either the more ambitious HR executive, or the c-suite et. al.

  2. Barry! I didn’t know you had a blog! Funnily enough just posted in Interimity about the kicking LA is taking for being female (and a bit rubbish) and why aren’t the other ‘professions’ at the BBC top table debacle getting the same? And yes, where is the bloody CIPD on this? Is this spooky or are we both just frighteningly right?

    PS lovely vivid colours!

    • Thanks Julia…it’s been a summer of blogging and loving it. I can imagine our lady at the telegraph has been scoring some NUJ brownie points with her unedifying piece. Thought it vicious and lazy but there appears some in the profession as believing a path of non-resistance is best due to our imperfections. Not me. Not this time. Lets grow a pair and show that a line has been crossed by someone who has no interest in our progression. And the CIPD ? I’m sorry but closed door meetings and get to know youse is head in the sand stuff. A bloody good letter to the press complaints commission would be a starter !!

  3. Pingback: Guilty but no conviction – where next HR ? | changinghr

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