Friday, 26 March 2010

Anyone seen an HR Director around here?

Who is responsible for Employee Relations strategy in the UK’s major organisations?

You’d think that the answer would be pretty straightforward: surely it’s the organisation’s HR Director, isn’t it?

But you’d be excused for thinking otherwise if you looked in the national press this week.

To put this issue into context: Unions within National Rail have given the green light for the first national rail strike in 16 years; British Airways cabin crew are due to begin a second round of strikes over proposed changes to their pay and conditions. Both of these conflicts have been given a significant level of media attention.
Here’s the HR Case Studies challenge for today: can you tell me who the HR Director is in either of these organisations? Or (for a bonus point!) can you find a single reference to the HR function in any press coverage of the strike action?
The figures in the media spotlight in both of these cases are the Chief Executives of the organisations, together with the National Trade Union Officials who represent the striking workers. So far the HR Directors in both of these disputes seem not only to have been denied a speaking part, but also aren’t even in the theatre, never mind on the stage!

It will probably be stated that both National Rail and BA have made a decision to have a single point of contact with the media. Clearly with BA in particular that is the forceful character of Willie Walsh (who, incidentally, originally trained as an Aer Lingus pilot and was a union shop steward, before eventually moving into management). But for the HR function to remain silent on the issue can only lead to criticisms of its role and purpose.

If the UK’s HR profession is to answer those critics who question the reasons for its existence, it is surely at times like this where it needs to make its presence felt.


  1. Is Director People & Organisational Effectiveness an HR Director? If so, then Tony McCarthy holds that title for BA.
    Just ask you local friendly librarian

  2. Whilst I understand the need for the HR profession to make its presence felt, I do think that in situations like this Joe Public want to hear the views of an organisation from the guy (or gal) at the top.

    Do I want to hear the HRD squirm under the scrutiny of Mr Humphrys or Mr Mair or is it more telling to read between the lines of the CEO’s ramblings?

    I say - HRDs pick your moments wisely.


  3. Jim

    Thanks for the comment, but it's been removed.

    No blatant advertising thanks.