Monday, 15 November 2010

What the CEO wants, the CEO gets. (Even if it's illegal)

I seriously hope that I'm quoting someone out of context here, but I suspect not.

People Management online reports the results of a debate involving the leaders of three of the UK's businesses which took place at last week's CIPD annual conference in Manchester.

CEOs frustrated by HR's policy-based mindset

Responding to the question of what were their biggest frustrations in dealing with HR, the business leaders stuck to the well worn path of criticising HR for a lack of business understanding and an over-reliance on policies. 

So far, so good.

But David Robinson, chairman of Richer Sounds, seems to be heading into dangerous waters with his view. Here's what he said:
I can’t bear being told ‘you can’t do it that way'. Do not put barriers in the way. Sometimes you have to take a step back from the policy, from the law, and say ‘what do we need to do right now, and how are we going to get there?’
I'm as happy as the next man to criticise HR for a strict adherance to policies if they get in the way of helping the business achieve its onjectives. But "take a step back from ... the law"? Really?

I wonder which particular law is Robinson suggesting that we take a step back from? The law that demands that we don't discriminate? The law that requires companies to comply with minimum wage legislation? The law that requires companies to handle discipline and grievance in a reasonable manner? 

The influence and acceptance that HR craves will not be found by simply acting as the lapdog to senior managers. There are times when HR professionals need to be just that - professional - and convince those that they partner with that there are parameters within which business can operate and that to go beyond that may be inappropriate, unadviseable or plain illegal! 

The HR professional might like always saying "yes", but even the Man from Del Monte occasionally had to say "No"!


  1. Great article and I agree that it is or can be dangerous territory. But I also think that perhaps some of the issue is about how we articulate our counter-arguments. I can see that a flat out 'no' could be quite frustrating to any CEO, but perhaps what we need to learn from the comments above is to express dissent more cleverly. So for example, instead of "no that's agains xx law or yy policy", we say "the risk with doing that course of action is that we could end up in tribunal and have a potential exposure of £100k....have you thought about doing it this other way instead?".

    That to me is more of a business partner model where we highlight risks, educate staff about the best way to do things, but don't always end up sounding like the secret police without any sensible suggestions about alternatives.

    That is my two penneth at any rate!

  2. I agree with Graham on this subject. Laws and policies are there for a reason to protect employees but Boards of Directors may see them as obstacles to what they are trying to achieve.

    The same scenario happens with health and safety which can lead to basic ethical practices being flouted because of the CEOs inability to understand why the laws/policies are there in the first place.

    The man from Del Monte, therefore, should say 'No' to protect themselves, the employees and the Company!


  3. I agree with Alison. At the end of the day a business is there to make money. HR is there as an advisor to the business and present risks and solutions/routes to reach an objective. It's all well and good and too easy hiding behind policies and the law saying why you can't do something but the value of a good HR person is to show a way forward. That is not necessarily to walk all over or to ignore the law.

  4. All: Mysteriously, I think that we're all in agreement here, in that the role of HR is to say something along the lines of, "No, that way won't work, because it will get you into trouble, but let me show you a better way that will get you to where you want to be, but without the risks of falling foul of the law"