Hello PPMA members and friends

I think the Government (or at least some of its members) may have misunderstood my point when I said that HR needed to have a “harder edge” and that the challenges we face require us to step up our performance, hence my theme for the year, “harder, faster, stronger”. In the last week, the Beecroft Report has been widely reported in terms of what it says (or said if we believe that the published version has been watered down) in terms of:

•    Making it easier to sack people
•    Limiting the right to request flexible working
•    Stopping the proposal to extend parental leave
•    Diluting TUPE rules
•    Reducing the consultation period for redundancies.

In this “blueprint” for growth, the need for small businesses in particular to be freed from the shackles of regulation is emphasised, if they are to focus on expansion and growth. Vince Cable (still part of the Government I believe) growled, or at least I can imagine him growling as he spoke, that it was nonsensical to see such regulations as standing in the way of growth. Whilst reading about the Beecroft proposals I had in my mind stories from the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, when the group of workers were given Sundays off, but only so that they could go to church.

What does disappoint me is that the recent focus by government on the value of staff engagement as a means to enhance productivity and growth seems to have been forgotten about. On the BIS website it still says that “The [McLeod and Clarke] report argues that wider delivery of employee engagement could have a positive impact on UK competitiveness and performance both during the downturn and in passing through to recovery.” Now I would not argue that having efficient people management policies and practices in place important and is not incompatible with striving for high levels of staff engagement. However a working environment where there is a sense of unfairness, where there staff feel like a commodity and not an asset, where they fear being fired without adequate checks and balances and where there is little concern about achieving a work/life balance, is not one that will encourage trust , a belief that there is any concern for staff well-being nor a sense of common purpose and we know that these are the things that will build engagement and through that, higher levels of productivity.

Comments have also been made in the press about the need to improve efficiency in the Civil Service, by ranking all staff according to their ability and getting rid of individuals who are “lazy” and under-performing. It is again unfortunate that the effective use of performance management systems is being associated with the ability to sack staff. As our finances are being squeezed, it is important that the systems that we have in place to manage performance can be used to improve individual performance, where this is needed and, at the end of the day, remove people who consistently underperformance despite efforts to bring about improvements. But performance management can achieve so much more than that. It is at the heart of effective staff engagement, giving individuals clarity about how their role fits with the overall purpose of the organisation, how they can supported to achieve their goals and the barriers that prevent them doing so.

When I talk about “faster, higher, stronger” in this context, what I am talking about is the role that HR must play to ensure that performance management is not just a process that happens, but one which drives engagement and higher levels of productivity. In my next blog I would like to explore this issue in more detail, how do we need to develop our approach to performance management and I would very much welcome your views, experiences and ideas on this topic.

And to end where I began, on the theme of injustice, the view of the government that the introduction of the Universal Credit, does not trigger the TUPE transfer of local authority staff currently engaged on paying housing benefits seems very odd to me and potentially very costly to local authorities in redundancy costs. It also seems unfair to the staff concerned and simply another way of reducing costs. Hopefully this will be challenged.

Martin