I was recently on a long haul flight and to pass away the tedium I flicked idly through the film channels and came across ‘The Damned United’. The film was also shown on BBC 2 last night (18th July 2010). The plot concerns Brian Clough’s disastrous 44-days leading Leeds United and his (losing) battle with the team who had developed a strong union under former manager Don Revie. Brian Clough’s abrasive approach and his clear dislike of the players’ style of play made it certain there was going to be friction. The more consensual Peter Taylor, his right hand man, loyally stayed with Brighton and Hove Albion (my team!) and Clough missed him enormously.
The film (for me) was reminiscent of what goes wrong with an off beam management approach. In this case Clough was the personification of macho management and the Leeds United team the obdurate trades union. Something was bound to go amiss.
HR Academics Boxall and Purcell in their seminal 2003 work ‘Strategy and Human Resource Management’ note the anachronistic conflict-driven style of management and trades union relationships in the UK public sector. Granted the book was written seven years ago but I would suggest not much has changed culturally since then. Followers of the press this year will have observed recent 1970’s-type references to a ‘summer of discontent’ reflecting growing strain in the public sector employer and trades union relationship – in my view only to be fuelled by the drastic cuts in expenditure, threat to public sector pensions (see last week’s post) and a two-year pay freeze to boot.
Now, even more so than ever, is the time for discourse not disagreement. Public sector HR professionals have a tough task ahead of them with changes and challenges to the employment landscape not witnessed since World War Two – so please…don’t score any own goals.