Whither Relevance?

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I am grateful to Kate Griffiths-Lambeth for her thought-provoking piece for Discuss HR which prompted me to write this post. Kate poses a question about the role of the CIPD in supporting the HR industry and, in considering a response I started to think about the more general question being posed across my multi-functional network about relevance.

Existential thinking has figured in human history since the dawn of mankind. It predates early civilisations and, to cite just one example, has led to organised global religions. A fear of irrelevance in the face of a seemingly implacable natural world ascribed our existence to that of a higher power. It is perhaps the consequence of a lack of a tangible physical product from much of modern work that means we have turned once again with increasing frequency to this central question of relevance. And it is a question that not only troubles individuals but our professional trade bodies as well.

The rise of social media is starting to shift conversation, agitation and lobbying out of traditional forums into the amporphous cloud. It makes for the kind of democratic discourse that hugely troubles our anachronistic and dogmatic institutions and centres of power. They see their relevance and influence over the direction, manner and topic of debate slipping away. Mainstream media are now plugged into this modern Tower of Babel in a race to the poles of opinion, skipping over small, still pools of calm and measured discourse. We increasingly see the same effect in action on union leaders and in politics. Business can often seem similarly polarised between those that espouse command and control and enforce rigid hierarchies and those who adhere to a principles-based approach with democracy as the delivery vehicle for freedom-centred workplaces. Most businesses are not so readily categorised. This is why any notion of “best practice” as a one-size-fits-all solution is doomed to failure and benchmarking is a fools errand for the fearful. The savvy HR practitioner, whether independent or internal, will have a holistic understanding of and appreciation for the nuances within a business and between different businesses. Even those that, on the face of it, seem most alike.

After all, businesses are not faceless automatons. They are given life by the people who work within them, their customers and those in the wider community, global or otherwise. The nuance is of a much more granular nature at the individual level and our HR practitioner (and anyone else who has an interest in the success of the business and people they work with and for) will need to have the skills to be able to come to an understanding of the needs and motivations of the business, the sub-units within it and of the individuals who interact with and within it.

Might the role for the CIPD (and indeed for any trade body) be to identify and describe the skill sets required in this complex and ever-changing environment and to make available opportunities for these skills to be learned, developed and nurtured? Developing this theme, surely there should also be a role for these bodies within our education system to help ensure that the future workforce and nascent leaders are instilled with an appreciation of the requirements for navigating the workplaces we wish to bequeath them. No sane person wants to leave behind a legacy of structural and systemic failure. We have hopefully not come too late to this realisation in respect of the environment, so lets have the CIPD and others like it talk inconvenient truths to business and make rather than follow the argument for change.

If they fail to do so, this particular roaring lion might prove to be nothing more than an advertisement for the taxidermist’s art.

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