Who is responsible?

By Sylvia Doyle, Director of Reward First ® People Consulting, & Partner of Reward Consulting Partners

This has been a week of contrasts. According to the Sunday Times Super Rich List 2014 (yes S-U-P-E-R rich, a prelude to the ‘regular’ rich list on 18 May) there are now over a 100 billionaires here which places the UK in top position with more billionaires per head of population than any other country. London’s the top city too with 72 billionaires, ahead of Moscow and other major cities.

However, having read the recent CIPD consultation on tackling low pay, this contributes to the growing debate on low pay linked to falling real wages (8% down since Jan 2009) as well as a fall in the value of the National Minimum Wage. All this existing against a backdrop of an increasingly confident UK economy. As some of you will know Duncan Brown has made some excellent points on the role that HR can and needs to play on low pay.

So pondering these polar opposites reminded me of the now infamous phrase attributed to a high profile board level HR director that ‘HR isn’t an organisation’s conscience’. The controversial statement generated a lot of debate ranging from the personal to the more interesting ‘whose role is it’ debate. This got me thinking about the two hats i.e. board wide and functional responsibilities that board directors wear and are assessed against by shareholders, staff and other key stakeholders.

I count myself lucky to work with some incredibly talented HR directors who navigate the difficult balancing act of ensuring that HR and reward make a positive contribution to delivering organisational goals. Easy to say, hard to do. This includes addressing say-do gaps which can adversely impact values. As a colleague of mine, Michael Rose says, ‘if you want to see what an organisation really values look at what it pays for rather than what it says’. With this in mind, surely HR as well as other directors on a board need to be accountable on an individual as well as collective basis for an organisation’s ‘conscience’? 

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