So the outgoing HR Director of RBS (Neil Roden) says that HR was not at fault for anything that happened at RBS. To quote a recent interview, he says:
"I can't see what HR could have done. Lack of money was not an HR issue, the portfolios our businesses kept was not an HR issue; none of them were. I wasn't running the bank - the CEO makes decisions, not me. There's a debate here about what HR can reasonably be held accountable for. People think HR runs companies. I say, stop getting carried away; HR is a support function, no more or less important than sales or IT. HR critics are way ahead of themselves; they need to get back inside their box."
What a complete abdication of leadership! So HR doesn't run the business (I agree) but how does he then account for another comment in the interview in which he says"
"the HR team has been doing an average of one business reorganisation a week for the past 18 months - new talent management and executive development processes"
If the HR function isn't the soul and conscience of the business then it is a waste of money. All the accounts I've read suggests that there was a culture of sycophancy at the top and that Fred the Shred bullied those who didn't agree with him. That's exactly the time that HR - and particularly the HR Director -should have stood up and acted.
But let's not suggest that simply because HR has a privileged position in an organisation that it is only they who have a responsibility to challenge. We all have a leadership responsibility, whether just for ourselves, our immediate team or for the wider business interests. It may not be easy to challenge, but if we don't we are in effect condoning what is happening. When things are going well it is very easy (and tempting) to overlook those little things that go wrong but which don't have a significant impact. But that's exactly the time we should be challenging them - in the right way of course - because if we don't challenge them when they first happen, they become part of the institution and the culture, and then when the going gets tough, it is even harder to challenge because people will simply say - well we've always done that and no-one has complained before. Difficult conversations and bad news don't get any better by leaving them, and everyone has a responsibility to raise them as they happen. It is after all part of our responsibility as leaders - all of us.
Simon Hollington is a Director of Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd (www.lepd.org.uk), a company formed to release potential and improve performance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07811 332280