Who can we trust?

November will see thousands of HR and L&D practitioners gathering at our Annual Conference and Exhibition. It’s always a great source of pride to see so many people committed to their continuing professional development, and it provides an opportune reminder about what it really means to be a professional.

We are living in a world where information and knowledge has never been more accessible. Any question on any subject can be answered in a couple of clicks, and opinions or views can come from anywhere, not just the so called experts. Indeed, with a growing sense of distrust of establishment and ‘expert’ views, many would rather trust people like them or close to them. It’s a shift towards the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ that can also be seen in the way we increasingly turn to the likes of TripAdvisor, Glassdoor and CheckaTrade for advice.

In this changing context, what does that mean for professionals and professions such as HR? Part of being a professional is to have expertise, but that clearly is no longer enough of itself. For centuries, we’ve been placing our trust in professionals, like doctors, lawyers and architects, to keep their expert knowledge up-to-date, and to use that knowledge fairly and responsibly to do the right thing. A body of expert knowledge combined with an ethical responsibility to society sets a profession apart and should provide a badge of confidence and credibility.

Professions also provide a sense of collective identity, often defined by a common purpose. For HR, that common purpose should be to ensure work is a force for good, with people fairly treated and supported to give of their best and creating positive outcomes for the enterprise - in other words, to champion better work and working lives. Leaders, employees and other stakeholders are all starting to demand more from their HR teams and HR has a unique role to play in understanding the needs of the business, as well as supporting the needs of the individual. Where those objectives might conflict, we should be making professional judgements grounded in sound principles. So much of business, including HR, has long been driven by standardising processes based on notions of best practice. We now need to focus on outcomes relevant to each context, recognising there are many ways we can get there.

That’s why we’ve been working with CIPD members, business leaders and policy makers to define a set of principles which can guide good HR and workplace decisions. We’ll share the principles very soon, and will be asking – what will it take for you to apply those principles in your daily work? What will your biggest challenges be? What support will you need from us and from your peers? If you want get involved in these discussions, email us at principles@cipd.co.uk.

People matter, not just because they have the greatest impact on an organisation’s success, but also because they have fundamental rights and needs. But we still have much to do in ensuring that people are engaged, supported and productive, and that we have working environments that are inclusive, open and ethical. This is a big agenda for our profession, and we need to ensure that HR, as a profession, is credible and trusted. That means also investing in ourselves, keeping our skills current, understanding the changes happening around us, and understanding and keeping true to our principles and purpose.

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