What do we stand for, as HR professionals?

Louisa Baczor, CIPD Research Associate

In the wake of the CIPD’s latest report on how professionals perceive themselves, Louisa Baczor asks the question: what do we, as the HR and L&D profession, stand for?

The role of professionals in a post-truth society
In an age where anyone with internet access can find information at the click of a button, on any given topic, do we actually need professionals? If we can self-diagnose using automated medical systems when we have health issues, seek legal advice online through services providers such as Rocket Lawyer, and design a website by watching a YouTube tutorial, what value do professionals bring?

Well, it’s difficult to know whether or not the information we find online is reliable and trustworthy. In the corporate world, recent scandals amount to a lack of accountability and an abuse of trust. That’s where the critical need for professionalism comes in; demonstrating expertise and behaviours that are based on strong standards.

What happens when values collide?
Organisational cultures can threaten professional values. What do I mean by that? Take this example: it’s widely accepted that before the financial crash, bankers were encouraged to do things which contradicted ethical values, but which were normal in the culture of their organisations.

So, do you go along with what your company wants/expects you do to, even if it doesn’t feel right, or do you stand up for your beliefs and potentially risk losing your job? One way of looking at this is what’s more important: your identity as a professional, or your identity as a member of your organisation? Many people are no longer working for a single organisation for the duration of their career; jobs are becoming less permanent, with an increase in contract and project-based work. Fully adopting the identity of your employer might be more difficult because of this. So, defining ourselves in terms of our professional identity instead will become more important.

HR’s unique role
HR has historically grappled with its identity, as its focus has shifted between the ‘employee champion’ role and driving organisational performance. In today’s rapidly changing world of work, organisations are faced with previously unseen people management challenges, such as serving the needs of an ageing workforce. The CIPD is not alone in championing work that creates positive outcomes for both organisations and their people – in fact, balancing those needs is key to driving sustainable success. HR plays a crucial role in driving such solutions, and as the experts on people, must consider the impact of organisational decisions on workers – not just on business profit.

Putting principles into practice
Our 2015 report found that business needs are often prioritised over ethical principles when making difficult people decisions. Would having a stronger sense of professional identity as the HR community help more balanced decisions to be made? For example, being able to call out what you stand for as a professional and challenge organisational practice which contradicts your professional values. Our new report explores this question, and suggests the way HR practitioners see their role within the organisation influences their willingness and ability to uphold ethical values.

So when you are asked what you do for a living, do you say ‘I work in HR/L&D’, or ‘I work for company X’? There is no right or wrong answer, but it’s interesting to reflect on this and what professional identity means for us. The latest report also discusses what influences people’s sense of belongingness and commitment to their profession and their organisation, and what else helps them to behave ethically at work.

This work will feed into the CIPD’s development of a Professional Standards Framework, where ethical decision-making remains a core requirement as we guide and shape the HR profession for the future. Join us on Wednesday 29 March for a series of interactive workshops and discussions to define professional standards for CIPD members and the wider people profession.

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