A question of character


I was heading into town the other morning, when I noticed a poster at my local tube station. It said "It is better to suffer injustice than to commit it", and it asked "are we helping to build a fair society?" It turned out to be part of a campaign from the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Its other posters ask questions like...

  • How do you put other people first?
  • Are we helping children distinguish between right and wrong?
  • When did you last say thank you?

A project I've been working on at the CIPD has been one to develop principles for better work and working lives. Those principles are about setting out fundamental beliefs that, in any situation, will help guide good decision making, regardless of context, even when there are no clear solutions or rules to guide us. Some of the key themes that have emerged along the way are integrity, professionalism and character. What a profession is. What a professional is. Why character is important. What we should strive towards. Why we should think long term. How we can consider the impact of workplace decisions on society.

So when I saw these posters, they really struck a chord with me, and I thought perhaps some of you might find them interesting too. Do you always put people first when you make decisions? Are policies always the best way to distinguish right from wrong? Can HR have a role in helping to build a fair society? Do you think character matters? What does ‘character’ even mean in the context of professionalism? And, how central is moral character to being a HR professional? How can we define what good character looks like in the context of the HR profession? And, how can we help HR professionals of the future develop character?

If you find this as interesting as me, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

(And, if you're interested in helping us to develop our principles for better work and working lives - just email me at principles@cipd.co.uk and I will let you know when opportunities to get involved pop up.)

  • Hi Lizzie

    Reading your comments, couldn't help constantly thinking such as 'well it depends what you mean by character or professionalism or integrity or virtue or whatever - it's the philosophy of ethics. Value-loaded terms such as integrity have broad accepted meanings to eg mainstream Western World Society in general and to the person on the Tube in particular, but, to me at any rate, they're so broad as to be not all that useful unless far more tightly-defined and qualified. Think one needs an understanding of philosophy / ethics to even begin to do that. This has of course exercised great minds since the dawn of civilisation and Soicrates and Plato - eg

    Such as the above is heavy-going and I don't pretend to comprehend much of it, but there's no gain without pain as they say: two main highlights of my own life for example have been arriving at a real understanding of a debit and a credit in boring old bean counting / accountancy theory and arriving after much puzzlement and reading of multiple explanations understanding what the philosopher Kant was really saying.

    It's very deep stuff I think, but just trying to scratch the surface a little.
  • In reply to David:

    Hi David,

    It's always interesting to hear your thoughts! And, if you read and understand the musings of Kant amongst others, you are definitely ahead of me in terms of your philosophy homework :)

    Your comment that terms like integrity, professionalism and virtue are too broad to be meaningful got me thinking... there was a really interesting discussion thread on the LinkedIn CIPD Member Group a few weeks ago which asked the question - what does professionalism in HR mean to you? You have to be a member of the group to see it (all CIPD members eligible) - but it provided some really diverse and stimulating responses. I thought you might enjoy reading it as it explores different interpretations of professionalism and what it means to different people:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/106184/106184-6193391819317866497

    PS - The group is run by members rather than the CIPD, although we do support it!

  • In reply to Lizzie O'Brien:

    Thanks for the signposting, Lizzie - and all best  for your quest!

  • I am really pleased that you have cited the work of the Jubilee Centre at Birmingham University - I am familiar with their work as a result of working with a charity and attending their training sessions. Although much of their focus is in the education sector , I was keen to explore what influence/insight/impact their work could also have in the workplace: is this research that the CIPD is actively involved in with them?
  • In reply to Max:

    Hi Max,

    Thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in responding - I was off getting hitched!

    The CIPD are indeed developing a relationship with the Jubilee Centre because of the great work they're doing, and we've also been involved in a consultation from which this paper emerged: Statement on Character, Virtue and Practical Wisdom in Professional Practice

    The Jubilee Centre have worked with other professions including Doctors, lawyers and military institutions - as well as their focus education. There's lots of information on their website if you're interested in finding out more: http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/ 

    Hope this helps,


  • In reply to Lizzie O'Brien:

    Hi Lizzie

    Thanks for your reply and many congrats on the wedding! I'd forgotten all about this but am delighted that tehr is a formal partnership with the Jubilee Centre. It would be great if this was featured in a conference or branch activity - I am attending the NAP event this week in York - don't suppose you will be there??


  • In reply to Max:

    Hi Max,

    Thank you for the warm wishes! We did include an activity inspired by these posters in the last Profession for the Future branch pack we prepared (we send the packs out to the branch committee, so they can decide if they want to run a Profession for the Future event). I'll make sure we include them in the next one too - so make sure you mention to your branch chair that you'd like to run one! 

    Sadly I won't be at NAP, but do look out for my colleague  who will be. Richard will be talking to attendees about our professional principles, and what knowledge / behaviours people professionals will need to put them into practice, and what support they'd like from us at the CIPD to do that. 

    Hope that helps,


  • Hi Lizzie,

    There is a quote that comes to my mind: 'Character is destiny', Heraclitus