September 12, 2013
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The HR profession took a savaging yesterday in a Daily Telegraph article by Louisa Peacock following what many felt to be a disastrous appearance by the BBC’s head of HR, Lucy Adams in front of the Public Accounts Committee. You can see a brutal excerpt above. A thread of sensationalism runs through the Telegraph piece but some good points are made that have broader lessons for the commercial world. There have been acres of coverage generated by the debacle at the Beeb, but there is a real sense of “there but for the grace of God go I” and schadenfreude about much of the commentary and chatter from the business community.
Let’s face it, if forced to sit in front of a sceptical and scornful committee at Westminster, would your business bear the same scrutiny unscathed? Serco has had a lot of bad press lately (we’re reserving judgement in the interest of impartiality and fairness) but if a newspaper started digging into the contracts your clients have with you for outsourced FM services, would your conscience hold up? Would open book really mean open? How well would the client come out of a forensic examination of their side of the agreement? And, God forbid, that they take a long hard look at your supply chain, especially those suppliers you employ in the developing world.
And what of that business case for a cost-saving real estate rationalisation exercise that lines the pockets of a squadron of management consultants and is used as a cover for a reduction in headcount? Or specifying a building with its own laser death-ray? We are actively promoting challenging the status quo as a desirable activity or mindset within our organisations as one facet of the new collaborative, creative and innovative workforce. Despite this, businesses in all sectors have failed to take that long hard look at the way they function, the way decisions are made and the mechanisms meant to protect them from making the kinds of mistakes that land them in the wrong end of the newspapers. They continually fail to give their employees the reassurance that would see them freely and openly scrutinise the companies they work with and the clients they serve.
If your business practices are beyond reproach there should be no issues with openness and transparency. So why not give it a try? We’ll call it the Peacock Test.
Simon Heath is a freelance illustrator and commentator on workplace and facilities management issues and was formerly Head of Operations, Global Workplace Strategies at CBRE. For more of Simon’s worldly, wise and witty writing on all things work and workplace, visit his blog https://workmusing.wordpress.com.