· 1 min read · Features

Someone at RBS has to be held responsible


The Fred 'the shred' pension saga is beginning to resemble a battle of good versus evil, where no stone will be left unturned until the person(s) responsible for authorising the pension has been publicly vilified.

The latest instalment involved beleaguered Treasury minister Lord Myners who, when giving evidence last month to the Treasury Committee, surprised everyone by saying he did not "negotiate, settle or approve" any of Fred's £703,000 annual pension. The ball was thrown well and truly back into RBS's court. "Someone at RBS," he deflected, "took the decision to treat him (Sir Fred) more favourably than required."

Who is this "someone"? Myners' comments may not single out specific directors, but I predict the jaws will soon close in around the potential suspects. The mainstream media are too reliably investigative to ignore the question of who in RBS is responsible for setting pay and reward. It's my guess they will decide it's a toss up between the FD and HRD.

What a fall from grace for RBS's hitherto widely-respected HR department if the court of public opinion decides it was HR's fault. It's a real shame because in this month's issue we announce our candidates for HR director of the year 2009 (p32). With all the speculation it was impossible to add HR director Neil Roden to the shortlist - not because we doubt he is a remarkable HRD, but because "someone", as Myners says, has caused so much damage to what he has achieved.

"Someone" failed. While we may never discover precisely who it was, it is the reputation of the HR professional that could be the real loser. In this issue CIPD CEO Jackie Orme says HR training must be linked to organisational outcomes if it is to attract the most talented people. This call has arguably never been so relevant (p40).

But failure doesn't have to be so chaotic. I'm reminded of the HRD of a major global logistics company who told me HR actively tries to create controlled failure, by stretching managers to take on roles outside of their comfort zone. The reason? He wants 85% of all management to come from within the business. Surely, by having leaders come up from within the business, a more sustainable culture for everyone is created.