· 2 min read · Features

Tough times call for a strong, ethical stance

As you prepare to enjoy the Christmas break and celebrate the new year, many of you will be wondering what 2002 has in store. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the world certainly seems less safe. The recession in the US and its effects in the UK and Europe have added to this mood of uncertainty. We will soon know whether consumer confidence in the UK has remained strong throughout the holiday season.

In such a climate, many HR managers will have to contend with huge short-term pressures to help cut costs. Most commonly, this will involve job cuts. I do not need to remind readers of the damage ill-judged job cutting can do to an organisation. Indeed, a recent report by Mercer Management Consulting showed that of 120 cost-cutting organisations only one in three achieved profitable growth when the economy picked up again. To help you navigate these dangerous waters, we have provided a list of the top ten mistakes made when reducing headcount.

It is at times like these that, more than ever, companies need strong leaders. In this issue, Sir Ronnie Flanagan OBE, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary), describes what he believes lies at the heart of good leadership. He suggests that the best leaders are those who genuinely care about their staff. And he adds that this cannot be faked.

Sir Ronnie notes that many people have said to him that he must have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. He argues that his job is not difficult at all. And the reason, he says, is that the people who serve in the Police Service of Northern Ireland are exceptionally capable and talented. Sir Ronnies words are taken from a speech he gave at the Critical HR conference last October, organised by Human Resources magazine in association with KPMG Consulting.

There is also a very special kind of leadership that HR directors can demonstrate. First, they have to work very hard to raise and maintain the credibility of their function in their organisations. At the same time, those that make it to the board or to the executive committee need to be able to take on various roles that would leave most finance directors mystified. These include keeping an eye on the ethics of the company and its managers at all levels, and helping to coach the CEO and all the other board members. To achieve these ends, the HR director must be able to stand his corner and be utterly trustworthy. Bob Stack, executive director and chief human resources officer at Cadbury Schweppes, is one such HR leader, and his comments about his role and responsibilities offer some unique guidance for the many budding boardroom HR directors in our readership.

And if you are feeling really brave you might want to follow Ellis Watsons advice and initiate a culture audit.

Morice Mendoza