Why HR should have had a say in ABC restructure


The ABC restructure is the latest example of an organisation failing to engage the people who are central to a strategy and creating powerful trenchant resistance which undermines the management position on strategic direction. 

The proposed restructuring  led to 17 employees, including heavy hitters Fran Kelly, Geraldine Doogue, Norman Swan and Robyn Williams, publicly criticising the new structure.

Among other things, they objected to the extra layer of management, which, in the context of significant budget cuts, they said was profligate and bedevilled by pompous job titles. In addition, they doubted whether it would achieve the broadcaster’s digital media services objectives for its 2020 strategy.

The new structure sets out a top-level layer of seven executives reporting to the director of radio. They are described as strategy executives, with a dozen or so lower-level divisional heads reporting to them. At the same level as the strategy executives, but outside the strategy circle, is a role carrying the title Business Partner People. That role is what many of us recognise as the head of human resources.

Looking for trouble

I find myself in general agreement with the 17 in seeing the proposed restructure as problematic. My perspective, however, stems from my belief that if the ABC radio division thinks it can announce a fundamental change management initiative by leaving HR outside the strategy tent, it’s looking for trouble.

As head of the Australian HR Institute, I have seen many examples of good organisational restructures that have been well executed by top management and HR working in unison. The new ABC restructure plan positions itself outside those precedents. Insertion of a new management layer is contrary to modern efficient practice. Workplace restructuring is a dynamic and risky challenge, and one which receives close attention in new HR certification standards being implemented by the Institute I lead.

For many years, the ABC has enjoyed very high levels of public confidence in the Australian community. The October 2015 Essential Report on trust in institutions rated the ABC fourth behind the state and federal police and the High Court and higher than the Reserve Bank and charitable institutions. At the bottom, business groups rated 30 per cent and political parties 19 per cent.

Tough ask

Most organisations would kill for trust ratings such as those that the ABC repeatedly records. While some organisations, such as the High Court and the Reserve Bank, earn their rating on the basis of their exulted standing in the Australian community, the ABC has largely won its rating on the standing of the people it employs, people who the public have come to know and in whom they have confidence.
Public trust is an ephemeral property which can be diminished or lost suddenly.

Good HR would bring to the table relevant data and positioning strategies on workforce planning, industrial relations and ways to engage the people on the ground who are going to make the change
happen,  or alternatively stonewall it.

By no means am I saying that all HR practitioners are capable of performing that role, because the role of HR business partner is a tough ask. But if an organisation like the ABC does not have confidence that its internal HR is up to being front and centre in a strategy of that magnitude, it needs to bring them up to scratch or look elsewhere for its HR.

This article was originally published on the Australian Financial Review. You can read more by clicking here

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Why HR should have had a say in ABC restructure


The ABC restructure is the latest example of an organisation failing to engage the people who are central to a strategy and creating powerful trenchant resistance which undermines the management position on strategic direction. 

The proposed restructuring  led to 17 employees, including heavy hitters Fran Kelly, Geraldine Doogue, Norman Swan and Robyn Williams, publicly criticising the new structure.

Among other things, they objected to the extra layer of management, which, in the context of significant budget cuts, they said was profligate and bedevilled by pompous job titles. In addition, they doubted whether it would achieve the broadcaster’s digital media services objectives for its 2020 strategy.

The new structure sets out a top-level layer of seven executives reporting to the director of radio. They are described as strategy executives, with a dozen or so lower-level divisional heads reporting to them. At the same level as the strategy executives, but outside the strategy circle, is a role carrying the title Business Partner People. That role is what many of us recognise as the head of human resources.

Looking for trouble

I find myself in general agreement with the 17 in seeing the proposed restructure as problematic. My perspective, however, stems from my belief that if the ABC radio division thinks it can announce a fundamental change management initiative by leaving HR outside the strategy tent, it’s looking for trouble.

As head of the Australian HR Institute, I have seen many examples of good organisational restructures that have been well executed by top management and HR working in unison. The new ABC restructure plan positions itself outside those precedents. Insertion of a new management layer is contrary to modern efficient practice. Workplace restructuring is a dynamic and risky challenge, and one which receives close attention in new HR certification standards being implemented by the Institute I lead.

For many years, the ABC has enjoyed very high levels of public confidence in the Australian community. The October 2015 Essential Report on trust in institutions rated the ABC fourth behind the state and federal police and the High Court and higher than the Reserve Bank and charitable institutions. At the bottom, business groups rated 30 per cent and political parties 19 per cent.

Tough ask

Most organisations would kill for trust ratings such as those that the ABC repeatedly records. While some organisations, such as the High Court and the Reserve Bank, earn their rating on the basis of their exulted standing in the Australian community, the ABC has largely won its rating on the standing of the people it employs, people who the public have come to know and in whom they have confidence.
Public trust is an ephemeral property which can be diminished or lost suddenly.

Good HR would bring to the table relevant data and positioning strategies on workforce planning, industrial relations and ways to engage the people on the ground who are going to make the change
happen,  or alternatively stonewall it.

By no means am I saying that all HR practitioners are capable of performing that role, because the role of HR business partner is a tough ask. But if an organisation like the ABC does not have confidence that its internal HR is up to being front and centre in a strategy of that magnitude, it needs to bring them up to scratch or look elsewhere for its HR.

This article was originally published on the Australian Financial Review. You can read more by clicking here

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