Tuesday, 21 August 2007

What can UK HR expect from Gordon Brown as prime minister?

This week’s Personnel Today includes an article (featuring some of my comments) on what we know about Gordon Brown and how he is impacting HR’s agenda, 100 days into his tenure as the UK’s Prime Minster.

Human Resources magazine’s July edition has already reviewed Gordon Brown’s leadership style. The article largely supported my view that effective leadership doesn’t need to be based on charisma. I think instead that Gordon Brown’s rise to the premiership emphasises the importance of ambition, dedication and perseverance as well as having a fair amount of luck.

But the real test of a leader is about what they achieve, rather than the style they use to achieve it.

In their book, Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New leadership Role Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role (1999), Dan Ciampa, an independent consultant, and Michael Watkins, a Harvard Business School associate professor, advise three key missions for new leaders (particularly those promoted from within their organisations): create momentum; master the ability to learn, convey a vision and build coalitions; and know and manage yourself well. A fast start is especially crucial.

On this score, Gordon Brown has clearly been a success. He has announced a series of important new policies containing several dazzling and skilfully communicated U-turns. July’s statement on the government’s draft legislative programme for the next session of parliament includes a number of major changes affecting employers and employees.

In the main, these change show that Brown shares HR’s belief in the importance of maximising the contribution of people to an organisation. This is also reinforced by Brown’s desire to lead a government “of all the talents”

Brown is continuing New Labour’s engagement of business, through the formation of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Business Council for Britain, both aiming to help ensure the future economic well-being of the UK. One example of reform which is particularly important for HR is the Employment Simplification Bill. This includes a number of positive changes to simply, improve and enforce employment law and repeals the recently introduced but largely unsuccessful statutory dispute resolution procedures.

However, for Brown, the importance of competitiveness is balanced by the importance of social mobility: widening participation in the workforce.

A good example is skills. As the Leitch report demonstrated, skills are vital to generating a modern, competitive economy. But Brown also sees them as critical to social justice.

Therefore, Brown intends to introduce a duty on employers to release young people to undertake training or education. The new Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) will help take forward this agenda which is outlined in the Education and Skills Bill.


However, as I explain in the Personnel Today article, "The key test remains how effectively these bills will be implemented and the crucial requirement here is ongoing consultation with business".

The formation of the Business Council for Britain is a good start and many of Brown’s other initiatives echo the same approach. A good example is the encouragement of organisations to get more involved with their sector skills councils to ensure they have access to qualifications appropriate to their needs. Gordon Brown needs to ensure that this engagement of business, and of HR, continues and develops, if his new bills are going to be implemented successfully.