Dawn Moore, Group People Director, The Murphy Group discusses the role of HR as moral compass of the organisation – Is it possible?
There has always been an ongoing debate as to the extent of the role of HR in an organisation.
The function and the work it does has certainly progressed since the ‘Personnel’ functions of the
80s and 90s – often known for being the custodian of policies, procedures, employee gripes and
a high volume of administration.
But is the latest role which is being muted for HR – which is to act as the ‘moral compass’ of an
organisation really possible for the function to achieve alone? Additionally is HR the right place
for this responsibility to sit with?
HR professionals should certainly be role models – setting the tone, ‘walking the talk’ when it
comes to questioning and taking ethnical decisions in line with company guidelines and their own
professional standards. Ethnics, quite rightly, now feature heavily in the CIPD profession map
as a core part of ensuring individual and organisational professionalism.
Additionally, HR professionals leading by example in ethical behaviour, particularly in challenging
others when those behaviours are not right, is a key role but also probably the most difficult.
This can be a personal as well as professional challenge, particularly in the more difficult and
traditional organisational cultures where certain behaviours and ways of working have been
present for a long time. For the forward thinking HR professional however who does not just see
themselves as an HR professional but actually a business leader, this is yet another part of HR
acting as a true leader and having a key role in shaping the general direction and tone of our
organisations in the way we have been talking about for many years.
However it cannot be just HR acting as the moral compass and taking this role on their own. HR
professionals biggest challenge in this area, regardless of sector or what is written in ethics
policies in their organisations, is to actually get the CEO and the entire board to consider and role
model ethical practice in everything they do and to ensure that this board is extremely clear on
and communicate what they expect from every other employee in the organisation.
Arguably, the board are the role models and as well as HR also being this, the function is the key
facilitator. Every line manager should also have this role once the expectations have been made
HR needs to help facilitate the genuine embedding of their organisations values and ethical
behaviours in a simple and understandable way so employees take ownership and use them
The ‘moral compass’ these things represent should also be embedded through all key people
practices within the organisation such as development, appraisal, recruitment and in the
organisations interactions within the communities where they work.
If HR is still looking for a defined leadership role for itself, it certainly can be a key, but not the
sole, leader of the moral compass of an organisation.