Home' HR Monthly : April 2016 Contents 6
To read past Perspective columns by
Peter Wilson, visit hrmonline.com.au
TWO ANZ BANK TRADERS AND TWO HUMAN RESOURCES
executives were widely reported recently to have engaged in
inappropriate behaviour, including at an event at a strip club. Having
investigated the incident, the bank issued a high-sounding statement
about breaching the bank culture and publicly sacked the traders. The
traders are suing the bank for tens of millions of dollars, claiming
there was a widespread culture of sex, d rugs and alcohol that was
condoned among senior staff.
As a former head of HR at ANZ, I wondered: “What about HR?”
There were four ANZ employees at the strip club, yet only two were
singled out and fired.
AHRI and Insync have recently released a research report that
su rveyed 365 CEOs and public service agency heads, asking them
what they thought of HR in their organisations. One view was that
while HR technical expertise was important, how H R behaves carries
greater weight than what HR knows.
Business leaders were asked to rate 10 nominated HR behaviours on
how important they were to the business and how well HR performed
in each one. These were collaboration, courage, being credible,
engaging in critical and enquiring thinking, future oriented, being
influential, being professional, resolving issues, driving solutions, and
understanding and caring for the business and its people.
Executives of all stripes might be expected to display those qualities
to some degree, but there is an expectation that HR business partners
in particular should exhibit these in their daily practice. And the 486
HR practitioners surveyed by Insync agreed with that.
So what sort of signal was ANZ sending to its workforce when it
fired its traders and left its HR executives untouched for having, on
the face of it, committed the same offence? Objective observers might
rightly ask whether H R is a protected species.
You don’t have to be familiar with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the
Vanities to believe that bank traders are not expected to set standards
of behaviour. The $360 million cowboy scandal of the NAB ‘rogue’
traders in 2004 might be fading in the minds of many in the corporate
world, but it’s worth keeping Wolfe’s “masters of the universe”
front of mind. They believed they were entitled to operate outside of
accepted mores. Their vastly inflated bonuses tended to reinforce that
sense of entitlement.
Employees, bank traders included, require leadership from the top
to disabuse them of the idea that they enjoy workplace rights and
privileges that could best be described as delusional. But the leadership
is best exercised before employees have offended the prevailing
culture, not after.
The Insync survey left little doubt that the role of the HR business
partner is to be the repository of the organisation’s culture, to be
attuned to what is happening on the ground with the professional
practice and behaviou r of people in the organisation. Also that HR
has a responsibility to alert the organisation or individuals within
it to breaches of culture that could detrimentally affect reputation,
productivity and bottom line.
ANZ did not offer a reason for its inaction on the HR executives
involved, so we are left guessing. One answer is that they were female
and the traders were male, but the ANZ is a gender equity employer
so that answer doesn’t stack up well. A nother is that the traders were
highly paid achievers and it’s best to just go along with whatever they
Another explanation might be that HR practitioners are not
regarded seriously enough within the organisation as people who are
expected to show leadership. If that is the case, the bank’s inaction
was an opportunity lost.
AHRI is now requiring HR practitioners who
want to be recognised and certified as business
partners to show – through a rigorous program
of study and verification of their practice – that
they not only understand the worth of HR
expertise to the business, but that they are
also pre-emptive in taking an active leadership
position in upholding organisational culture.
HR practitioners who understand this know
the best way to do that is to lead by
example. If they fail to live up to
those expectations, it is beholden
on the organisation to hold them to
This is an edited version of an article
titled “HR: unanswered questions
in the ANZ strip club scandal”,
that appeared in the AFR on
27 January, 2016
WHAT I DO, WHAT I SAY
Business leaders expect HR to set standards for organisational behaviour.
BY PETER WILSONAM, AHRI CHAIRMAN
Links Archive March 2016 May 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page