Thursday, 21 July 2011

It's not what you know...

2011 has been quite the year for nepotism in the Press and watching the Murdoch’s up in front of the Parliamentary select committee this week, the issue set my mind ticking over to some of the high profile incidents that have occurred this year.  Not that I am suggesting that young James has reached his position in News Corp by anything other than corporate ability by the way.

Earlier in the day, John Yates refuted claims that he had given a helping hand to a friend’s (who happened to be an ex News of the World employee) daughter in gaining a position at the Met.  His line of argument was that the HR Director in the organisation was a stickler for the rules and would never have allowed such cronyism to take place.  Closer to home, the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire police was given a final warning earlier in the year for the same reason.

HR occupy a very difficult position when challenging nepotism in the workplace, especially when the perpetrators occupy very senior roles in their organisation.  To what extent is the nepotism in question discriminating against other, possibly more worthy candidates?  Is it naive to suggest that networks, whether they be family or personal do not play a huge part in getting a foothold within a company?

I  would certainly never suggest that personal relationships are not hugely important in business in our region and the same counts for recruitment – clients will naturally deal with recruiters that they trust and if that trust has been earned through hard work and honesty then there is nothing wrong with that.  Referrals of friends and associated businesses are vitally important in winning business and likewise, there is no stronger recommendation of a candidate than ‘word of mouth’.

Indeed, HR actively play on recommendations themselves – think of how many organisations operate a ‘refer a friend’ reward scheme.  Not outright nepotism by any means, but does it circumnavigate the usual recruitment process?

My own view on it is that reputations are generally built for a reason and it actually makes common sense for organisations to take notice of referrals that come their way.  Where the lines become blurred is if HR are actually pushed into taking a candidate whose ability to carry out the role they do not feel comfortable with.
Plus, at some point in most of our lives, we will have been given a helping hand by a personal contact in the workplace.  I’m happy to register my own conflict of interests here – I benefitted from nepotism for the first and last time aged 16 in securing a summer job in a friends shoe factory – it was the worst job I’d ever had!  Either way, it would make me think twice about railing against nepotism whilst conveniently forgetting that I had directly benefitted (ish!) from it in my youth.  At least until I become Deputy Prime Minister and develop a penchant for hypocrisy!

What do HR professionals think about the subject?  Is it something that you have had to confront head on in your own workplaces?  Please feel free to leave comments on the issue – I’m guessing anonymously but it would be great to hear if it is a major issue in our workplaces

Gareth Harrison 

Managing Consultant

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