Good cop, bad cop – politics and the workplace

Over the last few months, I have often found myself pondering the invisible people behind the, albeit selectively, visible politicians.  Boris and Dominic Cummings spring to mind.  I have just discovered that Lynton Crosby (Cameron’s amanuensis) protegee Isaac Levido masterminded the recent Tory election campaign.  Whatever one’s views on that campaign, and as a passionate Remainer I have many, it was ruthlessly successful.  The power wielded by these unelected, unaccountable individuals is worrying.  However, the ‘good cop bad cop’ dynamic whereby the public face can be jovial and persuasive, while the nasty stuff happens out of sight, seemed oddly familiar.  After a while I worked out why.

On at least 3 occasions earlier in my HR career, I have worked in organisations where very affable CEOs presented themselves as friendly people who cared about their workforce – and to be fair, they probably did.  However, all of them had tough (in one case positively draconian) HR directors.  These were the people who for example abolished flexitime, initiated group redundancies, disciplined a union rep etc etc.  A relative of mine once referred to HR at his workplace as the angel of death, and said you only saw him if your job was going.

The same dynamic can occur lower down the management food chain too – “It’s not me, it’s HR”.  Any HR professional can probably recognise that scenario.

What’s to be done?  I think as HR professionals, we must insist on joint accountability and never allow managers at any level to scapegoat us.  Easier said than done maybe, but let’s aspire to that?


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