Margaret Hodge receives the standard HR treatment

Having seen her ignorant, hypocritical, and opportunistic grandstanding in the kangaroo court known as the Public Accounts Committee, I have no sympathy for the situation in which Margaret Hodge now finds herself with the Labour Party. It is, however, worth looking at. Here’s an extract from the letter she received from the Labour Party:

Note that the details of the allegations are not identified in the letter, but she is warned any future behaviour of a similar nature will result in further disciplinary action. This doesn’t surprise me: a feature of disciplinary processes in modern organisations is a lack of details. Both managers and HR prefer woolly terms such as “abusive conduct” in lieu of details because it gives them greater flexibility in the process and hamstrings the employee’s defence. It is also highly unethical and, quite likely, illegal so the best thing an employee can do when faced with a letter like this is to lawyer up. Unsurprisingly, this is what Hodge has done; here’s an extract from the response:

Indeed. But the worst aspect of what the Labour Party are doing is something very common in HR disciplinary procedures. The language of the letter implies all they have is an allegation, nothing is known, and minds shall remain open while an investigation takes place and the truth determined. However, it is almost certain that the management know exactly what happened, they have formed a narrative (which may or may not match what actually happened), and determined the outcome already. HR is merely told to follow a process which leads to that outcome and, HR being what they are in most organisations, just do what they’re told legality and ethics be damned.

The thing to understand when faced with a letter like this – or even an “informal chat” – is that you think you’re on Stage 1 of a fair and open process, whereas the management are on Stage Finale of a process that’s anything but. You’ll be there thinking you’ll have an opportunity to mount a defence in due course, but before you know it the process has whipped past you without you even realising it. Remember that quick chat your boss had with you in the corridor about a possible HR issue? Yeah, that ticks the box saying the matter was fully discussed with your hierarchy. And the time you asked for details, and they said they’d “get back to you later”? That was the meeting you should have walked out of, because on your record it says you offered no explanation for your behaviour when given the opportunity. The way to deal with this is exactly as Hodge has done: throw a large monkey-wrench in the works and bring the whole process crashing to a halt.

The second you start to cooperate, you lend legitimacy to the process being used to destroy you, and if you don’t protest loudly and vigorously management and HR can claim afterwards that you never complained. Hodge has done the right thing here, and I suspect Labour are now staring down the barrel of a humiliating climbdown, perhaps with a hefty bill for damages attached.

The real scandal here is how common these unprofessional Kafkaesque tactics are used as standard by modern managers, endorsed by ineffectual HR departments. All it takes is one or two savvy employees to work out what’s going on, and the company is in serious trouble. This is why organisations should prioritise appointing principled managers supported by a robust HR department, and worry less about hounding employees for not being sufficiently on-message.

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8 thoughts on “Margaret Hodge receives the standard HR treatment

  1. “The second you start to cooperate, you lend legitimacy to the process being used to destroy you, and if you don’t protest loudly and vigorously management and HR can claim afterwards that you never complained.”

    I completely agree, but the main problem here is that protesting loudly and vigorously only works if they are trying to get rid of you. If you don’t go along with the process for “lesser offences” where they just want to keep you in order, make an example of you, or settle an old score, then they escalate matters and you end up as the star in your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I suspect Hodge has got little to lose. She knows the Labour Party is a pile of unelectable crap, and she’s wealthy. She might as well have some fun while waiting for the next opportunity.

  2. Kind of like the Lindsay Shepherd accusations. You did something wrong, we can’t tell you if someone actually complained, you must bow to authority. The other thing that keeps getting worse and worse is that you can’t learn more because it violates the denouncer, sorry, plaintiff’s safety and privacy.
    I have to say that I had two run-ins at Intel Corporation as a manager where an employee of a peer didn’t like her review and accused us of harassment. On another occasion, three managers, including me, got sued by a former employee for ridiculous charges. The HR team at Intel handled them very well and had my back. Of course, they reversed the bad review, but the person who sued got the middle finger from the company and the courts. I suspect that things have changed dramatically in HR since then (2004), so I wouldn’t expect the presumption of innocence as much anymore.

  3. If you don’t go along with the process for “lesser offences” where they just want to keep you in order, make an example of you, or settle an old score, then they escalate matters and you end up as the star in your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

    It’s an approach, one that most people take to be fair. It is, however, a risky one: appeasement rarely works, and I don’t know how many people have met their demise because they initially cooperated and wished later they’d fought back hard from the outset.

  4. Stand up and go in hard from day zero. Have to be careful about pissing everyone off though but Hodge is employed by her electors so has more leeway than most. Can’t wait to see what happens next as she’s rendered them impotent. Deselection?

    I’m living this dream now in respect of a restructure. HR have advised management that the new role they want me to do (with no leadership, oversight or challenging of others covering a narrow scope) is the same as my current (leading broad scope with oversight and challenge to those doing delivery). I’ve lawyered up from day one, record the meetings (for record keeping purposes clearly) and have taken a hard line, namely they are making my role redundant and I won’t do the new one. Will find out how far HRs analysis actually goes but the “reasonable to refuse” test is from employee’s perspective…. that’s me and my lawyer then.

    HR do and say what management want and will back management up every time, even when management have broken HR policies on appraisals and grading and objectives. Threaten to walk out and go to tribunal if you work at a big high profile “most ethical possible” brand name. Worked for me last time. Let’s see if it works this time.

  5. For someone who is training to work in HR and be a management poodle you are showing an independent mindset. This should be interesting to follow longerbterm. 🙂

  6. For someone who is training to work in HR and be a management poodle you are showing an independent mindset.

    Indeed, and I will have to find a company which needs a proper HR function and doesn’t just expect HR to rubber-stamp whatever illegal, unethical, and stupid shit the management have just dreamed up. If that’s what they want, they don’t need me.

  7. Have to be careful about pissing everyone off though…

    Yes, but I’ve always taken the view that if people get pissed off because you pushed back against illegal or unethical management practices, you’re better off not working with them anyway.

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