Why I Said “HR Should Be Ashamed of Itself”

by Katherine Graham
February 2015

CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

Katherine Graham

It’s no secret that I can be spikey – and I sometimes rue the things I say after I’ve said them. And, believe me, I do understand why HR Directors need to be at the Board Room table, because without that influence your job is all the more difficult.

I’m also passionate about equipping people at all levels in the workplace to handle differences effectively and to face up to the feelings and behaviours which typically lead to conflict. And like everyone, when I’m personally involved in those feelings, I don’t always get things right. But the secret lies in how we handle those feelings of anger, hurt, anxiety and frustration once an issue has kicked off.

And yes, I’m feeling all of those things right now – and particularly frustration. CMP Resolutions is 26 years old, and we are still seeing the most appalling cases of bullying, harassment, complex grievances, badly handled disciplinaries, entrenched disputes, dubious payoffs and high-profile tribunals. And what we see can only be the tip of the iceberg.

So why haven’t we made more progress?

Study after study has shown that people work best in an environment where there is clear leadership, good communication, genuine involvement, development opportunities and a culture of individual respect and recognition. You know this too. That’s why you went into HR – you wanted to play your part in creating and establishing the framework that will enable this to happen.

What I have seen over the years is a multitude of initiatives to support these ambitions – organisational Values Statements, talent identification and management programmes, employee engagement initiatives, dignity at work policies, most of these driven by HR.

So why are you and I still talking about the same old problems? Why is it that all of these excellent initiatives have not resulted in the improvements that we all seek? Obviously there is no simple answer; 26 years’ of experience have taught me that. We are dealing with people, and it’s not just the first-line managers and their teams who need to change.

We know that people at the top are the ones that set the scene, create the culture, and are just as challenged as anyone else when it comes to dealing with conflict, having difficult conversations, taking responsibility for getting the best out of the people who work in their organisations.

I think that CMP has some of the answers. I also believe that conflict resolution is a strategic issue, which deserves a place at the boardroom table. What frustrates me is that I don’t see it being taken seriously, and, judging by your feedback, neither do may of you.

I genuinely want things to change

So maybe I shouldn’t have been so vocal about my frustration with the ability of HR to effect change. Maybe you are wrestling with the very same issues that I am – you know what some of the answers are, you just need UK plc to accept and embrace them. One crucial factor in resolving such challenges is to engage in dialogue.

I welcome your insights into what is stopping HR from achieving the changes that it surely wants to achieve. I would love to sit down with some HR directors to share my perspective and frustrations and to learn how, together, we could give ourselves the best possible chance of making change happen over the next few years.

And I hope that this blog generates as big a response as my first one.


Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond Conflict”, a national conference on workplace dispute resolution. Katherine joined CMP Resolutions (formerly Conflict Management Plus) in 1992. She was made a director of the company in 1998 and became Managing Director in May 2009. Prior to this she managed teams in publishing and communications departments for major national charities including The Work Foundation, the RNID and the King’s Fund. She was the inaugural Chair of the Institute of Conflict Management.


Author of The Directory of Mediation Services for Social Landlords (National Housing Federation)

Editor, “Equilibrium” – a quarterly journal of dispute resolution

Co-author Mediation for Managers (NB Books 2002)

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Website: www.cmpresolutions.co.uk

Additional articles by Katherine Graham