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 Human Rights Issues in Talent Management 



There is one set of issues which has received scant attention in Talent Management, namely the Human Rights of the individual whose career is being affected.  The UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has produced much literature on Talent Management and related fields but there is only the barest indication that it recognises human rights as an issue.  For example, until July 2012 Human Rights was not mentioned in its Code of Conduct for members but currently there is a statement that members of the CIPD shall:-

2.4  advance employment and business practices that promote equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion and support human rights and dignity.

Again, in the context of Succession Management the apologetic tone that "in the past those selected for succession were not offered much choice" provides some evidence of later awareness that there were human rights implications - but where are the analyses of human rights issues?

What is missing is a thorough analysis of human rights implication of talent management or indeed in Personnel & Development activities generally.

To provide focus, consider the following:-

Scenario A

A Head of Department in a Science Faculty of a University had a vacancy for a technical specialist.  He advertised the post and one of the few applicants was from a local Hi-Tech Industrial company.  A manager of the company then approached the Department Head, who he knew socially, and asked him, off the record, not to recruit the technical specialist as he was much needed by the company.

Scenario B

A Head of Department in a Science Faculty of a University was approached by a director of a large Hi-Tech Group of Companies and offered a senior job in one of its subsidiaries.  The Department Head was happy with his University job and declined the offer.

The response of the Group was to invite the Administrator of the Faculty to join its top-level human resources committee, disclose to him a succession plan they had in mind for the academic and requested the Administrator to do what he could to discourage the Department Head in his job.  After a period in which the Administrator, through his control of the paperwork of the Faculty and by personal remarks carried out the Company's request, an improved offer was made by the company.  This time the Head of Department, who as a result of the Faculty Administrator's actions no longer enjoyed his University job, accepted.

Putting these scenarios to a group of middle managers on a management course yielded the general opinion that such behind-the-scenes practices are acceptable as long as the person concerned does not know what has taken place.  A minority, however, found them objectionable but could not say why.  It is the elucidation of what is acceptable and what is not in human rights terms that is the purpose of this document.


Declarations on Human Rights

International and National Declarations on Human Rights provide general principles.

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights does not contain an article which manifestly covers Talent Management, Career Development and the like but the following might be applicable:-

Article  3        Everyone has the right to . . . liberty . . .

Article  4        No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; . . .

Article 12      arbitrary interference

Article 20      no-one compelled to belong to an association

Article 23      free choice of employment

Directgov lists a number of rights which UK citizens enjoy under the Human Rights Act 1998, which was derived from the European Convention on Human Rights.  The- following may be relevant:

freedom from slavery and forced labour

the right to liberty

the right to respect for private and family life

freedom of thought, conscience and religion

freedom of expression

freedom of assembly and association

the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms

The Declaration goes on to say:-

If any of these rights and freedoms are abused you have a right to an effective solution in law.

Classification of Human Rights Issues

Human rights activities have burgeoned in the past decade or two.  Human Rights issues are generally concerned with the underdog, the impoverished, the oppressed minority group.  To determine where Human Rights issues arising in connection with the career development of a talented minority fit in with the panoply of Human Rights concepts a pilot classification was devised based on what the websites of two organisations - Amnesty International and Global Giving - cited under the heading Human Rights.  The following categories emerged:-

  1. preventing deliberate action by individuals against other individuals.

  2. Remedial action for victims of deliberate actions by other humans.

  3. Campaigning for human rights.

  4. Remedial action for victims of avoidable results of deliberate actions by others.

  5. Remedial action to make good shortfalls in Government and/or community provision due to lack of awareness, action or resources.

  6. Remedial action to make good deliberate shortfalls in Government and/or community provision.

  7. preventing deliberate action by Government agencies against individuals.

  8. preventing prejudiced action by individuals & Governments to the detriment of individuals or groups.

  9. Particularly difficult to classify.

None of the above categories reveal a cogent link to HRI in Talent Management, except perhaps Category 9.  Details of the pilot classification can be accessed by the following link:-

Classification of Human Rights Issues


Preliminary Thoughts on HRI in Talent Management

In Scenario A the Industrial company sought to override the choice made by the specialist and the methods it used featured the following:-

  1. Boundary crossing - e.g. the choice of the specialist to work in one organisation was to be subjected to interference by an external organisation,

  2. The use of a network relationship - e.g. the interference was on a pal to pal basis between members of staff in the two organisations,

  3. Behind-the-scenes interference - the pal to pal arrangement was confidential and unrecorded.

In Scenario B, features i, ii & iii of Scenario A are present but an additional feature was employed, namely:-

iv.  A psychological method of influence - e.g. to bring about a move an expertly applied covert 'stick' was arranged in one organisation to complement the overt 'carrot' of an improved offer from the external organisation.

In Scenario A the Company was acting in its own interests and there was no guarantee that the member of staff would benefit but in Scenario B the Group intended the Head of Department to benefit as well as itself.

In searching for human rights principles in talent management can the following be deduced from Scenarios A & B?

  • covertness is the key to what is objectionable

  • a boundary crossing code of conduct is needed

  • the imbalance between the employing organisation's and the talented's expertise in behavioural techniques needs to be addressed

  • an organisation's intentions for the talented is a significant factor

These are but preliminary notions derived from two simple scenarios.  To explore HRI in more detail a series of Case Studies have been prepared, all based on actual experiences and reflecting in considerable measure the complexity of HRI in Talent Management and other Personnel & Development activities.


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