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CIPD annual conference round-up: Day one

What the HR magazine team learned on day one of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition

The HR magazine team has been at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester. As well as today’s top stories, here’s what else we learned on day one...

  • While there’s much going on in the world at the moment that HR professionals can’t control there’s a lot that they can, according to CIPD CEO Peter Cheese kicking off the first day of the conference. “We can be the moral compass of our organisations, we can help to build trust,” he said, citing a range of topical areas HR should be leading on currently including transparency, D&I, flexible working, and wellbeing and engagement. He confirmed the launch this month of the CIPD’s new Profession Map – the first refresh since the original version in 2013. The Map focuses on values-based decision-making and in time will underpin all CIPD qualifications, membership standards and tools. Cheese emphasised the importance of it being “flexible and adapting as the profession changes”.
  • The human brain is not pre-disposed to rationally weigh up risks, professor of finance and director of the IMD World Competitiveness Center Arturo Bris told his audience. “When confronted with loss we’re prone to gamble,” he said. “And when do we want our companies to actually take more risks? When the economy is good. But when things are going well we become risk-averse.” We also learned that some people are more prone to risk-taking than others because of the size of a certain area of the brain. The most extreme risk-taker is likely to be a young Dutch man (“on drugs!”), said Bris, the most risk-averse an older Japanese woman. Organisations can boost their ability to rationally calculate risk by “choosing the right people”, outsourcing some decisions to technology, allowing leaders time to think and “look outside the window,” and creating risk models based on principles (such as customer-centricity or not tolerating corruption) that the organisation – crucially – sticks to, said Bris.
  • “70% of transformation plans fail," Michael Kerr, VP and chief HR officer at Aston Martin, highlighted. He explained how, to ensure the automotive firm didn’t fall into that number when going through a large-scale structural transformation, it established its Second Century Plan to “create a sustainable business for the next 100 years”. Central to its success was for HR to “make people part of the solution, not part of the problem” by “creating cross-functional teams”. The organisation had been working in silos with “no-one talking to anyone”, Kerr explained. “You can’t bring all this change through a central project team, or a leadership team or just HR. HR can lead it but you need others to help you,” he said. “We don’t do anything now without cross-functional teams.”
  • In the same session Stuart Henderson, group head of HR at Together Housing Group, shared the journey HR went on when five heritage organisations were merged together to form the group. He said it faced a number of challenges such as bringing together different ways of working, different pay rates and pensions, multiple locations, and managing union relations. HR was “key to the agenda of pulling the organisations together” and “needed a seat at the top table to be able to influence the process”. One tip Henderson shared was “don’t do a job evaluation before you’ve restructured”. He described getting manager buy-in as the biggest challenge. “When going through an organisational change managers have to talk the talk and walk the walk,” he said.
  • Speaking on how to deal with bullying and harassment allegations at work, Julie Dennis, head of diversity and inclusion at Acas, said that HR must remain objective at all costs. "Obviously in the job I do I have very strong values around a lot of subjects, but I have to be professional and recognise that you shouldn’t take sides before you can understand all of the facts," she said. "Sometimes you can use your passion to your benefit, and particularly if you’re arguing a case you can use your own personal experiences." She highlighted the hugely positive effect of the #MeToo movement: “I wonder how many of us in this room have put up with something just because it’s been described as banter. There are a lot more of us now who are far less frightened of getting up and calling out bad behaviour. There are a lot more men who are calling it out too, and that’s what it should be about: all of us calling this out."
  • Gill Thomas, senior manager of diversity and inclusion at the Royal Academy of Engineering, shared her experience of fighting for change within a recruitment process when she suspected bias was at play. “For a reason that we could not work out far more people from ethnic minority backgrounds were failing a particular test. Also it was such an old and archaic test. So after quite a lot of fighting I managed to get them to drop it. Lo and behold once we replaced the test we received a better result with D&I.” She added that this shift in mentality meant being willing to let go of tradition. “Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right,” she said.