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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...

  • Organisations need to take a more scientific data-based approach to D&I, chair of Green Park Trevor Phillips suggested. He offered some key D&I lessons, including measuring “the signal not the noise”. He gave the example of an anti-racism poster campaign that – while it received great press coverage or “noise” – didn’t land well with those it was seeking to convert. He also advised HR to “ask the people involved” what kind of D&I interventions might be effective.
  • “It’s easy to start off on your journey and be derailed by shiny new products,” warned Victoria Anthony, group HR director at Galliard Homes, speaking on a panel about identifying and adopting the most suitable HR and learning tech. “So get your brief nailed down in the outset, stick to it and involve some of the workforce,” she recommended, pointing to the risk that HR is dazzled by new tech but also the opportunity HR has to tap into the tech knowledge within the wider workforce. Lizi Marsden, head of organisational development and talent at Great Places Housing Group, pointed to young people in particular as having high expectations of – and also expertise in – tech in the workplace. “Apprentices come in as the younger workforce and they bring different expectations of what they want and are very vocal on that,” she said. Sometimes it’s the less shiny systems that can be most crucial, said Foxtons’ chief people officer Sarah Mason: “Applicant tracking systems can be the least sexy of the group of HR tech but they’re really important.” Louise Hall, director of HR and OD at Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Trust, added her top tips for implementing HR tech: “You can never start too early… and it was the things we didn’t think about [that caused challenges]… so sometimes it’s not the stuff In your control but the stuff you didn’t think about.”
  • A panel explored how organisations should tailor the traditional Ulrich model to work for their organisations today. Kerry Smith, director of people and OD at the British Heart Foundation, said that the model as it stands can foster silos in the business. “I think HR is in danger of creating silos if it follows the Ulrich model,” she said. “What I think is better is taking the model and making it work for you.” For example, rather than bringing in specific analytics or marketing expertise into the HR function, Smith recommended marrying HR expertise with the expertise already available in the organisation. “We need to stop looking in on ourselves and look at how we do things better,” she added. Lorenzo Giliomee, head of people development at O2 (Telefónica UK), agreed that the model can create silos and encouraged HR to find a way to work together with the business in a “seamless” way: “If the HR model is too rigid for the business then HR will become irrelevant.” “If you set it up as ‘this is your area and don’t step out of it’ then you won’t have those bridging roles,” added Anna Lees, OD director at King’s College London. Kim Clarke, director of HRBP and employee relations and shared services at TSB Bank, said there needs to be a greater focus on skills and responsibilities. “The Ulrich model is as good as any but we need to think about core skillsets first. There are some core skillsets you need regardless of which function you're in in HR,” she said.
  • HR has a long way to go in ensuring the profession is itself diverse, asserted Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, speaking on a panel on 'Broadening up inclusion – focus on age, ethnicity, religion and neurodiversity'. He highlighted for example that though there are lots of female HR professionals representation of women at a senior level in HR is poor, as is racial diversity. “I think we’ve failed as a profession and as humans to be frank,” he said. “HR teams aren’t diverse and if they’re not diverse our organisations won’t be.” Butt described the impact of more diversity within the HR team at his former organisation Islamic Relief Worldwide: “We had a very diverse HR team: black, white, Asian, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, atheists… Because we were sitting on those recruitment panels it became harder for managers to discriminate if someone had a different perspective… That’s the role HR can play as the gatekeepers of organisations.”
  • Employers should recognise the benefits of a joined-up approach to inclusion and wellbeing, explained Jane Miller, head of wellbeing and inclusion at NHS Business Services Authority: "Employers often see inclusion and wellbeing as two separate issues, but we think they should be seen as part of the same problem for a number of different reasons. This is mostly because part of wellbeing is looking at how you can allow employees to really feel more listened to, and that partially involves accepting that people from different groups and backgrounds will experience issues around workplace wellbeing differently. We need to encourage community," she said. In a separate talk on mental health at work, Rachel Suff, senior policy advisor of employment relations at the CIPD, said employers must not ignore the root causes of poor wellbeing at work: "Far too often we've seen that organisations have not introduced preventative measures around reducing stress. You need to think, what are the risks of mental health at work? CIPD research has shown that 80% of people have said that the main cause of their stress is high workloads," she said.
  • In the closing keynote Mariana Mazzucato, professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London, offered a crash course in the history of value in economics. She explained that we must look at value not just in organisations, but at how value itself is created. Mazzucato underlined the importance of gaining an understanding of economics: "If we want to create more purpose-driven organisations we need to change the way we think about the different ways we can organise capitalism [...] to quote Keynes: if you think you're just a practitioner and you don't care about economics, you're probably 'a slave to defunct economic theory'." She argued that we are currently engaged in a system of capitalism that is dictated by financialisation and maximising shareholder value, above reinvesting into society and skills. This system ultimately led to the economic crash, she said, a point we must keep in mind when looking at the future of work: "Historically, when businesses actually functioned, they helped to create skills. It's not robots that will take your jobs – corporate governance structures will."