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What we learned at the HR Directors Summit 2017

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A roundup of some of the most inspirational lessons from the speakers at the 2017 HRD Summit in Birmingham

  • The most difficult part of executive training is project work, reported Lenovo's head of talent development EMEA Maxim Strashun. The difficulty is that prospective execs can either lead a project where they’ll contribute valuable work but not learn much, or they can engage with a stretching project that limits the value of their contribution because they’re new to a certain area or skill. “If your aim is for the person to lead a team that team is going to struggle to listen to that person because they’re not yet an expert in that skill,” said Strashun. He added that parachuting someone into an existing project rarely works; the fact they’re not involved at its conception means limited opportunity for developing strategic thinking. The best approach is for the person to choose their own project team and topic – one the business “hasn’t touched yet”.
  • Kerry Foods HRD Emma Rose described the power of storytelling. She detailed the transformation of Kerry Foods from a company where, when she arrived a year ago, she “couldn’t find anyone who could recall what the company’s values were", to one where everyone is much more connected and engaged. Rose described the process of breaking the Kerry Foods story into six chapters and “leveraging this identity and imagery at every opportunity”. “Writing your story is a really powerful process,” said Rose, adding: “Storytelling transcends all cultures and really connects people in a completely different way.”
  • Ruth Penfold, director of talent acquisition for music identification software Shazam, said creating an amazing place to work means listening to your workers’ ideas and voices. “One of our employees pointed out that we didn’t have a Mac app,” she said. “In his own time he designed and presented us with a demo. Because we’re quite agile we said 'okay, why not?' We shipped the completed app just four weeks later.” She added that the firm’s recruitment and retention strategy is comparable to a relationship. “It requires finding common ground, making people feel valued, being consistent, and having a shared sense of purpose,” she said.
  • Leadership means treating people as individuals not in a one-size-fits-all way, according to Chuck Stephens, head of diversity and inclusion EMEA for Google. “Being a leader is like conducting an orchestra,” he explained. “It’s not about treating everybody in the same way, but about seeing the different skills of the violins, the horns section, the percussion, and helping them to work together to create something. You need to figure out what motivates your employees as individuals, not as one group.”