#CIPD13 – Where’s The Inspiration?

So the dust has settled on another CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition. The vendors are busily following up the new leads and the delegates are returning to their desks, open workspaces or even their dining room tables (for home working, naturally) with lots of inspirational new ideas for making their businesses better places to work.

Or are they?

I’m guessing that the true test of an event like this is how many people return next year, how many new people come in 2014 through word of mouth (or online buzz) generated by this year’s delegates, and how many can put their hands up in the future and say that their businesses or culture have been improved, or their own personal vision and goals have shifted positively, because of something they heard – or some new technology they acquired – by having been at ACE 2013.

This is the hidden bit that no-one really knows. HR professionals like my friend Robert have ventured back and been surprised and encouraged by what they have seen. We know this because he is part of a vibrant online HR community that shares it’s views and commentary through blogs and social networks. We won’t necessarily know that much about the experience of those who have yet to embrace these tools.

Which is why the growing presence of bloggers and socially connected delegates at this event is so important. Whether we are giving coverage to what’s being said, perspective on some of the opinions aired, or merely bringing the event to life for those not in attendance, the online chat is now an integral part of events such as this. And kudos to the CIPD for realising this. By increasing the number, range and backgrounds of the ‘blog squad’ they ensured a vibrant online buzz around the two days – and it was great to see so many attendees and exhibitors on the hashtag #CIPD13.

We had a rousing start from CIPD CEO Peter Cheese. “The future’s already here. It’s just happening at different speeds in different companies” he said in his opening address. He was a highly visible presence throughout the two days, getting to as many sessions as he could, and always finding the time to stop and talk. I think this helped no end in making the event more personal, social and less formal. Maybe that’s why he opened the hack session by saying “I’m always up for new ideas

So here are a few of my thoughts on the event itself…

Two Days Better

The shortening from three to two days was a real positive. The whole event felt more compact, the content not spun out, and there was no ‘drag’ when delegates were maybe a bit conferenced out and exhibitors in need of a sugar rush to regain some enthusiasm. Three days is a lot of time for people (delegates and exhibitors) to be away from wherever they work, and the ones that I spoke to certainly seemed to favour the shorter event. I hope this remains next year.

Social Outreach Good

I’ve already mentioned the blog squad as a real positive, and I really did get the impression this year that we have moved, ever so slightly, on from having to tell people how and why they should embrace social…they were doing it for themselves! Certain sessions had their own hashtag, the twitter wall was showing in the main auditorium, and we got twitter handles for most of the speakers. I believe on the first day we trended on Twitter too! Long may it continue.

The Speakers

Hmmm…have to say that although I have blogged about the opening keynote from Jones and Goffee I was fairly underwhelmed by their presentation. I spoke to some who have seen them before and felt that this was below par – in which case I have to say WHY?? Opening keynote, in front of a large audience, to showcase their own research…and they were flat. No pace, perspective or chemistry, it felt a bit like an academic lecture, with plugs to purchase previous works. Considering the topic was building better workplaces the lack of passion and inspiration seemed really poor. Daniel Pink was much more robust and charismatic for the closing keynote, playing somewhat to the gallery. He’s an in-demand speaker and paces his presentation with facts, jokes, insights and audience participation. At HRTechEurope many were asking why there were so many US speakers and not enough Europeans. Well, the two keynotes here gave us one reason.

Elsewhere, as Sukh has noted, there was a noticeable lack of diversity, as well as a bias towards larger organisations. When I blogged from the HRD show in April I commented on a lack of passion noticeable in presenters from larger organisations as well as the lapse into lazy stereotyping. At CIPD13 we had Facebook trotting out a whole bunch of generational stereotyping cliches – come on guys, the average age of a Facebook user is 41!! The Facebook generation isn’t just a bunch of college kids! We did get some smaller companies showcasing their achievements. I went to one from UKFast about how to preserve culture whilst growing rapidly. For me though, this was as much cliche as some other presentations. The quartet of inspirations for their journey were Tony Robbins, Jim Collins, Muhammad Ali and Richard Branson. Whilst the speaker did radiate endless energy and enthusiasm for the business, there was little about preserving a culture and more about how to quickly grow a company from 2 to 200 whilst keeping staff happy. There were some interesting developments but I wasn’t sure what the culture was before or after, and felt the whole thing was a bit of a sales pitch – I’ll accept it’s just my view, others may have seen it differently.

Some Takeaways

As always when I’m live tweeting, certain phrases stand out and almost need no further explanation. Five of my favourites this time were…

  • What your company spends money and time on shows employees what’s important. It’s that simple.” Neil Morrison (Penguin Random House)
  • Start creating talent and stop fighting for it” Rob Zajko (Hilton)
  • Moving the customer to the centre changes everything. Job descriptions, incentives and behaviours” Monique Jordan (Pearson)
  • We’ve gone from buyer beware to seller beware. We’ve gone from information asymmetry to information parity” Dan Pink
  • The war for talent ended at Barclays 18 months ago. We had focused on graduates but had missed out on talent aged 16-21” Mike Thompson (Barclays)

The Talent Question

Two of those quotes came from a very interesting session on apprenticeships involving Hilton Worldwide and Barclays. I’ve covered future talent before from other CIPD events, but what I liked about this one was two large organisations coming clean about the focus on graduates to the detriment of those who either choose not to do a degree, or leave school at 16. There were some heartwarming examples given of young people who had been overlooked but thrived once given the chance. There were two particular themes that intrigued me.

One was whether companies were competing when they should be collaborating over the 16-21 age group. Someone who might be wrong for one company could be suited to another. If business is going to unite to help offer real hope and experience to some of the 1 million young unemployed then there needs to be more collaboration, particularly in identifying those who who ‘fall through the gaps‘.

The other was the realisation that ‘not right‘ really means ‘not right for now‘ and that each person not deemed suitable could become so in the future. To hear two large, global businesses talk in terms of each rejected candidate in this age group being a potential future customer, employee or supplier marked a change for me.

So, Where’s the Inspiration?

The overarching theme of the two days was about inspiring the future…so how many people left the conference feeling inspired? I’m not sure. Having been to a few HR related conferences recently there seems to be a certain format that binds them all. They are topped and tailed with keynotes from authors who have a book, new research or product to promote, and who have a (possibly vague) connection with HR. In the middle are a mixture of case studies and shared experiences from a range of medium to large sized businesses, often presented by someone who doesn’t always look like they want to be there – but it was their job.

Inspiration or perspiration? Practicalities or bigger themes? Do any of these really inspire HR for the future? Doug has raised the point of getting more CEOs along, and this would certainly help. But I think the real solution is to look outside the profession. Why can only HR people inspire other HR people? If we really want to embrace the future and take new ideas and thinking back to our businesses then maybe we need to look elsewhere for some insight.

The day after CIPD13 I went to a small, thought provoking conference in Brighton called Meaning2013. This was purely content – no exhibition or vendors – and drew from a wide range of fields. The common theme was that they were all ‘thinkers and doers from business, academia and activism, each bringing their view of the challenges and opportunities open to us‘. To hear (amongst others) Lee Bryant challenge on who was building the institutions of the future, Anne Marie Huby talk through how JustGiving was launched and the principles that drive it, Falkvinge showcase how to mobilise and influence people, James Watt share some fairly unbelievable stories of the risks that BrewDog took to get established, were all…well, inspirational. There was a real passion and energy about it, and a belief that things can be different.

So maybe the future for a conference like CIPD is to take chances and look outside the profession for inspirational speakers who may get people thinking in a different way. Whether this is through a fringe event, or part of the mainstream, inspiration for the profession doesn’t have to always come from within it. After all, as FlipChart Rick notes, Peter Cheese did say earlier in the year that HR need to become synthesisers and provocateurs.

I did enjoy the two days in Manchester. There’s certainly been some forward momentum in developing the event. Now, perhaps, it requires more of a leap of faith?

Which, if the profession are really to become synthesisers and provocateurs, may be no bad thing…


Everyone’s at CIPD13 – everyone’s a star 🙂

(Image courtesy of People Management)


As a regular attendee and blogger at CIPD events I like the way they have got involved in, and tried to shape, conversations around youth unemployment and opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.

In their centenary year it seems fitting that an organisation that came in to being with an aim to get children out of the workplace should now be spearheading efforts to get them in to work. I wrote about the Our Young People project last year and have written elsewhere about their newly launched research ‘Employers are from Mars, Young people are from Venus’.

However, mixed in between the learning and networking at the recent CIPD HRD conference were presentations of a different type that I could have done without…the dreaded ‘How to get the best out of/understand/manage/up-skill Gen Y’ bilge.

Generalisations about generations are nothing new (cap doffed to Gareth Jones for the inspiration behind the blog title btw) and I’ve written about it several times.

One speaker, a senior HR/Learning person from a major UK plc, hid behind the Deloitte Gen Y research with the usual generalisations – sense of entitlement, used to being placed on pedestals, lack of proactivity, dreamers, unrealistic – and even gave us an interesting conundrum. They don’t get information from people but prefer to source it online. This was seen as a problem as decisions are usually made in meetings. Yet barely two minutes later the presenter told us how difficult it was to organise internal meetings, problems over aligning diaries etc, whilst her 19 year old son can arrange a get together within a couple of minutes online. Opportunity or threat?
















Further comments such as ‘They’ve grown up in times of an economic boom’ are clearly nonsense as anyone born ‘93 onwards has hit adolescence in a time of global recession, but that doesn’t stop them being presented as perceived wisdom. We were also told they are the most researched generation, with more data existing on them than any other…I quite liked Matt Charney’s observation…







In all honesty, I’m getting more and more uneasy with this type of conversation, not just because there’s so much of it and its nonsense anyway, but because it’s really just stereotyping whole groups of people by certain perceived traits, somehow to imply that they are inferior, different or require special treatment. Yes, I do find it worryingly close to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and the rest by a different name.

The casualness of the way stereotypes are bandied around makes me particularly uneasy. The ‘I know about this because I have a teenage child’ line is really just ‘some of my best friends are’ using other words. People who spout generationalisationisms don’t really mean it, they love them really, they’re important because they can use social networking etc…just like casual racism and sexism.

I don’t think this has any place at an HR conference, either here on in the US – check out Laurie Ruettimann’s blog on this subject, written after her experiences at a US HR conference the same week as the CIPD event.

Different people bring different skills to the workplace, and different ages bring different perspectives. An understanding of the different social, cultural, economic and academic influences that shape these perspective and values is one thing.

But discrimination is discrimination, and age discrimination works two ways. HR above all people should not have these crass, and untrue, generalisations anywhere near their mind-set…

A Passion for Learning

Some readers may remember a TV ad campaign a few years ago aimed at getting more people interested in teaching as a career. Most scenes showed a child engaged with learning in school and the strap line was…

You never forget a good teacher

It came to mind during a fairly dull session at last week’s CIPD HRD 2013 conference when an L&D professional was running through some, quite frankly, very dull content. He talked tools, measurement and the like but it was done in such a listless manner that it moved me to tweet…






I’m lucky enough to be connected to a number of inspiring and creative learning types (check out #ldconnect) so I know that people with a real passion for learning are out there. (Some were in attendance, sadly not on stage but in the audience as guest bloggers). Some tweeted back straight away…












I couldn’t help but reminisce on several previously overheard workplace conversations over the years. You know the ones…I’m sure we’ve all heard them…

‘Two day training course next week’
‘Poor you’
‘I know. There’s a new system they want us to learn about/supposedly they’re going to help me be a better manager/they’re bringing in some new performance review thing/seems our engagement scores are too low’ (delete where appropriate)
‘Sounds like a yawn’
‘Well at least it gets me away from the desk’
‘Yeah, but think of all the e-mails you’ll go back to’
‘Actually you’re right about that. I may cry off the course. Pressure of work ‘n all that’

Too many L&D sessions at the conference seemed to follow the route of programmes, metrics and ROI, tools and feedback scores. Perspiration instead of inspiration. Ticking boxes not engaging hearts and minds.

Then I went to a session that was different. Neil Morrison and Jo Mallia of Random House were talking about ‘Transition of Leaders – Applying a Cultural Mind-shift Change’. Here was a different vision of L&D, more along the inspiration lines, making learning sound fun, enlightening and vital Their people were ‘like sponges’ eager to learn more and improve. OK Neil did explain that publishing tends to attract people with curious minds, but still I felt in little doubt that having the right approach, with passionate and creative people, created a learning culture.

Their industry needed it too. Publishing is facing many challenges and needs new ways of thinking and a new mind-set. Jo fosters collaboration and group thinking, setting free the ‘pink elephants’ (mavericks)










It wasn’t surprising that in the final questions one delegate called the session, to much applause, the best thing they had seen over the 2 day conference. You can read more on Mr Airmiles’ blog.

I’m sure there were many worthy presentations over the 2 day CIPD HRD Conference from L&D professionals who have a real belief in what they do, the importance and value of it. Too many that I went to sounded bland, delivered in front of busy, indecipherable power point slides. Whether this is down to the people who gave them, or the way that their work is perceived in their organisations I’m not sure. Many were from large organisations with programmes, so perhaps it’s telling that the two presentations that seemed to most engage the audience, and the assembled bloggers, were…

  • Random House – the one from Neil and Jo where heads of HR and L&D stood together, an aligned approach
  • Hanover Housing – a small business doing interesting things

The words that kept cropping up to describe both sessions were passion, inspiration, belief and purpose – maybe the benchmark words for Learning & Development (or People Development) that leaders should use when choosing their specialists…and conferences their presenters.

HR, Social Media & Punk Rock

I’m chairing the CIPDs Social Media in HR conference next week and so I’ve been thinking about how the conversations around social have grown and developed in the space at the apex of social networking, HR and recruitment – pretty much the bubble I live and work in.

I wrote in one of my blogs about CIPD12 of how the questions have clearly been moving from ‘why‘ to ‘how‘ and this is clearly a shift which informs much of the writing and speaking that I see and hear. Sure, there will be many who are going to need some evidence before taking teams and businesses on the social journey, and rather than stamp off in a strop I think more of those who do ‘get it’ need to raise the conversation away from statistics on usage and reach, and talk more of outcomes.

The more I think about the rise of ‘social‘ the more I seem to think about punk rock. Not sure why, but there are similarities.

Punk wasn’t enabled by technology but by attitude. Coming at a time when you needed an ology to be in a rock band it was a clear shout by a ‘forgotten’ generation who felt they had no voice.

The link here is that it started with a younger generation but quickly became more widely adopted. Just as with today’s social media consultants, gurus and evangelists who climbed on the bandwagon quite early, back in 76/77 you had many journeymen rockers getting a spiky haircut, skinny jeans and a few tattoos and ripping out some three chord thrashes to sudden acclaim.

Of course you had the doubters, those who thought it was a fad and would never really catch on. In music broadcasting, for every John Peel you had a Nicky Horne.

Nicky H was the serious ‘rock’ DJ on Capital Radio. He broadcast regular shows that we’re ironically called ‘Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It’ – ironic because it featured just the type of corporate rock music that most people’s mothers WOULD like.

He was quick to rubbish punk, famously and proudly proclaiming that his shows would be punk free, that you wouldn’t hear any punk music on them.

And guess what. Less than a year later you couldn’t move for the punk and reggae that he was playing on his shows!!

How many social engagement naysayers and doom mongers are now evangelising? Even the PM (he of the ‘tweeters are a bunch of twits‘ sound bite) now has an official account. Though I accept he may not have much input!

And just to square the Punk circle, here is part of an interview that the Sex Pistols gave to NME in the summer of 77. You can read more of the interview on this website – complete with the famous Sid Vicious ‘The definition of a grown-up is someone who catches on just as something becomes redundant”

Just read though this excerpt and substitute mentions and references to ‘punk rock’ with ‘social media’….



Punk Rock

The Elephant in the Room for Tomorrow’s Workforce

As you may have gathered from my previous blog I was impressed with CIPD12s first day session on unlocking the potential of tomorrow’s workforce. On the afternoon of day 2 I was at a keynote panel session on a similar theme – Building the Workforces of Tomorrow. This one left me feeling a little flatter.

Don’t get me wrong, the panel was good – Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, Michael Davis, CEO of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Anne Pickering, HR Director for O2, Toby Peyton-Jones Director of HR for Siemens UK & North West Europe and Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs – and the right noises were made early on about the need to train and utilise the skills of the new generation. O2 look for digital savvy people, Siemens believe that apprentices stay with you for life and big businesses should get involved in training their supply chain.

There was also some good insight from UKCES – I like their work, and used some of their research in a previous blog.

If I’m honest it was Jo Swinson who first gave me an uneasy moment which set a train of though off in my mind. Initially it felt like watching Question Time and she made the right noises about government concerns. Then she made an important point about workplace mindset not keeping pace with technological change…but then, almost as an aside, she referred to people applying for jobs and starting their cover letter with ‘hi’ instead of ‘Hi’. This was the reason they were getting nowhere in their job search she said, somewhat (in my mind) dismissively.

And then I thought about the previous half hour and the good intentioned comment from UKCES about the need for companies to invest 15 minutes in giving their rejected candidates feedback – as it would help them in their search if they knew where they were going wrong.

Jo’s comment was another instance for me of the up and coming generation being judged against standards of an older time (though Jo is almost still Gen Y herself)

  • Does the applicant need to write in their role?
  • With so many speakers across the two days talking of a shift from e-mail to social platforms does this grammar matter?
  • Given that no-one seems to write letters in business any more, and anything that is written will have been spellchecked, will anyone know that the original note started with h instead of H?

On the first day we heard of the positives of the Google Generation, how smart and savvy they were, but they are also the Spellcheck Generation – maybe some people see this as a negative.

We need to take their enthusiasm and encourage them, not dismiss them.

This wasn’t the only thing troubling me though. Laurie Ruettiman’s tweet – ‘I chuckle when a bunch of older white people attempt to deconstruct youth unemployment’ – also indicated something else about the conversation.

The panel were talking around the edges ignoring the elephant that was taking up a lot of the room.

The aren’t enough entry level jobs. There is a generation growing up who will probably never know proper full time work, never be truly economically viable.

We talk about skills and attitudes but the youth unemployment rate was rising long before current economic difficulties – and it’s a stubborn statistic that won’t reverse. Low skilled jobs that a 17 year old with precious few qualifications and social skills could do in a service sector dominated economy – stacking shelves, making sandwiches – are now done by unemployed graduates.

Kudos to CIPD for getting the conversations in the open and on to the keynote list. But I don’t think you can truly talk about building tomorrows workforce without also talking into account those who may never be part if it. And working out how you can use their abilities.

Whether they start a sentence in upper case or lower case really shouldn’t matter.

(For an interesting take on the discussion, including a proposal that many may think a bit radical, see Neil Morrison’s blog)

CIPD12 – Unlocking the Potential of Our Future Workforce

Day one at the CIPD Conference and I attended a really strong presentation from David Fairhurst of McDonalds. It seems that understanding the future workforce and unlocking their potential will be a key theme over the course of the three days with several sessions linked to it.

It’s something that I’ve been particularly interested over the past year, and I’ve written about education, youth unemployment and the problems that we may be storing up by under-utilising skills and cutting back on training.

Today’s session was engagingly delivered and rich in soundbites and tweetable phrases. The use of video clips of Gen Y and millennial workers talking about their experiences, hopes and fears provided powerful evidence. This had been put together by engaging them through the @OurYoungPeople twitter account – an attempt to find out what young people are saying and why HR needs to listen to them.

Here are 5 key points that lend themselves to further thought and discussion…I’m looking forward to adding to this list over the next 2 days…

  • This is the ‘Google Generation’ – they are used to getting instant answers at their fingertips. They are confident and know how to find things out.
  • They’ve been raised in an age of scams and fakes and are more adept than older generations at spotting them and avoiding. Loyalty therefore has to be earned – they won’t buy it just because you say it. They need to experience it.
  • Too often entry level roles fail to stimulate or engage them, and give them a poor experience of the workplace. They need variety, challenge, teamwork and customer interaction – try to give it to them; it will bring out their best.
  • Young people remember how you treat them for their whole lives, as customers, consumers and employees. In particular many spoke at their frustrations at not getting any replies or acknowledgements to job applications…seeing it as rude and damaging to confidence and aspiration.
  • They thrive on collaboration and co-creation and gain most benefit from learning that is collaborative, visual and uses information to solve problems. Yet we often ignore these and offer learning through memorising.

I always leave these sessions energised by the potential of the future workforce…I only hope that their enthusuasm and appetite for contributing isn’t strangled bya a failure to understand what motivates and them.

If You’re Not on The List…

I’ve written before of my love of lists, mainly from the perspective of my own life and experience – favourite albums, movies, books, goals, holidays etc. I am also an avid reader of end of year media lists in magazines, papers and online that chart the best moments and cultural artefacts of the previous 12 months. I’m often dubious as to how they rank them but always glad of the chance to check out something that I may have missed.

My journey on Twitter was kick started by a list. It was one from Louise Triance in March 2009 entitled something like ‘Recruiters who Tweet’. Up until that point I was a bit of a lurker, looking for conversations around politics, football and music, but this list helped me see that there was a work angle to what social networking could offer.

I didn’t know if these were the best recruitment tweeters, or the most insightful, but I followed them all and started following who they spoke to and began to build the network that I have today.

So, where’s this going?

Well, earlier this week the re-launched People Management magazine published their list of the Top 20 ‘HR Power Tweeters’ – in their words the ‘HR Twitteratti who are must-follows if you want to stay at the forefront of HR news and views on the microblogging site’.

There are many such lists published all the time and I usually treat them as a bit of fun. Journals and blogs are always highlighting the people they think their readers should follow. Twitter positively encourages anyone with an account to create lists and share them – apparently I appear in 309 Twitter lists, Lord knows who and why but I do. The People Management list seems to have caused offence though. There was much angst on my timeline last week.

I don’t think it was just thrown together as they have taken the trouble to offer their readers a description of each person’s engagement style. But once you commit to producing a list such as this, and rank it, then critique becomes more about who isn’t included then about who is.

As part of the day job I sometimes have to produce similar content – in this case bringing to the attention of digital newbies some of the people that they should follow – and a bit like the list I first followed nearly 4 years ago the focus should always be to highlight a spread of opinions and tweeting styles, enough to raise the curiosity of a new tweeter and encourage them to investigate further.

This, after all, is what we really want. Right?

To get more people using social networking platforms for business – linking, following, engaging, sharing, commenting and generally participating in the conversation that never sleeps.

In my view there were some notable exceptions on this PM list – but then there will be on any list. My ConnectingHR tweeters list runs to well over 100 and it would be difficult to recommend just 20 from it. But the PM piece does include the line…

“Is there anyone we have left out who you think deserves a place in PM’s top tweeters power list, then let us know who and why on Twitter @peoplemgt”

…so whilst it may be a bit of a disclaimer they also give you the opportunity to interact with them over it.

Here are my thoughts on the niggles that this particular article seems to have created…

Should HR sharer par excellence Michael Carty (also the ‘nicest person on Twitter’ I should add) have been on the list?

Yes, of course he should be on any list of top HR sharers but then let’s get real and accept that he works for a business that has a rival online publication to the one that drew up the list. Anyone who follows the people on PM’s list will inevitably also be following Michael within a few hours…he is pivotal to the daily engagement of almost everyone else on the list. Continue reading “If You’re Not on The List…”

Blogging and Learning at #CIPD11

Last week I was at the CIPD Conference in Manchester with an access all areas press pass, a presentation on social media monitoring to deliver and an open mind ready to absorb new ideas. Most of the conferences/unconferences that I attend these days are recruitment oriented ones, with the talking points centred on how the staffing sector can make the most of new technologies, so I was hoping for a new angle, a chance to see things differently.

This was my first visit to CIPD for many years – not since the print media were rewarding their recruitment/HR advertisers with copious amounts of alcohol anyway! (Yes younger readers, once upon a time they did! They even had casino themed parties!)

It was great to be part of the blogging team – kudos to everyone at CIPD who have embraced social media, and with it the many ways that an event, its spirit and learnings, can now be bought to those who can’t make it and those who do but can’t be everywhere at once!

I suppose I was wearing two blogging hats. Firstly the day job one – for my key takeaways and learning points on Trust and Future Work you should follow the Jobsite Insider blog – and the other hat was for here.

So what impressed me?

Firstly, the appetite for social media. Not just the fact that there were people there who were tweeting and blogging as the event unfolded, but the enthusiastic participation in the Twitterversity sessions, the attendance for sessions involving new technology platforms, and the interest shown in the presentation that I delivered. During my two days there (how I wish I could have stretched to the three) I had many approaches to chat about social media…how companies could use it, what guidelines to put in place and how to leverage the potential reach and opportunities for internal communications. Continue reading “Blogging and Learning at #CIPD11”

Keeping It Real

What is it with some people and optimism? I mean, it’s nice to be optimistic sometimes…I always believe my team are going to win, am certain that my son will deliver good grades in his exams, and hope upon hope that Santa will bring me a new iPod.

But I pretty much know that the economy isn’t going into overdrive any time soon.

I wrote a blog nearly a year ago called Optimistic Recruiters Don’t Create Jobs. It was true then and it’s true now. For the record:

Growing companies create jobs.

Companies grow when demand for their goods and services grow.

Companies hire when their capacity to fulfil the growth in demand is limited by manpower.

This is fairly basic stuff but you would be surprised how many people seem to think that if we think everything is going to be alright then it will be. I can accept that there are one or two exceptions, that in a GROWING economy some firms will forward hire in anticipation of future demand either in existing or new markets.

But now isn’t one of those times.

There was a bit of a fuss this morning with a CIPD press release forecasting that there could be as many as 1.6m extra job losses in the UK over the next 5 years. The belief is that these will be covered by new jobs created by the private sector…yet to do that would require a level of consistent growth in the UK economy that it is nowhere near achieving any time in the near future. The CIPDs economist – a man I have a lot of time for, and one who has been right a number of times in recent years – was speaking to the Treasury select committee and that was what he was going to advise. Let’s not forget that there are already 2.5m claiming jobseekers allowance (many more inactives not claiming too).

So what was being said here is that total unemployment COULD rise to 4m (almost certainly will be 3m+ it seems) and the very best we can hope for in terms of new jobs is 1.8m, but that the circumstances needed for those 1.8m to be created are not yet in place.

Shouldn’t have really been a shock to anyone. Certainly not a shock to anyone working in recruitment and HR, for whom you may have thought this was a quite relevant viewpoint. It should highlight a big cause for concern.

It is an economist’s view; one heavily involved in our industry, and as such I would have thought of interest to us.

But the problem seemed to be that it was a negative message. It prompted some angry tweeting and blogging, including this rant by Andy Headworth.

People seem to want optimism. Had the press release said that lots of new jobs were about to be created, maybe it would have been more acceptable.

Why? Because if we believe that the jobs are coming then they will come? Is this the CIPDs fault?

We will be getting new figures from the REC on recruitment activity soon…if the figures aren’t good will it be the RECs fault? (It won’t be down to them if the figures are good!)

All of this makes me think of the Stockdale Paradox. Written about in the book Good To Great, it refers to an American Captain in the Vietnam war who became a prisoner of war. On his coping strategy he said:

“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

In answer to the question ‘Who were the people who didn’t make it’ he said

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

If you’re reading this blog there is a strong chance that you are a someone  who is advising or helping people in their careers and job searches.

I would have thought a bit of realism would go down well, a valuable part of helping people.

Apparently not.

Clearly I don’t believe optimism is good for business and I don’t believe that it is good for our candidates and clients. I do believe that we need to be honest and truthful and deal with things as they are.

So I’m throwing down a challenge.

Tell me why you think I’m wrong. Why is it better to be optimistic, even though it is may be completely unfounded? Are we in danger of leading those who rely on us in to the disappointment?

Surely we all want to be the Stockdales, coming out the other side….