#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)

HR Dreamers

The 2013 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition opened with a keynote from Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee on creating the ‘Best Workplace on Earth’. Effectively building the workplace of your dreams…and dreams being what they are then needless to say that this one is full of engaged, inspirational, authentic and effective people all working with a shared purpose and belief in what they do.

According to Jones and Goffee employees want DREAMS…as in:

  • Difference
  • Radical honesty
  • Extra value
  • Authenticity
  • Meaning
  • Simple rules

Talk over? Well not quite. I did tweet out most of what they had to say, and four of the blog squad – Gemma Reucroft, Ian Pettigrew, Doug Shaw & David D’Souza – were quick off the blocks with a good run down of the key points they raised.

Here are some of my thoughts…

Why Would Anyone Work Here?

Not sure how many business leaders ever ask themselves, or their employees, this. Presumably many think it’s charisma, a great product or service, or just that it’s work for us or draw jobseekers allowance, but what Jones and Goffee told us was that there are four reasons – Culture, Performance, Employer Brand, Engagement. Does your business deliver on these? Does the image, or perception, match the reality?

Rob Goffee talked of living the brand and culture through purpose, standards and relationships, and of emotional sociability.

Importance of Conflict

There was a call to encourage conflict rather than suppress it. Conflict can help to drive the creative process. Leading on from this was the need to have characters around – they are the people that make the place special.

I would caution with a ‘be careful what you wish for‘. Whilst these were two very popular soundbites a business rife with conflict and characters often isn’t a very good place to work. For every example of this approach being productive I’d wager that there are plenty of others whose progress has stalled amidst poor engagement and staff attrition.

Radical Honesty

Tell the truth before someone else does” was the message to HR….”if you sanitise bad news then the people at the top will never know what’s going on“.

The angle here may have been about the need for truth and honesty and to avoid spin, but in reality everyone else bar the leadership is already on to this. It’s my theme of the Autumn – ‘Organisational Nakedness‘ – cropping up again. The truth is that outside of the business everyone is already telling the truth about your product, your customer experience, your employee experience, your candidate experience and so on. The new reality is that HR doesn’t need to persuade the business to come clean – it needs to show the cost of not coming clean. Businesses that aren’t true will soon being to feel it through the bank balance.

The Department of Rules

A dig at HR and the desire to wrap a process around everything. I’ll take this in context with one of the closing statements which was not to confuse systemisation with bureaucratisation. With a number businesses this is probably easier said than done as the concepts of trusting people and self direction are hard for many to embrace.

Rules that do exist need to be simple and tested, not complex of imposed. Do the people who have to abide by them consider them fair? The concept of fairness is one which has appeared in a few conference keynotes recently and there is nothing that dis-engages your key workers more than a feeling of being treated unfairly.

Societal Good

People want to do good work” Gareth Jones told us. “Work is a defining human characteristic. Good work equals good societies” HR needs some moral authority, and should be about doing the right thing, which should help create better societies was the message.

Quite a weight on the shoulders then. There is little doubt in my mind that HR professionals have a desire to do the right thing and make working life better for everyone, but is this what their leaders want? As Gemma asks – do you really know what the CEO wants? To create a better society through work probably requires different behaviours, which will need to be influenced by different rewards.

As Rob Goffee noted “Meaning comes from connections to others, community, cause. The most profitable businesses are not necessarily the most profit oriented

I’ve seen 3 opening keynotes at 3 HR Conferences across 3 time zones in the last few weeks and all have similar strands running through them. Whether it’s building better workplaces, investing in new technology or devising a new reward system to encourage the right behaviours, the challenges for HR come from several new business norms…

  • Openness
  • Sharing
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Inspiring leaders
  • Heightened expectations
  • Experience over functionality
  • Self direction over controlling management

Can HR harness these to build better workplaces…or are we really just dreaming?

Organisational Nakedness

(Image created by Simon Heath)

Social Snarks and Hashtag Hecklers

I’m heading off to Manchester later for the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition. Condensed to two days this year there promises to be much rich content with a wide range of speakers and contributors. We’ll be opening with a keynote on ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth‘ and closing with ‘Leadership and the New Principles of Influence‘. The latter session will be delivered by Daniel Pink – after live tweeting, and blogging about, his two presentations at HRTechEurope I’m in danger of becoming a fanboy!

For this event the CIPD have put together a blog squad of more than 20 of your favourite HR bloggers and tweeters, and between us we will endeavour to capture the essence of what’s being said, and which exhibitors have an interesting story to tell.

For some of the squad it will be their first live tweeting/blogging experience – I’m looking forward to reading what they have to say – and with such a cross section of people there will inevitably be a range of styles and viewpoints.

I noticed during my visits to HRTechConference and HRTechEurope a greater embedding of bloggers in to the event conversation as they become important conduits of the various messages. Everyone has their own style – I tend to live tweet a lot of what’s being said as an aide memoire to help me blog about it later. I don’t often give my perspective on it until my post event review – I see my role as someone who is taking the content to people who aren’t able to attend, drawing in a much wider audience than usual, and then reviewing afterwards. A bit like a sports journalist commenting on the live action and the writing an opinion piece later.

Others in the blog squad are likely to do it differently, giving a view or perspective on what’s being said. Only by following the hashtag #CIPD13, rather than individual tweeters, can you get the full picture.

For those of you following from afar there are three channels to follow:

The event hashtag on Twitter – #CIPD13

The individual blog squad members, their tweets and blogs – this list from Steve Bridger will help

The CIPD Tumblr – curated by Doug Shaw

It’s been noticeable during events over the last year or two, particularly those around recruitment and HR, that the twitter hashtag thread often draws in comments from those not in attendance. This is a good thing as it broadens the conversations, and also offers a useful way to spot examples of those two growing live event phenomena – the Social Snark and the Hashtag Heckler.

Social Snark

They aren’t in attendance, usually because they are too busy – but not so busy they aren’t following the twitter chat for 140 character updates that they find less than insightful or (cardinal sin) something they’ve said before. They are usually dismissive of the quality of the content believing that the conversation hasn’t moved on and hence justifying their decision not to go.

Hashtag Heckler

They can’t shoot down the message so take it out on the messenger. They’re different from the snarks in that they want a debate, usually to publicly call out the speaker, so start disagreeing with the live tweeter. Again there is usually a link to something that the heckler has blogged previously. This type is not to be confused with the Hashtag Hijacker who basically uses any popular conversation thread to promote themselves irrespective of whether they have anything to contribute.

Enjoy the conversation and if the buzzword bingo gets too much you can always go snark and heckler hunting 😉

Here are a few posts I’ve written from previous CIPD conferences:

Unlocking the Potential of Our Future Workforce
The Elephant in The Room for Tomorrow’s Workforce
Blogging and Learning at #CIPD11
Trust is The Word