CIPD annual conference round-up: Day one

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What the HR magazine team learnt at the first day of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition

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

  • Catherine Allen, head of keeping people happy at Ella’s Kitchen, reminded us that engagement can mean very different things to different people. “It’s very important for HR to understand that,” she said. “So you need [through your staff survey] to be able to gather views on a myriad of things; whether that’s desk space or how people feel about the organisation." In the same session on employee feedback and engagement, people director at Cath Kidston, Alex Snelling talked on what to be careful of when rolling out anonymous feedback technology, including the need to remind employees to be “honest but constructive”. He also confirmed Cath Kidston is (as you might expect) very much a tea and cake culture. “Food is a great way of bringing people together to launch a staff survey,” agreed Allen.
  • Opening the conference, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese stressed the opportunity our rapidly changing and increasingly unpredictable world represents for HR. "As people professionals we are perfectly placed to help shape the debate about what we want the workplaces of the future to look like," he said. "We need to embrace these opportunities. We are not simply passengers on a journey; we have a voice and agency to shape the future world of work as we want to see it. After all, the best way to predict the future is to help to shape it."
  • You know you’ve made it to a true value-add, strategically-critical level as an HR function when you’re no longer debating how to gain greater credibility, said Alison Cowdall, senior director of HR services at AstraZeneca. “The evidence [that we've made it] is: we don’t talk about wanting to be a strategic partner anymore because we are in the conversations,” she said. “The fact we don’t have to talk about being there demonstrates we are well on the way, if not there.”
  • Sinead Lynch, UK country chair at Royal Dutch Shell, talked on the best way to approach “day one” of a freshly-completed merger or acquisition. Speaking from her experience as former EVP of safety and sustainability at BG Group (acquired in 2016 by Royal Dutch Shell) she said it’s important for HR and the senior leadership team to remember that although they might be feeling celebratory, most staff will be anxious and uncertain. “It feels a bit different on the other side,” she said. “So the big debate is: ‘what is the tone we want for day one?’” Speaking in the same session, Shell's transition HR and corporate officer Tim Harte stressed the importance of HR professionals looking after themselves in such scenarios. “It’s a very lonely place doing acquisitions,” he said.
  • Nebel Crowhurst, head of talent and development at River Island, highlighted the importance of listening to managers when making a substantial change to performance management. "Our HR director Karen Beaven spent time talking and listening to our staff to find out what performance management is at River Island," she said. "We wanted to move it away from something led by HR, but instead something that existed for all of us. We settled on a framework for them to follow that wasn't too rigid."
  • In his talk on 'Migration and the socio-political shifts affecting the future of work' Alexander Betts, professor of forced migration and international affairs at the University of Oxford, explained the challenges HR faces in an increasingly globalised world. "The last 18 months have seen seismic changes, beginning with the migrant crisis in Europe," he said. "Politics is changing from a clash between left and right to a clash between globalisation and nationalism. HR will be navigating these fault lines that define contemporary politics."
  • Ethical approaches to HR and people management were explored in a panel discussion featuring consultant and UK representative of Combatants for Peace, Ben Yeger. He said: "It's essential to practise how we see each other as humans. If you see someone as an enemy you can't see them as human. To be ethical you have to see someone as human." Siobhan Sheridan, civilian HR director at the Ministry of Defence, spoke on how she had personally realised this. "I realised I need to humanise my practice," she said. "I realised I was at a risk of practising what I did in a way that was violent to others. And I use that word very deliberately; we're at risk of inadvertently hurting others." Consultant and author Roger Steare also touched on this challenging line: "Ethics is the way we resolve conflicts of desire. The most difficult decisions are those between two evils. It's OK if you have two good things to choose from! Choosing between two evils is something that tests us to the limits," he said.
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