November 10, 2017

5 takeaways from the CIPD conference 2017

“The best way to predict the future is to help shape it.” So said Peter Cheese CEO at the Chartered Institute of Learning and Development.

Opening the institute’s 70th annual conference in Manchester, Cheese said it is high time that HR and learning professionals grasp the opportunities presented by the new world of work.

The event, held in Manchester, attracted more than 4,000 HR and L&D professionals and covered four themes: Future of Work and HR; Business Effectiveness and Transformation; Talent, Skills and Capabilities; Well-being, Engagement and Behaviours and HR and People Management Essentials.

We visited some of the conference sessions to find out how HR and learning professionals can do what Cheese says and seize the opportunities presented by the new world of work.

1. Be the change we want to see
There are a range of ways HR professionals can effect change, according to Cheese. He highlighted the importance of improving job design, building more inclusive workplaces, enabling greater employee voice and developing more purposeful leadership. All of this will help organisations innovate and make the most of their available talent.

The key is action. It is time for HR to step up and take the opportunities, rather than letting opportunities slip by.

“As people professionals, we are perfectly placed to help shape the debate about what we want the workplaces of the future to look like. 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,” Cheese said.

2. Think quality, not quantity
“What is good work?” cropped up in several sessions. For Kate Bell, Head of the Economic and Social Affairs Department at the TUC, the attributes of good work include: having a voice at work, fair pay, guaranteed hours, healthy workplaces, dignity and respect and having opportunities to learn and progress.

This focus on the quality of work, rather than the quantity of work, marks a great step forward for the HR profession, according to Mathew Davis, HR director at taxi company Addison Lee. Davis said that in the past many organisations had failed to invest in their people. But HR professionals now have an opportunity to change that.

Addison Lee, for example, is investing in managers and helping them to better support their team members.

3. Treat employees better for improved financial performance
Measuring the value of people initiatives has always been a thorny issue, mainly because there are too many intangibles at play. For example, how can you measure the impact of a coaching conversation in financial terms?

Alex Edmans, professor of finance at London Business School, showed that there is a link between people initiatives and financial performance after spending four years analysing data collected on the best 100 companies to work for in the US.

His aim was to find out if organisational purpose leads to increased profit. To do so, he measured the levels of employee wellbeing against the performance of the business. Data for the best companies to work for in the US has been collected since 1984, so there was plenty to analyse.

His research found that companies with higher levels of employee wellbeing outperformed their peers by 2.3%-3.8% a year over the period 1984-2011. That’s a cumulative improvement of between 89%-184%.

So the link between investment in people and profit is there and the message is clear: invest in employee wellbeing and over time your organisation will reap the benefits of improved performance. That’s definitely a message worth taking to your finance director.

You can read more about Edmans’ research here (

4. Embrace technology
Don’t be afraid of technology. Understand it and make sure all your colleagues do. That’s the message from Baroness Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of She told delegates that research suggests we could be doing 50% more work if we used technology better.

In her conference keynote, Baroness Fox urged HR professionals to make sure everyone in the business has equal access to technology, giving them the opportunity to transform the way they work. This includes HR professionals, who need to look at how they can get more skilled at using technology.

Why does HR need to do this? “Because now is the slowest point of the future,” said Baronness Fox. Technology is speeding up change and it is impacting all sectors. That means HR professionals need to be prepared, both in terms of their own skills and also in terms of the skills of the organisation. “Being curious keeps you alive and relevant,” she said.

5. Get to grips with culture change
Mike Collins, our head of learning solutions, told delegates that culture change and change management programmes tend to only have a superficial effect on organisations, something he calls the ‘Febreze effect’. Much like the effect of an air freshener, the impact of culture change programmes tends to be surface level and fades over time.

So how can you effectively change culture so that it is embedded in the organisation?

HR needs to focus on the specifics, Collins said. What does that change feel like? What does it look like? And what do you expect to see in the future? This is about behaviours. It’s about role modeling and shifting a mindset. It’s about reinforcing the right messages and behaviours and having those gnarly conversations that need to take place. It means not burying your head in the sand, and sticking with the status quo.

Think of culture change in terms of a Sunday lunch. “Imagine that you’re going to Sunday lunch with a friend. So how’s the table set up? What ingredients do you use? What are the stories being told around the table? How do things feel different in your own Sunday lunch? Then walk into an organisation: How are things set up? What are the things on the wall, the imagery? What’s the colour schemes? How do people talk to one another? Is it very formal. Is it informal? Again, you get these feelings. That all creates a sense and a smell of the place.”

Keep role modeling the change you want to see and over time it will become the norm, Collins said. That’s how to change culture.

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