‘An incredible time for HR’: CIPD ACE 2019 rallying call

With the UK set for significant economic and political change with the most open General Election for decades just weeks away, delegates in Manchester heard how the people agenda is central to the business and social conversation.

At the start of the two-day annual CIPD conference, Peter Cheese, the professional body for HR and people development’s CEO, outlined the context for human resources, talent managers, pay and reward specialists, learning and training professionals. Among the key themes were the notable shift in the agenda from performance to social responsibility and sustainability. As evidence of this shift, Mr Cheese cited research that showed more CEOs lost job their job for ethical transgressions than for poor performance in the last year. 

A critical agenda 

“This is a critical agenda for our profession and function,” said Mr Cheese to a capacity auditorium and via video link to the overflow auditoriums. “Skills are also critical,” he continued. “What skills do we need for the future? There are lots of skills mismatches, and a lack of investment in skills, particularly in this country and especially at the moment because of short-term pressures.” Talking of the ongoing migration debate, he said the same is true in most countries, but this mustn’t detract from “the fundamental debate” about the future of skills.  “What are those essential skills we all need, regardless of technology? These are fundamentally the human skills of resilience, learning, critical thinking, empathy, teamwork.”  

What does woke mean? 

Challenging the negativity about the concept of “wokeness” – the social awakening around the importance of inclusion, especially from business perspective – Mr Cheese stressed how there is greater recognition now around how diversity drives creativity and innovation, and the importance of reflecting the communities and societies we are a part of.  “Yet we still have much to do,” said Mr Cheese, on this key theme. He picked out wellbeing too as another of the key issues HR faces over the course of the next year. “It is even more incumbent on employers to create safe environments where people can be themselves. The future of work really is human.” 

The global perspective 

Speaking later to Relocate Global, Mr Cheese expanded on these broad themes from an international perspective and the UK’s place in the world post-Brexit. At a conference where the UK’s role in the world has never been more firmly in the spotlight, Fiona Murchie asked Mr Cheese his views on how important international experience is for today’s leadership and future leaders. “I think it’s really fundamental. In my experience, there’s been lots of opportunities to work internationally. International experience is as much about developing behaviour as much as technical job competence.”  

Getting comfortable with uncertainty – the global aspect 

“The more behavioural stuff is around dealing with uncertainty,” continued Mr Cheese, and the role of building personal experience in different situations.  “We’ve got to be open minded and expose ourselves to different contexts, so we can say ‘we’ve seen this before and this is how it works.’ “I always say to young people if you get the chance go to China, go! It’s also true that a lot of business cultures have been very dominated by Anglo-American ways of doing and we can all learn from each other.” 

People issues and the General Election campaigns 

Relocate Global also asked Mr Cheese about what he sees as the important issues in the current general election campaign and what he would you like to see the big parties talking about.  “Yes, it’s about being open for business. We really do see ourselves as a country leading the way in good working practices and leading the way in transparency.  “In many ways the UK has historically been held up as having reasonably good practices. If you look at it from the perspective of our professional bodies, we have a good reputation. We are often held up as exemplars and we need to keep building on that. This is about businesses behaving responsibly, both now and when we are more separate from the EU and formulating trade deals.  “There is an even better reason for parties to do this. These are not party-political issues, but fundamental. They are about encouraging businesses to think about these issues, be agile and responsible. The changes have been talking about this morning and throughout the conference are big. “Sustainability is a great example. For us now at the CIPD we’ve become over the course of the year far more aware of our distribution and materials. We have introduced biodegradable membership cards and magazine wrappings. This is no coincidence as there is greater consciousness now about how we can make a difference and think long-term.” 

The way ahead 

“The fact is that uncertainty is with us to stay,” said Mr Cheese. “Getting Brexit done is but only one part of what is changing. We all have to be able to deal with uncertainty as a fact of life. “These are big agenda. Not just for us and our profession, but for business as well.” Acknowledging that the key challenges on the agenda of sustainability, inclusion and diversity, wellbeing at work and good work have been around for some time, Mr Cheese believes that they are coming back even more strongly and that now is HR as a profession’s time to take the lead.  “This is an opportunity for businesses to make a difference and see their role in their societies and communities.”  For full coverage of the CIPD Annual Conference see relocateglobal.com and the Winter issue of Relocate magazine published in December.Subscribe here.

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