CIPD 2015: Peter Cheese on HR's inflection point

CIPD's chief executive, Peter Cheese, told the CIPD conference yesterday that HR has reached a tipping point, and that the profession needs to go back to basics to enact real change.

Peter Cheese delivers his opening address to CIPD 2015.
In his opening speech Cheese told the conference, "What we're seeing is what I'd regard as an inflection point for business. I think genuinely, because of the big, contextual shifts, we're seeing that business leaders, regulators and politicians and so many others are saying, 'do you know what this is really about? This is really about the people.' About how we engage them, how we train them and how we develop them."As the economy grows we're right back into all the skills shortfalls, particularly at the high-skills end of the market. And at the same time a jobs economy that seems unable to sustain the supply of skills coming through the education system."Cheese called for a shift in perspective so that organisations can properly address the problems they face. "I think that for business and the public sector as well it's about a shift from very short term thinking to much more long term thinking. We have to understand the shifting nature of our workforce, the shifting nature of our organisations and how we're going to think about these things from a much more long-term perspective."He said that business needs a broader perspective, too. "We've certainly got to take a much more multi-stakeholder view of the world, because the other thing that's been going on in business, and there are too many stories of this kind, are the endless corporate scandals. Whether it's VW, or the report that came out about Thomas Cook saying they seem to have compromised looking after the customers properly for short-term profit and cost objectives."And that's not just about Thomas Cook. It's more broadly about a business perspective that needs to shift and take a more multi-stakeholder view of the world. To say, 'what is my responsibility and accountability?' not just to the financial stakeholder, but to my customers, my suppliers, the community I serve, the environment and, probably first and foremost, my own employees."Cheese characterised this as a shift from accounting to accountability that we're beginning to see in business."It's also about other things," he added. "It's about new organisational models, and new ways of connecting and engaging with people." But, he said, "fundamentally we've got to recognise that we can't make the shifts that we want to make, behavioural and otherwise, simply by writing more rules."Cheese said that HR best understands what's at the root of personal, professional and organisational behaviour. Furthermore, regulators and others are starting to wake up to this idea that business needs to start more closely considering outcomes and the underlying principles that guide best practice, he said.Planting his tongue in his cheek Cheese quoted David de Souza and said, "the only way is ethics.""It's about going back to what the morals and ethics are about good people management, about good business practice. And these principles and how we shape them and understand them are what's going to be guiding our thinking as we seek to develop the profession."Cheese noted that the principles might not always align perfectly. "What's best for wellbeing in my organisation might not apparently be best for, say, short-term cost goals. And those are the kind of contradictions that we as a profession find ourselves right in the middle of a lot of the time."He said that things are moving in the right direction, though. "The good news is also, I think, that we're seeing a lot of innovation and change. I look back over the last year and I think we've seen a real growth and many people in our profession being prepared to challenge the old models and say we've got to innovate, we've got to think differently, and if we start from the perspective of, 'what is the purpose of what we do?'"One of our key messages is to move beyond the idea that there's a best practice or perfect model, to say no, it's about appropriate practice or good practice that's fit for the context we're working in."Cheese added that HR needs to draw from other areas of business, including marketing, IT and finance, and get back to the root of what drives human behaviour, backed up by behavioural science and psychology."We know that there's no one size fits all model for great HR, and we need to adapt our HR practices to the context and needs of our workforces and organisations," said Cheese in a statement released alongside the speech. "But what guides our actions and decisions? Any business is about judgments and priorities that drive decisions and actions, but these need to be framed through principles and values that drive good, ethical and sustainable business more clearly. These principles should provide the framework for HR to support the judgments and often the compromises that we are so often called on to make."Furthermore, we need to challenge ourselves in examining our processes, policies, and practices as the world of work evolves. We must look at the purpose and outcomes of what we do more critically, and understand what fundamental principles and base of knowledge make those practices effective. Ultimately, we need a new definition of what it means to be an HR professional, with a greater focus on clarity of professional capability and purpose, and a strengthened ability to provide trusted and credible advice to businesses, whatever the circumstances."The first step in our Profession for the Future strategy is to establish a shared understanding of HR's purpose, who our stakeholders really are, and where our priorities lie – in other words, a set of core principles to guide our decision making. We want the principles to be broad, ambitious and applicable in any context and we're turning to HR practitioners, academics, thought leaders, policy makers, business leaders and line managers to help us define them. The next phase will be about ensuring we equip the HR professionals of the future with the knowledge, skills and expertise to apply those principles in practice, so that we can secure HR's role as a trusted and credible profession that helps to create sustainable value for all of a business' stakeholders."You can keep up with the conversation on Twitter by using the #CIPD15 hashtag, and follow Re:locate here. follow Re:locate here. For more news and stories like this, see Re:locate's HR section.

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