Building back better: HR’s key role in delivering the agenda

The CIPD’s 73rd Annual Conference and Exhibition got underway today, with its chief executive, Peter Cheese, acknowledging HR professionals’ hard work in the pandemic and setting the agenda ahead.

Architects meeting around blueprint
Delegates at the professional body for HR and people development’s annual conference and exhibition are meeting virtually this week to participate in 30 sessions and hear from 80 speakers. Outlining the programme for the next two days, Peter Cheese said that HR is in the spotlight now more than ever before. The downsides of the pandemic have put redundancies and reskilling on the desks of people directors; this in much the same way global mobility teams have been critical to the safe, compliant and often rapid repatriation and redeployment of globally mobile talent.However, as well as supporting people and organisations through this time, now is the moment for HR to drive forward and embed inclusion and wellbeing into workplace culture and practice.

Extraordinary times and challenges ahead

“We are living in extraordinary times and certainly the opportunities that creates in terms of change is very positive,” said Mr Cheese in his opening remarks. “But in the short and medium term we have very many challenges.“We’ve been living through lots of different challenges over the past few years. We’ve talked about the environmental crisis, the economic crisis, certainly from 2008 we’ve seen a strong recovery but now because of the pandemic we are seeing an economic crisis. These are indeed times of change.” Citing the drop in the global economic growth rate into negative territory this year, he said this will have a big impact on people’s livelihoods and opportunities. “No doubt lots of restructuring and hard work lies ahead,” said Mr Cheese, referring to the job retention schemes and furloughs in place around the world. “But this pandemic is fundamentally about people. We as leaders and practitioners have never worked harder and never been more at the centre of the response.”

Open dialogue to drive progress

Peter Cheese’s keynote this year also looked back to the beginnings of the CIPD as the Welfare Workers’ Association, and more recently at its research and policy, to set out what he believes is important for the HR community in the coming months and years.With the May 25 killing of George Floyd in the US “a seminal moment,” Peter Cheese said the response to it “showed a sense that we have to take action – enough is enough.”This starts with HR and leaders really looking at their organisations and what they are doing to create inclusion and achieve equity. “We have to create safe environments where people can be called out and be prepared to be called out ourselves,” said Mr Cheese.“We have to trust each other and have integrity. It is so important we open the dialogue and learn from each other. We know we have more to do in creating these cultures of trust and engagement and inclusion for all.”

Delivering on inclusion

Peter Cheese also announced a new CIPD scheme that is launching early next year. A “social change trust” will further the work the professional body does to support better work and working lives.Building on the CIPD’s existing initiatives, like its Steps Ahead mentoring scheme, the trust will push the inclusion agenda harder and make it happen.It will deliver new programmes to help young people into work, and people from Black and ethnic minority groups to enter and progress in the HR profession. Stepping up practices like these to encourage greater diversity of background, experience and thought in the profession could be a turnkey moment for delivering greater inclusion throughout organisations. 

Wellbeing and Good Work

The pandemic has also accelerated the need for greater awareness and support of employee wellbeing. “This again one of those agendas we’ve had for a long while,” said Peter Cheese. “But the pandemic is a real catalyst for change. This is the most challenging time for our profession we have ever seen. There is more work to do before we emerge from this.” Saying he “had never been prouder” of the HR profession and its people, he called on HR to keep connecting and sharing the stories of what they have been doing to support their organisations. “This gives us confidence and strength for changing times,” he said. Among the changes is HR’s vital role in influencing organisations within the Good Work agenda as employers seek to build back better, and recognise the role of people and good work in what they do.“This human crisis has taken an immense toll on many people in many ways,” said Mr Cheese. “We are seeing that people are central to the business agenda and hearing leaders use that language. We are looking at each other in our own living rooms, learning more and getting to know each other better. This is an incredible time for our profession.”

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