CIPD ACE 2019: Putting global people at the heart of Good Work

Following her recent review of the CIPD annual conference and exhibition, Ruth Holmes reports on Day Two. 

CIPD ACE 2019: Putting global people at the heart of Good Work.
The CIPD annual conference and exhibition framed today’s key HR challenges with a panel discussion that highlighted the direction of travel for the profession – and the global context. Day One opened with Peter Cheese, CEO of the professional body for HR and people development, outlining the convergence between the interests of employers, employees, business and society in the shift towards greater sustainability and social responsibility.The second day then was a platform for eminent HR leaders to overlay this context with personal experiences of the challenges and insights in the likely future direction of the profession. Skills, employee experience and the international dimension were all front of mind for the panellists.
Read more on the CIPD 2019 conference and exhibition
Mr Cheese was joined by Ann Pickering – group HRD at O2/Telefonica; Tim Jones, group head of HR at the London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG); Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, chief human resources officer at the BBC; and Stephen Moir, executive director of resources at Edinburgh City Council.To start the conversation in front of the capacity auditorium, which saw more than 1,500 people attend the conference over the two days, Mr Cheese asked the panellists how they see their roles, the development of the profession and the key issues they face.

State of play for the profession

Ms Pickering, whose HR team at O2 won the 2017 Relocate Award for HR Team of the Year for the company’s extensive work on attracting, retaining and recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, outlined the issues HR departments and HR directors face, and how they are impacting the HR and people function at O2. “We all share the same challenge: attracting and retaining talent. We are probably all chasing the same people,” she said. “Hanging onto them is, therefore, really important. That’s about creating an environment where people choose to be there – a hotel rather than a prison. Creating a culture where people can really thrive is important.“When it comes to what skills we will need in five years – I don’t know. But I firmly believe if we can recruit for attitude, we can train for skills. The hardest roles to recruit for are specialist IT skills. We are going through a huge IT change. A lot of people in these roles are older and looking towards retirement, so we are looking at bringing in younger people and transferring skills to the next generation.”

Future skills for HR?

The HR professionals she envisages being most needed are “those in organisational development (OD), change management and people who can really creative about reward – those are the skills I see will be in massive demand,” she said.Picking up the international aspect – a theme that was to remain prominent throughout the discussion – LSEG’s Mr Jones said a combination of acquisition and growth had caused the company to double in size in recent years. This presents goals for personal development as well as the wider HR function, he explained. “The challenges we face are how to appreciate and gently knit together acquisitions that have different legislative and cultures. “A lot of the aspirations we have around improving means we are looking to Asia and countries like Sri Lanka. We are doing a lot of hiring there. This is a challenge, in addition to supporting the complex range of teams, boards, legislators and regulators. Using influence is, therefore, a particular area of growth for HR.”

Tech talent and global competition

Publically owned organisations are not immune from international competition and influences. The BBC’s Ms Hughes D’Aeth is facing a double challenge of skills and an increasingly contingent workforce.“We have 25,000 employees and a huge volume of contingent labour on short-term arrangements,” she explained. “This makes the HR world quite complex. “The big challenge is very much about skills and making sure we have the right mix. It is also very, very competitive. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have very deep pockets. We can’t afford to pay huge sums of money. That’s a big challenge for us.“We are using AI wherever we can and making the most of it. Everything we do has to be value for money and we have to prove we are being efficient and effective in everything we do.”

Employee experience and human-centred work 

In the context of Good Work, Ms Hughes D’Aeth also acknowledged the important role of the BBC’s culture in talent attraction, recruitment and retention. “We are very lucky to have people who are proud and passionate to work for us. This is about meaningful work and the leadership side of things.” “Another aspect is employee experience – the way we in HR provide the services to at the moments that matter, eg staff induction and maternity leave. This is thinking about the employee and putting them at the forefront rather than thinking always what we need.”For Mr Moir of Edinburgh City Council, there were “huge parallels” with the BBC. He also noted the need for transparency in the public sector, and to think differently about digital and revenue generation, and the skills the organisation needs to do this.“It’s about commercial skills and income maximisation, including finding different ways of funding the body. The area of discretionary fees and services is a whole change for us.”As with global mobility and the protection of large amounts of personal and confidential information, digital skills and cybersecurity and protection of data are further key areas for Mr Moir. In this case, how public organisations safeguard, cleanse and protect personal data. 

Good work in the global context

Exploring these aspects of the future workforce and skills through the lens of Good Work, Mr Cheese asked the panel what these might look like. For Ms Pickering, she believes “the days when we own our workforce are coming to an end.” “I think we look at this much more creatively,” continued Ms Pickering. “We need to get into a much more personal relationship with people and how flexibly we can pivot. People who can do that will be successful in the future.”In the context of rising personalisation, this can be problematic as legislation, such as IR35 and its application, struggles to keep up with the changes in this still-evolving – and tricky – area. For the LSE, the company’s workforce will also be increasingly international, adding an additional level of interest to the idea of Good Work. Operating primarily in Italy, the UK and North America, LSEG’s acquisitions and partnerships with governments mean it is finding sustainable, mutually beneficial ways to develop the skills the company needs. “This is about of skills and growth,” said Mr Jones, rather than cost. “Of course, there is margin pressure, but it’s not about cost. It’s about growth and de-risking. We can build our team. We have to also build resilience – finance is too big to fail.“In the evolution of the business, we looked at skills and for example partnered with the government in Sri Lanka. We took a different approach in Eastern Europe, where we went around the region looking for the best area for us to build the business. We chose Romania, employing 300 people from a standing start.”

International workforce, the global mindset and sustainable businesses

Asked if the political swing back to nationalism being seen in elections around the world will impact this approach, Mr Jones said that it was already “too late” to worry about this and looked at the opportunities across the workforce instead. He suggested that quality reskilling to equip people for future opportunities is one answer for those worried about their job being outsourced. “My guidance on that would be to get people more involved by helping to do the process and the tech, and becoming experts in outsourcing for example so they have transferable skills.”“Many of the barriers have already been broken down,” said Mr Jones about rising nationalism, adding that his clients expect the business to be multinational. “If I’m being candid, we need to encourage people to be more global in their mindset. Mr Moir concurred, explaining that even for Edinburgh City Council, serving the city’s citizens, businesses and visitors well demands a global supply chain. “It is a question about the skills we want to keep in the city where 25 per cent of children are below the poverty line and those we want to grow in Edinburgh. There’s a trade-off there for good work and creative work, and getting knowledge, workers and outsourcing.”Place is also vital at the BBC and for the idea of good work, said Ms Hughes D’Aeth. As well as having news reporters in 75 countries around the world, she noted the need for a regional as well as more global outlook. “In the UK we have been seen traditionally as very London centric. We are trying to represent the UK in its entirety, which will help local skills. There are local hubs, but we need to work harder at it because we still have 50 per cent of the organisation based in London.”

The way ahead for HR

Ultimately, the concept of Good Work, the increasingly international context and the deeper meshing of business, quality work, purpose – and perhaps by extension social justice – represents a real opportunity for HR; something the panel are agreed on. As the people profession, it has a privileged oversight across the business. It is therefore perfectly placed to influence boards and leadership teams, as well as the line managers who are so critical to making Good Work happen.“HR has evolved massively and it is a great opportunity for all of us in HR to support organisational strategy and success,” said Ms Hughes D’Aeth. “First, this is about making sure the strategy is understood by employees and their part in it. “Next is working with the organisation to work out how best to organise around it. That whole space is really good to get into to influence. Are you making sure those jobs are going to be interesting? Then you get in the piece around job description, evaluation and career frameworks, which is really important.“Then policies, for example around work-life balance. Managers can have a massive impact. This is a huge amount of work, so seek evidence-based analytics and give decision-makers insights. This is a wonderful profession to be involved in.”

For full coverage of the CIPD Annual Conference see and the Winter issue of Relocate magazine published in December. Subscribe here. 

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