CIPD ACE21: ‘Once in a lifetime’ chance to reset work

CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese kicked off the annual gathering of HR and people development professionals in Manchester today with a call to carve out a human-centred approach to the new normal.

Image of clock on Manchester Central
Addressing hundreds of delegates attending from all over the world in person at Manchester Central and online at the CIPD’s flagship event, Peter Cheese said the current environmental, Covid and economic crises of the past few years is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change things for the better.”Introducing the two-day event and over 60 speakers, Peter Cheese described how its three conference streams of Hybrid Working, Inclusion and People Strategies offer an important opportunity at a pivotal moment for people professionals to meet, connect and learn from one another.
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Rewriting the rule book

“We as a profession are leading the charge on flexible working and meeting the expectations of a workforce that has clearly changed,” he said. “2020 was different from 2021 because although we had number of things to deal with, we were given certain rules to adhere to and had to support working from home for everyone who could and support those who still had to be present in workplaces.“Now as we emerge from the pandemic is a whole set of new variables,” he continued. “Not one size fits all and different sectors are adapting in different ways. But I truly believe we are at a critical inflection point of change.” “Evolution is driven by great stimuli and our profession is in eye of the storm. How do we respond to this changing world? It is about driving from principles. Thank goodness there is no rulebook. This is about a lot about learning and consultation and engagement because we are undoubtedly in a period of a lot of learning.“It’s a critical time for leaders to acknowledge don’t have all the answers, engage with and support people to understand how to adapt our organisations for the long-term goal.”

Combatting the Great Resignation

Hybrid working – what it is and how to do it well – was a key theme in the morning’s agenda and a theme that resonates well with the global mobility agenda.  Peter Cheese was joined by Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practices at London Business School and renowned business psychologist, for the Day One’s keynote speech. Professor Gratton spoke about why we are witnessing this great shift in employee expectation and how companies are managing it. “Everybody is experimenting and there is more change still to come,” she said. “Companies are looking to implement new ways of working in response to the changing expectations and priorities of their people.“There is also the shifting market context and increased competition for talent, as well as regional variations around the pandemic and accelerating use of technology.” 

Building the future world of work

Later sessions on Day One looked at exactly how companies are implementing hybrid working and the lesson they have learned. Rob Worrall of professional services firm BDO, highlighted the importance of conversations with managers, individuals, teams, firms and clients.“We know we need to stay agile as things continue to change. At the heart is that individuals understand we want them to be successful. You have to have trust to be able to have those adult-to-adult conversations and engage with people so they feel they are part of the decision. We have great people who work for us and we want to optimise these relationships based on trust.” Around hybrid working and its impact on inclusion and wellbeing, Professor Gratton believes the future is positive. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the labour market is absolutely in our favour. There has been a surge in digital investment and capability and there is no way back.” Yet what hybrid working looks like is down to HR, global mobility expertise and leaders, and their conversations with people as individuals and the wider professional community. “This has been a real awakening for leaders,” said Professor Gratton.” The interesting thing is how the pandemic affected all of us. Not is same way, but leaders felt vulnerable and saw into lives of others. Employees are asking leaders to be empathetic and understand what it means to be me.”With so much up for discussion and many valuable lessons to be shared, opportunities for professional development and networking have also never been more important. "It is really important we keep our skills current," said Peter Cheese. "If we don’t do this and drive agendas like inclusion in our profession then we are not in best place to support others."

Read more from the CIPD here.

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