Putting global people at the heart of good work

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, recruitment, learning and training professionals.

Putting global people at the heart of good work CIPD

Trevor Phillips OBE speaking at the 2019 CIPD ACE

Relocate Magazine January 2020
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Among the key themes was 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 their job for ethical transgressions than for poor performance in the last year. “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.”

The global perspective

Speaking later to Relocate Global managing editor Fiona Murchie, 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, Mr Cheese shared his views on how important international experience is for today’s leadership and future leaders.He said, “I think it’s fundamental. In my experience, there have been lots of opportunities to work internationally. International experience is as much about developing behaviour as much as technical job competence. The more behavioural stuff is around dealing with uncertainty 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’. A lot of business cultures have been very dominated by Anglo-American ways of doing and we can all learn from each other.”

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Dealing with political uncertainty

Relocate Global also asked Mr Cheese about what he sees as the important issues in the 2019 general election campaign. “It’s about being open for business,” he said. “We 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.”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.”

Skills, employee experience and the international dimension

The second day of CIPD conference was a platform for eminent HR leaders to overlay the context of the previous day’s discussions 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.

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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 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

Picking up the international aspect, 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 legislations 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 a particular area of growth for HR.”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 competitive. Companies like Netflix and Amazon have very deep pockets. We can’t afford to pay huge sums of money. We are using AI wherever we can and making the most of it. We have to prove we are being efficient and effective in everything we do.”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. “One aspect is employee experience – the way we in HR provide services at the moments that matter, e.g. 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.”

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. Ms Pickering believes “the days when we own our workforce are coming to an end.” She added, “I think we look at this much more creatively. 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 another 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. “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.”

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 explained that even for Edinburgh City Council, serving the city’s citizens, businesses and visitors well demands a global supply chain. “It is about the skills we want to keep in the city – where 25% 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.”Location 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 a 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.”

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 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 the 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.”

Read more articles in the Winter Issue of Relocate Magazine. 

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