Q&A with CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese

A year of change and continued progress

Chief Executive Peter Cheese reflects on the CIPD's year to 30 June 2015

2014–15 was a year of change and continued progress on our major priorities for the CIPD. An organisation restructure, new ways of working and shifts in our culture have not been easy but have helped us make positive progress against our six strategic priorities. In particular, we're working to become more agile and responsive to the needs of our members and customers, as well as create a culture in which our people (our employees, volunteers and associates) are better able to collaborate, develop their own skills and help us deliver on our purpose of championing better work and working lives.

Membership grew strongly and is now at around 140,000, and we attracted 14,500 new student members – a sign that HR and L&D are increasingly attractive career choices and that the CIPD is the career partner of choice for so many. The growing number of volunteers who help us and others through programmes such as Steps Ahead Mentoring is a great source of pride too. I'm also proud of our growing media profile and voice in public policy debates – it's very important for us and for the profession to be part of the debate on important issues such as youth employment, productivity and the changing nature of the employment relationship.

Our digital infrastructure is critical to our ability to be agile and responsive to customer needs, especially as we increase our international footprint, so I'm always keen for us to move as fast as we can on projects such as our new website and communities platform. But we are making good progress and we're investing time and money now to make sure we're fit for the future and in a better position to respond to new challenges and opportunities.

Economic conditions in the UK have improved significantly, highlighting skills gaps again. But employment in other parts of the world is still flat and there's a high degree of economic uncertainty in Asia. However, we're also seeing exciting debates emerge and the opportunities for HR and L&D professionals to help organisations be more agile and responsive in a rapidly changing environment are huge. The mismatch in the supply and demand of skills in some sectors and parts of the world is driving more business leaders, as well as governments and regulators, to look to the HR profession for solutions. And now that more and more leaders are seeing that people are the biggest drivers of risk and value in their organisations, strong HR capabilities have never been in greater demand. We're also starting to see a greater shift in thinking away from profit-making as the core purpose of business towards the idea of sustainable value-creation. So debates about what good business looks like, and how to build strong organisational cultures driven by values and principles, are coming to the fore.

The most important of our stakeholders are our members - the individuals who work in HR and L&D - and they in turn can have great impact on individuals, organisations and the communities in which they operate. We've worked hard this year to improve how we serve their needs at every stage of their career, and we have a particular responsibility towards those who hold one of our professional levels of membership to make sure the badge of professionalism remains relevant and valuable. Our other stakeholders include the wider business and management communities, policy-makers and regulators, and our own employees. You can read about our work with these groups in this annual review.

Our Profession for the Future strategy is both our biggest opportunity and our biggest risk. If we get it right, we'll fulfil our purpose of championing better work and working lives by securing HR's role as a trusted and credible profession that adds real value to all of a business's stakeholders. But if we fail to engage big business leaders and small business owners in the big debates about ‘good business' and the role HR plays, or if we fail to support our members to step up to the challenge, we risk getting caught up in the perennial debates about the value and relevance of HR.

As more organisations start to challenge the HR processes and policies we once considered 'best practice', we’ll need to think more deeply about the purpose of those practices and go back to our roots in behavioural science to understand how best to deliver the outcomes we’re looking for. The challenge will be to combine that with increased business savvy and confidence in what we stand for as a profession, so that we can make sound professional judgements that are trusted and valued by the rest of the business.