CIPD Podcast 12 - Annual conference and exhibition 2007

Date: 01/10/07 Duration: 00:14:00

In this podcast there is a round-up of key themes from CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition, highlighting current and future challenges for the profession. Includes interviews with John Boudreau, Professor and Research Director at the University of Southern California, Alison Levy, Director of Organisation Development and Human Resources at Crime Reduction Initiatives, Vicky Wright, President of CIPD, Neil Roden, Director of Human Resources, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Matthew Brearley, UK Human Resources Director at Vodafone.


Philippa Lamb: Welcome to the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition podcast. In this programme we’ll be bringing you a selection of highlights from the event. We’ll be looking at challenges for the HR profession and the HR professional and we’ll explore the implications that those challenges pose for the future. To start us off we asked John Boudreau, Professor and Research Director at the University of Southern California, what he gets out of attending events like this. 

JB: Well that’s a good question, I think it depends on what I’m doing there. So, when I approach a conference like this as an attendee, it’s a matter of looking up old friends, it’s a matter of if, you know, I’m struck by one of the ideas Linda Gratner’s writing a lot about which has these diagrams of social networks and for me it’s a matter of saying ‘these nodes in the network need nurturing.’ And then I also think it’s a real chance to get a finger on the pulse. It’s amazing what you learn in the hallways, listening to the issues which people are discussing… 

(Cuts to babble of hallway discussion) 

JB: You know, you have an idea about what’s important and about how people are interpreting things or understanding them and then you just listen to a few conversations and I often come away with a phrase, or a way of looking at something that’s really different than I came in with. And often the people responsible don’t even know it, because I just happen to be overhearing their conversation or eavesdropping. 

PL: One person who’s experienced our annual conference as both a delegate and a speaker is Alison Levy, Director of O.D. and H.R. at Crime Reduction Initiatives. We chatted with her about building an effective network. 

(Cuts to interview) 

PL: I think people who are new to big events like this and perhaps people who are in the early stages of their career find the idea of just approaching people in an audience that they don’t know and start chatting to them, quite daunting. But in your experience are people quite happy to share their experiences, and chat and network and engage with other people?
Alison Levy: Yeah, I can agree, yes. I mean, the first time I came, I did come on my own and I was a bit ‘oooooerr’, a bit scared. But actually you do find that if you’re just that little bit brave, start the conversation, you find that they’re exactly the same – there are so many other people here that are on their own. And it’s a bit like walking your dog in the park, when you find another dog walker you instantly strike up a conversation. And then you’ve so much in common because HR – it’s great to swap notes. So just be that little bit braver and start that conversation – you’ll get so much out of it. 

PL: And of course the next time you come, then you know more people, and the whole thing becomes easier, presumably, over time.
AL: Well, it’s amazing how the knock-on effect, if they say ‘have you done a policy on such and such’ – I’ll give that as an example – they say ‘oh, well I know so and so who did that, maybe I’ll contact them.’ So I’ve found that it’s been a real knock-on effect with people saying, ‘oh know somebody that could, maybe I could email you?’ And the next time you come to the conference, well, I’ll see you there. Which is what’s happened now. I’ve got so many people I’m now seeing when I come to the conference. 

(Cuts to conference)
Announcer: ’Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the president of CIPD, Vicky Wright.’

Vicky Wright: Well, welcome. It’s great to see you here at Harrogate. So, happy 60th birthday CIPD conference. And wow, has the profession changed in that time. It’s moved from being about administration, welfare – although that’s still very important – into being a major part of how businesses are run today. And that’s really the learning experience we want to give you here, not only reflecting that past, reflecting the present and understanding where best practice is, but also looking forward to the future. One of the issues for our profession…(fades out) 

PL: We caught up with Vicky Wright at the end of the event and asked her to sum up the key themes she believes HR should be looking at now.
VW: Well as it always is, it’s been a great, fun conference. One of the things I found was I went round the exhibition much more this year as well, and it’s a great feeling there of excitement. I was talking to a number of the exhibitors. You know, lots of people interested. In relation to the conference, I think there were some really strong messages coming out which we’ll be hearing more of in subsequent years. The centrality of the people agenda for business success and organisation success came through and right from the start with theGreg Dyke and Gerry Robinson session with Jeremy Paxman… 

(Cuts to conference) 

Jeremy Paxman: Greg, is it true when you went to LWT you put up an enormous photograph of yourself in reception?
Greg Dyke: Yeah, like Mao Tse Tung.

JP: North Korea, I was thinking.
GD: No, no, I didn’t put up a photo…
JP: So it’s not true then?
GD: Yes, I did, I did it on day one only and said ‘I’m the new Chief Managing Director – today I’m going to come round and talk to everybody.’ And that’s what I did.
Jeremy Robinson: When I first went to LWT I also put up a big picture of Greg...
JP: With a moustache painted on it… 

VW: CEOs have got the message about the centrality of people. The real challenge now is for human Resources to deliver. And what we were hearing in a number of sessions is what that means. What does it mean to deliver what’s really at the heart of the business agenda and the CEO’s agenda today? 

PL: Neil Roden, Group Director of Human Resources at Royal Bank of Scotland Group agreed but he thinks HR has a role to play in cementing its place at the heart of the business agenda.
Neil Roden: I think there’s a gathering trend where we’re becoming slightly less paranoid about our role in the world and slightly more confident about the role of HR and what HR can add to the bottom line, if you want to put it that way. And I think we’ve got to continue to build up that self-confidence 

PL: So far we’ve looked at how HR develops talent and capabilities for the organisation. But it’s also important that HR professionals keep focusing on the development of their own experiences and capabilities. Alison Levy gave us her insight on HR career paths. 

AL: You have to start from the bottom. You need to get a good generalist base. You need to build yourself up through the levels of HR, to really get a good understanding, a good grounding, as to what’s involved, what an organisation needs from its HR department and the different levels, the different responsibilities, and how you can build your experience from that. I think the key is, keep generalist, and later on in your career then, you can start to specialise. 

PL: Alison illustrated this theme clearly in one of the seminars.
AL: To me, it’s going back to, it really is down to the person. I’ll give you an example, my brother’s an HR director. He got his CIPD first and then started to look for HR. I was in HR for ten years and then when in to do CIPD. We both managed to reach director level but by different ways. Ultimately what it comes down to, is you’ve got to have that sixth sense I think, at being able to pick up on people, know people, get to know the business, get your practical grounding and then go from there.
PL: So does that necessarily involve people in moving between organisations a great deal? Or can you do this within one organisation do you think?

AL: I think you’d find it difficult doing it in one organisation. The best piece of advice I was given early on in my career was to move industries, move organisations, and I would absolutely recommend that everybody does that, because you have to then adapt your skills. HR is similar in a lot of organisations but it is never the same. For example, I worked for Royal Sun Alliance, 22,000 staff, very strategically focused organisation, then I went to the Dairy Industry, 300 people, didn’t have a HR department, so I had to start from scratch. So they didn’t want strategy straight away, they wanted some policies, some processes, things like that. So you’ve got to be able to come up with solutions and come up with what they want from an HR person. But you can only do that efficiently, I think, if you’re able to be flexible and move about, and to do that, you have to move organisations.
PL: Your background is very, very varied. I think a lot of people would feel anxious about the idea of not being more focused on a specific career path – you don’t think that’s the way to go?
AL: No, not at all, because the reason that I have been able to get my last three jobs was specifically because I could actually bring… I could demonstrate achievement in the HR field. And they could see that I could come up with a solution, I could come up with the best way to do it for their organisation. So I wouldn’t come with a best practice, it would be a best fit. 

Interlude: ‘You are listening to the CIPD podcast series’ 

PL: To find out more about CIPD research and advice on HR career paths you can visit the show notes that accompany this programme at 

Next we caught up with Matthew Brearley, UK HR Director at Vodafone, to ask him about the challenges he sees ahead.
Matthew Brearley: I certainly see that getting the right capability of senior leaders is challenging. As you look out at the market place at the moment, particularly – so I’m representing Vodafone, we’re in the technology sector, it’s a rapidly moving part of the business world – we’re constantly looking for new capabilities to take us into new spaces and often those capabilities don’t exist and haven’t been grown internally. So how you get that, and how you get it quickly. Also how you build capabilities within an organisation which brings into play the talent management piece, and it brings back in again, must the fundamentals that when you’re moving quickly in a really fast paced organisation, the critical role of management capability, and giving managers enough time to become great managers.
PL: So how does all that feed into how HR will operate in future? What will HR professionals be doing differently in order to cope with the things you’ve just been talking about?
MB: For HR, I think there’ll be lots of different changes going forward, new technologies, social media’s coming around. I think we’re going to have to cut out, we’re going to have to cut the cost base back in HR, I think we’re, the continued drive for pushing line accountability, holding people to account for their people management is going to be key. How we use different technologies to deliver people solutions, how we communicate, how we train, how we develop – all going to be very different, and I think the world, the new internet world, the new social media world will change things fundamentally. 

PL: John Boudreau told us more about how he thinks such changes will influence HR, in particular, the effect on employee engagement.
JB: To me the most prominent issues are the nature of the employment relationship and how that’s likely to change. And as I think about significant trends like the ageing of the workforce, the globalisation of the workforce, the changing nature of collective action and collectivity, and the upwelling of what we might call virtual social networks. So I’m quite struck by the idea that employment will look very different in the future. It’s likely that many of our engagements with our most prominent talent won’t be employment relationships at all. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, now post their toughest chemistry problems on the web. And they enlist the talent from around the world, not so much for monetary reward, but for the glory of solving the question. That kind of creativity is possible now and I think it’ll start redefining how we think about things like employment, and talent, and the deal we make with the people who work for us.
PL: As you say, that’s a very different future to the situation we’re dealing with now. What is it going to mean for the HR community?
JB: I think that the HR community has a couple of very important transitions that will be made. Certainly the idea of a more virtual labour market means that I think HR is going to have to develop an understanding of what I like to call productive but shorter term relationships. So the standard model of hiring someone, having them stay with us for a long time, that still pervades most of the practices and the systems that we work in. The idea that people will do a similar kind of job for a long time, pervades most of our practices, of job description and remuneration etc. So I think that I envision a profession that’s going to be much more adept at making very productive relationships that we can’t predict for the long term, whether the person leaves or whether they just do a different job going forward. I also think that this notion of open source, this idea of enlisting a community in the issues of the day or in the issues that confront a profession is going to play a much bigger role, so I can see mechanisms by which employees will tell us much more about how they might contribute productively than happens today. And HR is going to be expected to have a systematic approach to that. Imagine if each one of your employees understood your strategy deeply enough to tell you all the things they could be doing for you but they never get asked because it doesn’t fit in their job description. 

PL: Some exciting prospects for the future there. And a fitting way to end our taster form this year’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. We’ll be engaging in more crystal ball gazing for 2008 in our New Year podcast in January. Before then our next episode will be taking a closer look at the challenges that globalisation poses for HR. 
In the meantime, to find out about any of the issues covered in this podcast, please visit 

Until next time, goodbye.


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