10 Things I Learned at the 2020 CIPD Scotland Conference (and one I did not)

By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser at CIPD Scotland 

I am not a people professional. I have never worked in HR. I am not in the market for software solutions to improve my company’s people management capabilities. You see, before I started working for the CIPD, I would have thought these sorts of things were a prerequisite to attending CIPD Scotland’s Annual Conference. Crucially, I thought they were necessary if you wanted to enjoy it and get something out of it.

Well, I was wrong. Our biggest Annual Conference had so much going on that you could discover new insights whether you were an economist, a public policy professional or a manager of a small business. Under the banner of driving fair, meaningful and productive work, all the events I attended were relaxed, thoroughly enjoyable and filled with food for thought. I unquestionably left the day knowing more than when I arrived – and realising how much more there still is to learn. Here’s my random collection of 10 things I learned:

Despite the best efforts of a succession of storms, a spreading global virus and even a collapsing airline, 600 people were willing to get together to share, learn and discuss issues that impact all of us at work.

In the first keynote speech, our CEO, Peter Cheese, shared the results of a BITC survey, which asked people about what they would miss most from their work. The top answer was “nothing”. For an organisation that champions better work and working lives this just underlines we have a long way to go yet.

Vicky Pryce – world-renowned economist - highlighted that we were experiencing a global economic slowdown even before the coronavirus outbreak, so there is some cause for concern. Some of the immediate impacts of the outbreak are fascinating – China car sales have dropped a staggering 92% in the first 2 weeks of February alone and the airline industry is estimating losses of up to $113 billion for 2020.

In the session on diversity and inclusion, Jo-Ann Moran (Diversity and Inclusion, Engagement and Communications Lead at the Civil Service) highlighted some practical steps that can help. People professionals need to actively engage with management, speak truth to power and drive culture change. Jo-Ann used a specific example of reverse mentoring - a “Walk in My Shoes” day, where she would actively put barriers to a manager’s day and then put in place adjustments to show their impact.

Shirley Rogers (Chief People Officer at NHS Scotland) emphasised the importance of listening to the people in your organisation. In her experience, leadership becomes both harder and significantly more rewarding once you understand the stories of those around you. Peter Cheese echoed this by saying a key quality of management has to be humility – they must be open to listening to their employees.

In the skills session, Sebastian Tindall (Head of L&D at Vitality) told the audience that a mind boggling 90% of the world’s data has been produced in the last three years. As a result, data analysts and data scientists have the most in demand skills in the world just now.

Evidence on the benefits of flexible working to individuals as well as businesses is mounting up. Tracey Lenthall from PwC illustrated this by showing how their employees feel more trusted and empowered, with an increase in engagement and loyalty, and feedback saying it is hard to leave the company as it is challenging to get the same flexibility elsewhere.

Paul Campbell from Scottish Water left us with what was surely the statistic of the day - if you dug up all the water pipes from under the ground in Scotland they would go round the world twice.

Professor Graeme Roy from the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde focused on the research evidence around productivity. Even though traditionally economists focused on innovation, investment or infrastructure in the productivity debate, we now increasingly talk about people too. Evidence is beginning to show that job quality is not just an outcome of higher productivity, but a key driver of it.

John Amaechi OBE gave a very engaging, but also sobering, keynote speech on the changing world of work. He showed us evidence of “identity pollution”, which shows how negative stereotypes in relation to, for example, women or black people are virtually identical no matter where in the world you go to. If we want change, it will need to be qualitative and human.

There’s of course a lot more I learned, so keeping this to a list of 10 was a challenge. But let’s be honest, have you ever read a list of top 37 things someone has learned? I thought not.

Oh, but to be completely fair there was also one thing I did not manage to learn. I still don’t know how tall John Amaechi really is. That question remained unanswered. Maybe next year. I look forward to it already.

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