A Review of HR Unscrambled

At the CIPD Conference in Manchester earlier this month, Meg Peppin and I were invited to facilitate a short unconference session titled ‘HR Unscrambled’. Here are our reflections from the session.

HR Unscrambled Word Cloud

Whether you’re passionate about improving organisational culture, employee-led change, employee communication or anything else that will help make work better, we’d like to invite you to HR Unscrambled.” Our invitation to members.

We wanted to co-create an opportunity for dialogue between the CIPD, its members and any other people interested in exploring both the CIPD purpose, Championing better work and working lives, and the future for HR. We believe there is great meaning to be found in exploring ways to work co-actively, doing things with each other. HR Unscrambled represents the beginning of that learning.

In the future we shall:

  • Explore ways to broaden the reach – build on the social media energy that is growing, and extend beyond it too.
  • Utilise more open space facilitation at future events and conferences.
  • Integrate research from the CIPD and other relevant parties and involve members in shaping the future.

8.00am one morning in Manchester

Our space was airy, breakfast was available, and tables were set up for four people. Guests were invited in small groups to discuss what brought them to the session. There were 30 contributors from a wide range of backgrounds including, CIPD staff, HR and Learning and Development professionals from the UK public and private sectors, and independent consultants. We were delighted too that Peter Cheese the CEO of CIPD joined us for the first half despite seemingly being everywhere else too!

The emerging themes were connecting, sharing and learning – and the future.

The connecting and sharing through networking – in its most enjoyable sense – included sharing insights, building on those insights, reflecting and thinking through them together and the implications for organisations.

A question that users of social media are asking with increasing frequency – how can we invite in those who don’t access SoMe – how do we extend the conversation?

Learning comes from connecting and sharing, and having space to assimilate the learning. We explored technology and how it is changing the way we learn, what we know about how we learn, and how we can integrate technology into our Continuous Professional Development. There was also a desire to think about generational learning differences.

Implications for the future – what the generational differences and similarities are, what self directed learning means culturally within organisations, and what skills HR professionals need – were all up for discussion.


People grouped together in fours to explore common interests around these subjects. The conversations were self-organised; people went where they had the most interest. During the discussions, we invited people to move tables with the purpose of stimulating the development of the conversation and to facilitate more networking. People were also invited to use flipcharts to capture their thoughts, priorities – what they would like to share with people who weren’t there.

We noticed that across what seemed like a broad range of topics, a dominant theme emerged in relation to learning. Discussions encompassed the tools for learning, how people learn, how technology is changing traditional methods and creating opportunities for people to become curators of their own learning. IT can get twitchy but technology, self-directed learning, and the autonomy it offers has arrived. This has so many implications, and we were left with some big questions:

  • Social Media brought people together in this space – it feels edgy but are we just on the edge?  There’s a huge community of HR people both members of CIPD and non-members.  How can we bring them in?
  • What implications does self-managed learning have for how organisations are designed?
  • What does the HR of ten years time look like; how can we build towards that now?
  • What could we do more of in relation to mentoring?
  • What manager capabilities are needed for the future?
  • Are we too inward looking; how can we engage more outside our community to broaden our perspective?

We’d like to thank all of those who were motivated to get up early and create this event, and we look forward to building on this.

Meg Peppin and Doug Shaw

These notes are available free to download.

Three CEOs walked onto a stage…

Sounds like the beginning of a crap joke huh? Sorry, it isn’t – but I hope you’ll read on anyway.

I missed the Crossrail session at the CIPD conference last week, which is a shame as by all accounts it sounded and looked good. During the conference, CEO for Crossrail, Andrew Wolstenholme was quoted on Twitter remarking about how few CEOs were speaking at the conference, and certainly his presence was an attraction for people.

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That night over dinner, the lack of CEOs at the conference was bemoaned, and someone suggested something along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could get your CEO to speak, and yours, and yours…’, hence the title of this post.

I suggested that rather than obsess about CEOs it might be interesting to hear from someone who in an hierarchical sense is closer to the edge. Having had a few drinks, I offered up the role of bog cleaner as an alternative (role, bog cleaner….oh never mind). My suggestion did not meet with approval. ‘Why?’ ‘Why would you want to do that?’ ‘Why would that work?’ What I had to offer in return was something along the lines of, ‘Well everyone’s got their story to tell’. I mumbled on a bit about people close to and at the front line experiencing a different reality and having an equally valid tale to tell. I did not make the point very convincingly and I think it’s fair to say that at the table, I lost the argument.

Putting the red wine to one side – as evidenced by Andrew Wolstenholme, there is real power in having a CEO take to the stage, and rather than have her or him accompanied by more of the same rank, instead why not add layers and depth to the tale through a mixture of disciplines and voices. The approach wouldn’t work for a lot of organisations, many are too coercive, and simply too afraid of the truth difference for this to be any more than a showcase of the unreal (and we’ve all seen enough of those kind of talks, right?).

I can vividly recall my biggest internal disagreements in big business were with the upper and very top echelons of management, simply because I relayed observations and facts to them that they weren’t used to hearing. This situation is not unique, war stories abound of how the big bosses typically get told what people around them think they want to hear, and it remains rare for a CEO to invest the time to go and discover what’s going on at the front line for themselves. For the right organisation however – one which is happy to share failures and successes in the spirit of learning – I think this could be a bold and powerful move.

Of course I may be wrong about this, I often am, so why not ask the audience? One of the ways the CIPD, and indeed other organisations could deepen engagement with its membership at conference could be to ask the members to choose a few of the conference sessions in advance. Maybe have an open invite for submissions and vote your preferences onto the stage?

Or should we now just shift our focus from case study addiction (and yes – I know – there are some great case studies out there, and they’re in the minority), to CEO addiction instead? What do I know? After all, I thought it was a good idea to involve the bog cleaner front line.

Update. Since publishing I’ve spotted this piece about diversity over at XpertHR. One of the threads is about speaker diversity which has some relevance to this post so I thought I’d join the dots.

A Review of the 2013 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition

I’m just back from a busy, fun few days in Manchester at the CIPD conference, and a little more besides.

Northern OD Network

On Tuesday morning I took the train from London to Manchester with Meg Peppin to take part in a Northern OD Network meeting. The session was held at the BBC HQ in Media City and we got a tour of the building including a visit to the set of BBC Breakfast. Here’s a picture of me in the studio grinning like a kid in a sweetshop.

Doug at the Beeb

After the tour we settled down to listen to David D’Souza talk about his forays into the world of social media, and his compilation, editing and publishing of the HR book of blogs, Humane, Resourced. Here’s the essence of what I heard David say:

Six months ago he began tweeting, meeting and exploring – David met people who challenge and push boundaries, are open to new things and care about their profession. He met a lot of bloggers.

He noticed that a lot of these people are intent rich – time poor, and settled on the idea of curating a book of blogs. The pace of the project ebbed and flowed and people were very generous in supporting David and sharing experiences to help him along his journey.

David wanted the project to be crowdsourced, low on control – high on opportunity.

The book got published, fame and fortune now ensues (David didn’t say that I hasten to add).

The conversation developed into how HR professionals can make use of social communication to drive ownership action and even, *shudder*, engagement. I enjoyed the dialogue very much – it was a good mix of enthusiasm, challenge and open minded exploration.

The day was capped off with a dim sum dinner in Chinatown with two lovely friends.

CIPD Conference – Day One

It felt like the whole of Manchester had turned up to hear the opening address to conference. Peter Cheese took a few minutes to update everyone on current and emerging thinking on how the CIPD is and will deliver on its purpose of Championing better work and working lives, and then introduced Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones who talked about Creating the best workplace on earth. I found the talk light on insight and heavy on cliche and rhetoric. It was also riddled with plugs for their various books. Guys – we know you’re authors, you don’t need to ram it down our throats. The talk was reviewed by a few bloggers here, and I encourage you to take a look.

This year the CIPD asked me to curate conference content on their tumblr site. In previous years I’ve focussed on covering conference sessions on my blog, which I find enjoyable and hard work. I thought the curation gig might be a bit easier, and I was wrong. I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep on top of everything and I was keen to photograph elements of the conference to add a visual twist in among the many blog posts.

Talking of visual twists…

Doug People Management

The folks at People Management came up with an excellent idea for this year’s conference – offering to put anyone, even me, on the front cover of their magazine. Inspired.

The evening of Day One included a Hacker’s Hangout which Perry Timms hosted. Peter Cheese and a number of hackers gathered for conversation and a couple of drinks. After that it was off to the Personnel Today party hosted by the genuinely charming Rob Moss, and then dinner with a few friends. Unusually for me I checked my emails when I got back to the hotel just after midnight and in my inbox I found this question. ‘Why do so many workers feel they have no power to think differently about their workplace? How can this be addressed?’ I responded, then I went to bed. More on this another day.

CIPD Conference – Day Two

I slept poorly on Wednesday night, and awoke around 4.15 am, thanks to a combination of things that go bump in the night, and nerves. The CIPD conference team had earlier agreed that Meg Peppin and I could facilitate a short unconference session this morning, called HR Unscrambled, and I was my usual mix of excitement and nerves.

We had an enthusiastic turnout for HR Unscrambled, which was a chance to meet new people, and discuss the future for HR. A few of the people who came along we knew, and many we didn’t. Peter Cheese was there too – this guy gets everywhere! I think it’s commendable how available Peter makes himself, and in this case, people who registered and turned up for a chance to talk about the future for HR, got to do so with their professional body’s CEO. I think that’s cool. Meg and I will be sharing some reflection from HR Unscrambled in a few days, for now though, I thought you might be interested to see a word cloud built from the notes that people made at their tables as they talked.

HR Unscrambled Word Cloud

I had to head off after our HR Unscrambled session, so I missed Dan Pink and plenty more besides. I tried to keep on top of things over at the CIPD tumblr where I hope I’ve managed to feature most, if not all, of the conference session blogs and reviews. Please let me know about any glaring omissions so I can include any good stuff I’ve missed. Just a brief mention for Ian Pettigrew who must have aching fingers today after somehow managing to write up over ten posts on various aspects of the conference.

In Summary

This year’s conference was a great mix of useful fun, connections and learning. Maybe it was the centenary year celebrations that helped add to the excitement, but more importantly, more sustainably, I feel like the CIPD is making real efforts and steps to deliver on that purpose I mentioned earlier. Championing better work and working lives. I’m sure there’ll be mistakes along the way, and disappointment too, such is the nature of exploring, experimenting and changing. It should be fun.