Cutting The Fringe

For the last four years, it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with excellent people, developing and delivering a range of creative fringe events at the annual CIPD conference. Up until a few weeks ago – we were getting ready to make it five years in a row.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case. The dates were booked, discussions were ongoing about the specifics of what we might deliver this year. A query then arrived asking if we would further discount our already heavily reduced fees. That was followed by a brief silence, then this:

We had extensive internal conversations over the past couple of weeks and I am sorry to let you know that, because of all the changes that we are going th[r]ough, we are unable to secure the investment needed to organise and run the fringe events, ignite labs, or the reflect and connect sessions at this year’s ACE.

It’s no secret that fringe events don’t always attract huge numbers, and it’s also no secret that the people who turn up and participate, often really appreciate and enjoy the opportunities they cocreate together. Decisions have to be made, and this one appears to be based on cost as opposed to value.

Subsequently it transpires fringe events will continue at the conference this year, and my understanding is people won’t be paid to run them. That’s their choice. Lots of us choose to do voluntary and pro-bono work, me included. It’s good to give something back, particularly to organisations which do great work and are short of cash. I’m not sure that working for free at a commercial event which charges exhibitors thousands of pounds for floor space, and conference goers hundreds of pounds to attend, is in quite the same category.

I’m citing a specific event here, however more broadly, I engage in lots of discussion about why commercial events expect people to work for free, or (shudder) for the ‘exposure’. I’m aware of someone who was recently asked to judge some awards, and was expected to pay for the ‘privilege’ of doing so.

And don’t get me started on everyone who is expected to give up their time to speak at events for free. People want to give back, want to share knowledge, want to help those coming though or starting in their careers, but isn’t this knowledge and expertise worth something?

It’s tricky, but when the idea that freelancers will work for free is set as the default, and we agree to play by those rules, ultimately we support the practice, and become part of it.

All good things come to an end. I can’t deny I find the change in how the fringe at this event will now operate, disappointing, both in itself and in the manner in which it has arisen. However it has been excellent fun and great learning helping to shape and facilitate so many engaging and interesting gatherings over the years. HR Unscrambled, Reflect and Connect, The Art of Conversation, and Performance Related Play have been some of the best things I’ve been fortunate to take part in.

Thank you to everyone who has conversed, drawn, painted, played, shared experiences, reflected, taken action, and got to know each other a little better.

All About People : Ways to Make Work Better

I’m really excited to be a part of the 2016 All About People conference, a curious, creative, cross-industry, cross-profession event all about how to make work better. The All About People team are curating a diverse mix of people to stir thoughts and ideas over a couple of days in June, down on the South coast. My contribution is in development, and will doubtless be influenced by the arts. In order to help me think about the event and prepare, Andy Swann, the creator of All About People, recently posed a few interesting questions to me. He’s kindly agreed that I can reproduce that conversation here. My answers may have some resonance with you, and more importantly I hope you find the questions useful. How might you respond to them?

Andy : What are you working on at the moment?

Doug : Currently I am working on a book proposal, some experimental client work where we are using the arts to explore and improve how we learn, and I’m making plans to attend and speak at various conferences in the UK and USA. I’m also involved in some community of practice work, some work around change and transition, and motivated by recent sales of some of my artworks, I’m finding time to develop my self taught painting.

How would you define an amazing working place?

Curious, creative, caring, and profitable.

What should organisations focus on first – the right people, the right places or the right actions?

Ask people what matters to them. Ask employees, customers, suppliers, everyone. Then, once you’ve listened and clarified, start to act on the smallest things that will make the biggest differences first. Come back and ask folk again when this is done and evaluated. Lead by example and repeat until forever – show you mean business by showing you mean business.

In your experience, what are some of the main things holding organisations back?

Doubt, fear, arrogance, a lack of trust and a lack of clarity.

How deeply should an organisation’s people be involved in its evolution? What should that look like?

As deeply as they usefully can. I’m a fan of using the World Cafe method for facilitating conversations around evolution and development, and other methods are available. During the conversations, don’t rush to judgement, don’t make assumptions. Be invitational, be inclusive, be gentle. Listen well, agree some action and get on with it – life is short.

What is one thing organisations can do to create the conditions for their people to thrive at work?

Make art, and make time for meditation and reflection.

I’m really looking forward to this event, it’s shaping up to be a blend of great learning, great sharing, great fun and great company. If you’d like to come along, tickets are available here. You can use the code SPEAKERDS to get a 10% reduction in the price when booking. See you at the seaside.

Putting The Confer Into Conferences

A blog post on the importance of weaving dialogue into conferences.

Confer : verb : have discussions, exchange opinions.

People go to conferences to interact and learn. When I sit in a long conference session in a big room, I often get bored. This is not so much a reflection on the speaker, as much as it is a reflection on my limited attention span, and the feeling you get when your bum bone goes to sleep after sitting on one of those conference chairs for too long. The risk of boredom is often raised because rarely do speakers make the time and space for any interaction in these sessions – I feel they assume everyone has come along simply and solely to listen to them. Sure – that’s part of the equation – but I wish speakers would try harder to engage the audience using tools other than their ability to talk about themselves at length, and their brain busting slides*. For further thoughts on the subject of how to give good conference, read this, by Ian Pettigrew.

In smaller conference sessions – it’s much more acceptable to get some cocreation going. I’ve been at the CIPD conference in Manchester this week and enjoyed watching a few sessions taking place on the Future of HR arena. It’s less of an arena, more like a small, low stage and about a hundred seats, and what I’m experiencing here is much more dialogue. Yes – there is some output coming  from various speakers, but they are often conferring with each other and interaction and inquiry with the audience is designed into the experience.

I don’t agree with the general assumption that a big session = being talked at all the time. Conferences could and should be even more interesting and enjoyable, through enhancing opportunities for invitational sharing and exchange.

I’ve been fortunate to be at the CIPD conference and exhibition for each of the last five years. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve taken and what I’ve given on each and every occasion, and the conference team somehow manage to steadily raise their already high game. Finding more ways to intentionally link speakers and audiences and participants is part of what will make future events even better, I’m sure of it.

Thank you to the CIPD for the opportunity to participate in their event again, it’s much appreciated.

*It may be just me, but I find the dissonance caused when trying to simultaneously follow someone’s spoken words and interpret a ton of tiny text crammed onto a slide incredibly off-putting. I believe the speaker when they say they’ve done all the research – I’m not convinced we need it sprayed all over the screen in unreadably small type. Pick your key findings – highlight as you go along, and share the detail for those who want it via your preferred social channels.