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.

A Chance to Speak

I’ve been on the right and wrong end of conferences and speaking for a few years now, and when it’s done well, the connection between audience and speaker can be powerful and insightful. Hey it can even be good fun. A couple of things towards the wrong end of the scale have passed my way recently and I’d like to share them with you.


I was following a really fascinating twitter stream from the recent HR Future event. Peter Cheese was speaking and provoking a lot of really interesting reaction. He seems to be laying down a challenge to HR to raise its game and he seems to be laying down a challenge to his own organisation to do likewise. Good stuff, both are much needed. He acknowledged that the CIPD needs to communicate better with its members, and the brevity of twitter notwithstanding – I think that is a dangerously vague comment to make. Easy to agree with the sentiment, who wouldn’t? Much harder to turn it into something relevant and meaningful. Most of the zillions of surveys I’ve taken part in and considered the results of, produce a clarion call for better or more communication, few get past that into the detail, and I and doubtless others are keen to be engaged (perhaps via things like the current CIPD/MIX Hackathon) and to learn more about what that means for CIPD members.

Something else that came over the airwaves was a disappointing assertion that people don’t attend CIPD branch meetings because they don’t like being sold to by consultants. I don’t doubt that and yet it seems a pretty poor ‘finger pointing’ type excuse to put forward for poor branch attendance (though a subsequent tweet said that 17% of members do regularly attend their local branch meeting). Peter Cheese’s comment reminded me that I volunteered to give a talk on social media for HR for the CIPD Central London Branch in 2012. My experience as ‘the consultant’ was less than ideal, so by way of putting the other side of the tale, here’s my experience:

CIPD Central London Branch

We agreed a date for the talk – January 24th. The day before the talk I was told there were 62 bookings and we should expect 30 to 35 people to show up, which in the end proved about right. I may be wrong, I often am, but I doubt that around half the people who booked had a last minute attack of ‘Oh no this guy’s going to sell to me I’d better do a no show’ fever. Despite the fact my Dad died unexpectedly just two days before the vent, I felt I’d prepped well in order to deliver something I hoped was useful and enjoyable. I suggest I’d prepped a little harder than the CIPD branch chair who didn’t know my name and despite being reminded of it just before introducing me – still managed to forget it again. During the introduction Mr Forgetful asked if I was a CIPD member and I replied honestly, ‘no’. I was then treated to a mild castigation in front of everyone before being allowed to carry on. Nothing like being made to feel welcome huh?

I know how much it sucks to get pitched at by a speaker, so I just don’t do it. I’m so conscious of avoiding the pitch I have sometimes been known to forget to tell people my name and what I do, as Rob Jones, Neil Morrison and others will testify. At the start of the session, the first thing I invited people to do was play a social media bingo game I’d made. This had two benefits, firstly it got everyone talking and second – it gave us all an idea of our collective knowledge in the room on the subject of social and so helped me, to a degree, in positioning the subsequent talk. I then gave what felt like a useful talk – and we had a lively Q&A afterwards. A few days later I posted a write up of the talk on Scribd which has been read a modest 1,200 times, so all in all – I think I delivered good value that evening and beyond. I have yet to receive the promised delegate feedback which I always look forward to reading in the spirit of self improvement. To be fair – I didn’t chase it that hard as I had other more pressing things on my mind.

I appreciate this took place prior to Peter Cheese’s appointment, there are always two sides to every story and this is of course just one of those two sides. It’s easy to say ‘people don’t attend branch meetings because they don’t like being sold to’ and I believe and agree with that statement. I also believe there are a few simple things the CIPD could and should be doing to improve these experiences and similar ones at conference. I’ve contacted Peter twice to ask if we might get together and talk about this, I appreciate he is very busy and I’ve not heard back from him yet. I’ll keep you posted.

BOC Cutting Edge Marketing and PR Conference 

I was recently approached and asked to speak on the ‘Dark Side of Social Media’ at the above conference which is happening in London soon. I replied with three questions. How long do you want me to talk for, how many people will be in the audience and what is the speaking fee you have budgeted for this slot? I was told they’d like me to speak for half an hour to an indeterminate number of people, and no fee would be forthcoming. Given that I would need to rearrange some stuff to attend and that tickets for the two day event cost £790, I thought that was pretty tight and so declined their kind offer. Since then, the conference organiser has reciprocated by adding me to a marketing list selling all manner of training courses, and by trying to sell me a ticket to the conference even though they know I can’t make it.

There will be more posts on the whys and wherefores of conferences in the coming weeks, and I am grateful to Adrian McNeece for reigniting my thinking on this subject via his recent excellent post ‘The Ministry of Truth’. I sometimes wonder – is the conference industry on a mission to eat itself, its customers, or both?

photo credit

Values – Impose At Your Own Risk

During a Question & Answer session at the CIPD conference yesterday, Simon Jones tweeted something that caught my eye. Peter Cheese, the recently appointed CIPD CEO asked a gathering of around a hundred people, ‘How many of you can recite your company values?’ Three people raised their hands. There was some surprise about the low response among the audience, but I’m not surprised at all.

From my experience, most sets of company values are utterly forgettable, and there seem to be a few consistent reasons for this:

They are imposed from above. Too often, senior management seem to think that company values are something they are responsible for setting. In an even more horrific extension of imposition, some company’s think it would be really cool to get a marketing agency to help them establish the values. Wrong. If they are going to mean something to anyone beyond the board room they should be co-created from all corners of your organisation, and maybe even beyond…?

They are just a list of words. Trustworthy, Honest, Integrity, Open, Collaborative, blah, blah, bullshit bingo. Where’s the context? Where’s the meaning? People don’t want a shopping list of buzzwords – they want something to unite and connect with. A recent piece of research by SurveyLab shows that 86% of people are committed to delivering quality work and 79% always try to contribute more than is expected of them. I think people want values to be a frame of reference that helps them to give of their best.

They are set in stone. The environment we operate in changes, and we are expected to change and adapt to cope or take advantage. I think company values have more meaning when they are reviewed in context with what you are trying to achieve. It doesn’t follow that they will definitely change, but I think they should be reconsidered and people should know about this and have the chance to have their say.

As the Q&A session continued, Sinead Carville tweeted from afar with a great suggestion. ‘Perhaps a better question might be who can give examples of their values being lived within the business? We remember stories.’ I thought this was a lovely, useful observation, stories beat shopping lists every time.