CIPD Annual Conference 2018: Highlights from day two

Tech terminology, analytics advice and holistic health – our round-up of the second day in Manchester

After a jam-packed first day kicked off with an insightful opening keynote, there was still plenty of food for thought to be had on the second and final day of the conference – all rounded off with an inspirational closing keynote from Sir Lenny Henry. Here are our highlights.

Be careful with tech terminology

The terms 'AI', 'automation' and 'robots' are used interchangeably and people don't always understand the difference, explained Cheryl Allan, Atos's director of HR transformation. "Different tech terms are bandied around under AI, but they all have different implications for the world of work."

Institute of Apprenticeships COO and former British Army HR director Robert Nitsch said that organisations need to use terms that resonate with people, or they'll be rejected, advocating the use of the more user-friendly word 'digital' when describing new and emerging technologies, rather than 'AI' or 'automation' and adding that we're in danger of having an "allergic reaction" to words if they're not used properly.

Discussing the perpetual concern that robots will take over humans' jobs in the future, Allan countered that these new technologies will allow humans to add more value by removing the need to undertake more mundane tasks. "If we do AI correctly, there's no need for the human not to be there," she said.

Meanwhile, Megan Marie Butler, HR AI analyst at CognitionX, argued that humans are going to need to "redevelop their skills every few years" to keep up with the changing technology, and that digital literacy, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset are going to be the three most important skills in future.

Do analytics, not metrics

Lots of organisations use HR metrics, said Jonathan Ferrar, CEO of consultancy Insight 222. But you are just crunching numbers for numbers' sake if you don't deploy analytics, he said – defining this as diagnosing a business problem, obtaining and analysing data and then assessing the impact of your insights and decisions on the organisation.

"If you don't start out with a business challenge and ask questions around that, you will never get to the point of having an impact," added Ferrar. He went on to outline a range of analytics-driven interventions he said demonstrated the potential for technology to affect both strategic and operational decisions. For example, using natural language processing to analyse free text from an engagement survey helped a telecom firm realise the most effective way to make employees happy would be to supply them with waterproof uniforms. 

More profoundly, analysing organisational networks using sophisticated mapping techniques enabled a major multinational business to diagnose the barriers to women progressing into senior positions. It showed the business that women lost powerful connections and networks as they were promoted, which caused pipeline issues for future female talent.

Think holistically about wellbeing

Dr Judith Grant, associate director of health and wellbeing at Mace Group, shared her experience of joining the construction firm and developing a strategic approach to their employees’ wellbeing. She said the company had focused on safety, but never approached health and wellbeing in a strategic way.

“Obviously, traditional occupational health is the focus of a construction company, and many viewed health and wellbeing as offering our employees bicycles and smoothies – not really strategic in any way,” Grant explained. “The culture was such that we whispered about health, murmured about wellbeing and actually talked about safety.”

Grant said she engaged with senior leaders to create a collective definition of wellbeing for Mace Group and align that definition with the business strategy. They used a wellbeing survey to get a baseline measure of their workforce’s health and to proactively target intervention to identified issues like smoking or diet.

“The sites who reported higher wellbeing on their surveys ended up reporting higher levels of productivity,” Grant said. “And we were able to demonstrate a clear link through the data between wellbeing and intention to leave, but the data also suggested presenteeism is something we still need to work on in the future.”