CIPD Annual Conference 2020: highlights from day two

From proving the benefits of flexible working to making friends with other functions, People Management looks at important lessons from the final day of the conference

Off the back of a second day opening keynote from the author and academic Megan Reitz on the importance of giving employees a voice in their organisations, delegates at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition broke off into a variety of sessions on HR trends and best practice. People Management takes a look at some of the key takeaways from the last day of the virtual event.

Despite Covid, businesses will have to adapt to change

Businesses will have to learn to adapt to change to survive the pandemic, said Riina Hellström (pictured, bottom left), author of Agile HR: Deliver Value in a Changing World of Work. “My take is not just the disruption going on because of Covid,” Hellström said. “Our organisations are literally needing to become more agile because the world isn’t stable anymore.”

Hellström acknowledged that agility did not come naturally to businesses, which are “hard-coded to work according to certain rules, guidelines, policies, structures, mandates and hierarchies,” but said businesses could overcome this by offering individuals and teams support to work in an agile way. She likened learning to work in an agile way to “learning to play an instrument or a new sport”, and said organisations needed a structural, systemic approach to support teams doing training and then practicing agile working.

Telling employers to work in an agile way without embedding these systems into the organisation, said Hellström, was like giving a team a football and telling them “now you should be a football team without actually having the goal posts, the football field, coaches or referees”.

HR needs to be a business partner first

People professionals need to understand the ins and outs of their organisation if they want to “come to the table”, said former BBC chief HR officer Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth. She called on HR professionals to really understand their businesses – from its customers to its competitors – and to really dive into the financial side.

“We have to come to the table not as HR people, but as business people first and foremost, and then we can obviously route to the relevant HR solutions,” she said.

To do this, HR professionals needed to have a “real curiosity” about the world, the sector they work in and their organisations to have a broad perspective of what is going on in the area they work in. “You need to read, listen, watch and get your hands on whatever you can to have that broad perspective.” Hughes-D’Aeth said.

She added that HR professionals needed to also work on their relationships with other functions within their organisation – including finance, legal and PR: “There are a lot of departments which are really key so go out and get to know them because you can do them favours. But equally, they can really do you favours.”

Flexible working is a recruitment and retention issue

Framing flexible working as an issue of recruitment and retention was key to convincing senior leaders in the construction sector to buy in to the concept, said Kamal Shergill, group HR director at United Living. “Construction infrastructure has probably been a bit late to the party in terms of flexible working,” she told delegates in a session about inclusive flexible working. 

“For us, the sales pitch was around recruitment and retention because if we want to get the best people to join us, then to tap into the widest pool you need to make those roles as flexible as possible,” Shergill explained. “By having very limited working hours or limited patterns of working we were restricting our [talent] pool. And similarly, people were leaving our business to go elsewhere where flexible working was available.

“One of the positives that’s come out of [the pandemic] – there aren’t that many positives – is that this way of working has now become proven,” she said.