Daniel Susskind, Davina McCall, Nicolas Hamilton and HR experts take the stage at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition

Catch up on all the happenings from the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition 2023

The CIPD's Annual Conference and Exhibition 2023 took place on 8-9 November in the Manchester Central Convention Complex. People Management used a rolling blog to bring you the latest from the sessions, to catch up with some of the people milling about the exhibition hall and and to pull together some of the conversations on social media across the two days. Read on to see the highlights as they happened.

That's a wrap!

4pm: Closing his speech, Nicolas Hamilton recalls how he talks about his story not to gloat about himself, but to inspire other people. “Whether you're able bodied or disabled or not, it’s about being the best version that you can be,” he says.

Speaking on employers being supportive of people with disabilities or having a disabled person in the workplace, he says it’s about understanding and listening and keeping the door open. You never know what the person can actually achieve, he says, adding that it’s all about helping and being a good ally. 
— CIPD Events (@CIPD_Events) November 9, 2023

3.30pm: In a closing keynote titled 'Anything is possible' on day two of the conference, racing driver Nicolas Hamilton recalls his mum being the only person who truly believed and understood him. He says when he was eight years old he asked her: who am I? And why can’t I be like everybody else? She said to him: “As time goes on, you will start to grow into yourself and start to understand who you are and understand your limitations.”


A round up of some of the sessions from day one of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition:

Toxic workplaces, talking about race, is AI better at HR than you?

Don't worry if you missed yesterday's closing keynote panel on making 'work' work, People Management has summarised the key discussion points here

2.45pm: At Davina McCall's fireside chat on the importance of mental health and wellbeing at work, McCall says she wants to reframe the way society sees midlife women and the way it looks at HRT in particular.

On what employers should be doing to change policies in the workplace in terms of menopause, McCall says it is about raising awareness as she recalls feeling isolated and invisible because she didn’t have the accurate information. The best thing for a small company to do if it doesn't have a lot of money is to get resources from trusted places, she says. Appointing a menopause spokesperson in the office would also be useful, she adds, as well as putting together a resources page on your company's website. 

2.30pm: Davina McCall says: “I nearly left my job that I loved more than anything because I just felt I couldn’t do it.” She tells HR professionals that they play a vital role in supporting workers going through menopause, explaining that “you are the amplifiers”. Providing easily accessible information through a menopause spokesperson as well as enabling coping strategies are some of the ways people can be better supported, she says.

"Accidental activist." Nice.

The stage is set, the crowd is gathered, excitement is in the air...

12.50pm: This is the year when HR professionals must get involved in the development of AI inside organisations, according to Rob McCargow, technology impact leader at PwC. As he puts it, the people profession needs to "plant its flag right in the middle of the topic" by getting involved in discussions about the responsible adoption of the technology, helping employees co-create AI-driven solutions rather than having ideas imposed on them. At PwC, the business crowd sourced use cases for AI as a way of ensuring employees felt involved – in just a week, it had received 600 ideas.

12.45pm: Speaking on the strategic workforce planning panel, Bertie Tonks, chief people officer at Collinson, says strategic workforce planning is “not about creating a document” but is instead about “rich conversation between management and leadership”. He says it is important to use SWP to “cement commitment” to following up throughout the year and creating consistency.

And here is said podcast...What if we did away with experts?

12.15pm: Closing the panel discussion on striking the balance between performance management and talent development, the panellists were asked: how do you build trust? 

Tim Craddock, eastern region HR director at Network Rail, says trust is critical for any organisation, and it is quite hard to get and easy to lose. On defining leaders and managers, Craddock says: "Wherever we work, whatever our companies, whatever our organisation, we should be the water in the whisky," noting that for whisky drinkers you put water in your whisky to open up the flavours and the taste.

12.10pm: “The highest level of learning is creating,” says Kasper Spiro, co-author of Employee-Generated Learning. He says employees can be motivated to create learning content because of the opportunity it offers to grow their own expertise. The chance to “get recognition as an expert” is also a motivator, he adds.

Read how ‘democratised learning’ is helping Arla keep the business of ‘fresh’ advancing in this People Management article

11.57am: All organisations want to drive high performance but how do you do it? According to dairy giant Arla, the key is middle managers. Its UK HR director, Pauline Hogg, tells delegates it asked its managers to be ‘amplifiers’ whose actions would reverberate around the business. It led to a huge range of talent initiatives driven from the ground up. “They [managers] set the tone for the organisation. They provide psychological safety… what they do and don’t do really matters. We really invest in that group of people,” she says.

11.30am: Mervyn Dinnen, analyst, author, researcher and podcaster, explains what drives retention. He says all the research he has seen over the years shows that a key reason someone will join and stay with a company is if they feel they’ve got the channels to grow, to develop and to build new skills. 

Meanwhile, over on the talent and retention stage...

Work. magazine's Jenny Roper is attending the lightning talks session: Leading the way – how to make everyone care about ESG

10.45am: Professors from Manchester Met, Westminster and Sheffield universities say conflict at work is a key strategic issue for all HR practitioners to tackle. Key to this is managing the high trust relationship between HR and line managers. “Huge demand” for management development programmes, but training must be accessible and concentrate on the nuts and bolts of day-to-day people management rather than leadership skills.

Authentic self or best self?

As the keynote comes to an end, here's something from Evidence lab: Navigating dilemmas & conflict in HR practice

10.30am: Finding a “common language” that speaks to employees globally is a challenge when talking about EDI, says Chami Dhillon, group head of inclusion and diversity at Kingfisher. She says that “simplicity is key” and that “basic human concepts” of how humans interact with each other should be used to reach people who have varying levels of understanding of EDI.

While EDI is front and centre, here are some People Management articles exploring the issue:

Why affirmative action is needed to help make strides in EDI

Tackling the fear of saying the wrong thing around EDI

The power of rhyme! Uzair Qadeer, take a bow.

Lots to digest already from the Keynote panel: EDI – where do we go from here?

10.20am: When it comes to navigating conflicts in HR practice, HR’s role is to make sure that managers are not procedurally getting things wrong, giving them enough time and consulting with unions if necessary, explains Richard Saundry, principal research fellow of the University of Westminster. “Managers have a culture of avoidance. Overcoming that is key to better workplace culture.”

While we await news from The Silent Conductor and this morning's EDI keynote, here are some of yesterday's highlights:


What's your favourite freebie from the trade stands so far? We love the jelly beans and the chocolate orange. Not just a section, the whoooole orange. 

Enjoying the wildlife in the Manchester Central Convention Complex

Yesterday, conference delegates were warned the people profession needs to embrace artificial intelligence or risk losing relevance. Read the full story here

Day two

4.55pm: CIPD CEO Peter Cheese rounds off day one by talking about the organisation’s mission to ‘make work work’. It’s needed, he says, because we’re not utilising people’s skills or driving productivity: “When we talk about having a high-wage, high-skills economy, we’re not either of those things. We’re a very long way from it.” He wants the CIPD to help organisations treat people with compassion, humanity and trust, which means changing cultures, behaviours and the level of inclusivity in the labour market.

4.30pm: How do you get people to return to the office? It's the question that has been on many firms' lips since the end of lockdown. Simon Davis, director for professional services at HiBob, says your office space itself plays a big role in whether employees will want to come in. It needs to offer workers something "they can't get at home", he says – the office "must be more than just a desk".

He explains that businesses must realise that, as working patterns change, what people need from the office is changing too, and firms should consider revamping their working environments and working cultures to encourage collaboration and community-minded spaces.

4.15pm: We’re hearing from Linda Holbeche, one of the leading thinkers and authors in organisational design – and she’s got an interesting challenge for HR teams. Are they evolving their own structures and processes to match the new design of their organisations? she asks. Holbeche advises bringing employees together to find out about their experiences of HR and employment more broadly, and using the information to initiate change. “If you can get some engagement from people, and then do something as a result of what you find out, people will think ‘HR is really driving something’.”

L&D experts are currently discussing the necessity for leadership and management support for transformation learning, and how to leverage it.

Read People Management's quick-fire interview with panellist Michelle Parry-Slater here

As conference delegates hear from leading experts in organisational design and development, read People Management's in-depth (and interactive!) report on the 'magic ingredient' your business could be missing...

4pm: Organisations need to act as 'knowledge hubs' if they want to future proof themselves against AI and other workplace challenges, Linda Holbeche, adjunct professor at Imperial College London, says. Firms need to create cultures that are "conducive to learning" and put skills at the heart of their people strategy. They need to be "something that works for most people most of the time", she says, adding: "Don't design workplaces without building in learning."

Read People Management's summary of today's welcome from CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese and the opening keynote from Daniel Susskind.

Hot off the press! The latest issue of People Management magazine is available on the CIPD stand. Articles also available for CIPD members on the website

2.44pm: We’ve heard lots about the potential of AI, but how are organisations using it right now? Richard Nolan, chief people officer of fast-growing tech firm Epos Now, is more experienced than most in this area.

He explains that by loading all the business’s ‘knowledge articles’ into a generative AI model, it transformed its customer service by giving its frontline agents access to tremendous amounts of information. The result was the number of customer service calls being escalated dropping by 60 per cent and the number of queries resolved first time doubling.

1.30pm: Closing her presentation, Susan Hetrick stresses that she made some bold statements throughout these presentations, but wants to close with one more bold statement: a "challenge for everyone here today".

She says: "As leaders, it is time for you to make a choice to build a positive workplace culture that enriches lives, promotes wellbeing and delivers great business results or the reverse. 

"Get it right and not only will you create a great place to work, you might also save lives."

Read more about the practice of evidence-based decision making on the CIPD's website

12.55pm: Ex-offenders – an untapped pool of talent

Prison staff will tell you “you’re not getting a job when you get out”, says Mindy, head of EDI at St Giles. She says that a lack of confidence is the key barrier for ex-offenders entering the workforce. The panellists agreed that companies should embrace the unique opportunity they have to change people’s lives through recruiting from prisons. 


12.45pm: Toxic workplace cultures kill people and wreck organisations, says author Susan Hetrick in a powerful presentation. They spread because deviance is normalised and cognitive dissonance abounds. HR needs to support staff to speak up, take whistleblowing seriously and leave no ambiguity in the expectations of behaviour from employees.

12.10pm: Highlighting the CMI report on accidental managers, Devoy asks the panel: how do you develop the management capability in your organisation? St Ann’s Hospice's Gill Turnpenney says it's a priority: “I’m really passionate about leadership development. I think it starts really early on.” She adds that this includes in boarding and induction, which “will be drip feeding information to people”. 

A quick look around the exhibition hall in between sessions...

12.06pm: Opening the panel discussion on navigating the skills agenda – building a future-ready workforce, Paul Devoy, CEO at Investors in People, said: “I think of skills like a carpenter's tool box: the more tools the carpenter has in the box, the more jobs they can do.”

In this People Management blog from June, James Kelly explores why empathetic leadership is the key to organisational success

For those following the AI panel discussion, here's some extra meat to chew on about AI in recruitment. Panellist Natalie Sheils has also written four features for People Management, looking at how HR can prepare for the future. They are available here.

Speaking of 'accidental managers', here's a People Management article on the subject.

Find guidance on how to support line managers and build capability on the CIPD website

11.55am: It’s clear that plenty of HR teams are thinking profoundly about how they work alongside AI. Anna Thomas of the Institute for the Future of Work says the key will be to use it to ‘augment’ human capabilities rather than replace them. But that, she adds, means HR needs to be in the room for important discussions – the panel urges the profession to be curious about AI and to learn about it at the same time as other departments.

11.40: As CIPD CEO Peter Cheese said in his opening speech, AI is the official word of the year, but it's also the word of the day here at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Natalie Sheils, chief people officer at Mosaic Group, warns that AI could replace HR – depending on what your definition of HR is. She says if your understanding of HR is that it's merely there to perform back-office functions, then "AI can do that". However, she notes, HR's influence stretches far beyond this, and AI cannot replace the important "human" aspect of the people profession. 

11.25am: We’ve been hearing about how people professionals are using AI tools to their advantage. Natalie Sheils of Mosaic Group says she has been training a GPT model on her organisation’s specific requirements to create a bespoke screening process for recruitment. But that means, she adds, that HR has to worry less about credentials and more about how to test candidates for their skills.

11.11am: The next round of sessions is a few minutes away. People Management will be reporting from:

  • Can AI do HR better than you? 
  • Navigating the skills agenda – building a future-ready workforce through strategic skills development
  • Masterclass: Building world class management capability

10.40am: Daniel Susskind suggests we look urgently at how white collar professions are structured, given that AI is faster and more accurate at the sort of jobs we give entry-level workers. He gives the example of trainee lawyers who spend years sifting reams of information, something AI can do in seconds: “Often we are training people to do precisely the type of routine activities these technologies are already very good at.”

10.20am: The ‘AI fallacy’, says keynote speaker Daniel Susskind, is that it copies, replicates or imitates the way humans do things. AI can determine whether individual freckles are cancerous far more efficiently than doctors can because it does it systematically – it doesn’t exercise ‘judgment’. He adds: “It’s performing the task in an inhuman way.”

Daniel Susskind on AI and the impact on work and society

10am: Writer Daniel Susskind challenges the idea that the advent of AI is "just a blue-collar story". Technology designed the new conference hall in Hamburg, Germany to a standard we would previously have associated with leading human architects. “Might this sort of disruption alter the world of doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants?” he asks.

09.50am: Captioning at the conference is helping improve accessibility – but it also throws up some misunderstandings. It’s unlikely, for instance, that Peter Cheese is particularly worried about people losing their jars because of technology.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese's welcome keynote

09.30am: Peter Cheese opens the conference with the theme of ‘A bolder future for the people profession’ and says we are in a ‘VUCA world on steroids’. In particular, AI is at an ‘acceleration point’ and the conference will hear detailed discussion of the technology. “We can’t sit here and let the technologists have the discussion. We need to be in the room influencing it.”

First sessions of the conference are underway and the exhibition hall is buzzing!