Festival of Work 2020: highlights from day one

11 Jun 2020 By PM Editorial

People Management rounds up key takeaways from the first day of the CIPD’s virtual conference

Following an insightful opening keynote speech by economics professor Andrew Scott, delegates at this year’s slightly different virtual CIPD Festival of Work heard from a variety of speakers and thought leaders offering their insights. People Management rounds up some of the key learnings from the first day of the event. Look out for day two highlights tomorrow, and follow @peoplemgt and #FestivalofWork on Twitter for the latest updates.

Hierarchical leadership could ‘ebb away’ in a new normal working environment

Talking about the creation of a ‘new normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak, Sean Penistone, learning and talent director at BT, said we are beginning to see hierarchical power and its importance “ebb away” and questioned what the role of the leader would be. “[Leaders] have an important role to play in terms of excavating the business purpose, make it easy to understand and put it at the heart of everything the organisation does,” he said.

From a wellbeing perspective, Emilia Madrigal, senior manager for learning and development of people and culture at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, said leaders will have to “equip themselves with new techniques” to stay calm and handle stressful situations. “Health in your body and mind provides a strong foundation for people’s resilience. The WHO states that wellbeing has been severely impacted by the crisis, so leaders need to make the wellbeing of colleagues a priority and that needs to be done urgently.”

Agility is ‘critical’ in protecting the welfare of NHS employees

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, outlined the importance of mindfulness and mental wellbeing among the NHS workforce, and explained how the health service has procured access to mindfulness apps and telephone services for their employees. NHS workers have been asked to “work differently in environments they may not have worked before”, he said, adding: “The adaptation among our teams across our services has been critical.

“A number of risk factors and a lack of clarity at times has impacted supply chains and access to testing, which caused real anxiety [among the workforce] during the early stages of the pandemic.”

Theresa Nelson, chief officer for workforce development at Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust, who headed up the HR function at Birmingham’s Nightingale hospital, said agility was “critical” to managing rapid changes. “We had policy changes happening at speed. We were scratching our heads on how to practically apply changes and the agility within HR was critical so we could apply the principles locally and take staff representatives and unions with us, which provided great partnership opportunities with unions,” said Nelson.

More business leaders will work on the frontline

More business leaders will find themselves working on the frontline as the coronavirus pandemic continues, said Charlie Mayfield, former chairman of John Lewis Partnership. He told delegates that as the country braces for the full economic impact of the crisis, the spotlight will be on business leaders to see how they manage their organisations. “There will be heroes and there will be villains,” he warned.

In the same discussion, which focused on good work in practice in the post-pandemic world, panellists suggested the crisis could afford UK companies the opportunity to bring about big changes in ways of working, to benefit employees and society. Andy Briggs, CEO of Phoenix Group, said the speed at which companies had adapted to new ways of working should make leaders more ambitious to adopt radical change. “Why do we talk about becoming greenhouse gas emission-neutral by 2030?” he asked. “Covid has shown we can make big changes quickly.”

What leadership looks like in the age of disruption

People need to be given the chance to fail during the coronavirus crisis, and fail quickly, said Dame Helena Morrissey, financier and founder of the 30% Club. “We are going to change the style of leadership, because no one has all the answers,” she said, adding that it was important in such unprecedented times that leaders allowed their teams to disagree and share insights.

Morrisey emphasised the importance of inclusive leadership at a time when diversity efforts may be slipping down the agenda as a result of economic pressures brought about by the pandemic. Inclusion was like being kind, she said. “You don’t set aside an hour of your day to be kind. It’s a thread that runs through all your actions, hopefully”.

She added that HR teams had a key part to play in ensuring talent of all individuals was recognised, and urged companies to empower their people professionals to do what they think is right.

A company’s behaviour in society is their biggest driver of brand

Speaking at the second opening keynote, Professor Simon Anholt, founder of the Good Country Index and independent policy adviser, said companies have “known for years” the power of their brand.

“The best driver for business is the brand, and the only driver of brand image is how you behave in society,” said Anholt, as he compared the state of worldwide governance to business resilience.

Anholt said people “like good countries and they like good companies” and suggested that collaboration is the most productive thing businesses and countries can do to get a competitive advantage. “Governments must understand we are not asking them to be moral, self-sacrificing or nice, there is a way of behaviour that is more productive and collaboration is the best form of competition.”

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