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Festival of Work 2019: highlights from day one

13 Jun 2019 By PM Editorial

Employee engagement, flexible working and classroom-based learning – People Management rounds up the first day of the CIPD event

Following an invigorating opening keynote speech by chess legend Garry Kasparov, the CIPD Festival of Work went from strength to strength with 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 in London. Look out for day two highlights tomorrow, and follow @peoplemgt on Twitter for the latest updates.

Employee engagement is about individuals – not generations

Driving business productivity and employee engagement in a multi-generational workforce is about paying attention to individuals rather than their age, said Marco Galer-Reick, HR director at Black Sheep Coffee.

He explained age – much like ethnicity, gender or sexuality – is part of a larger, more complex diversity puzzle that all organisations must look to solve. Galer-Reick said a good place for businesses to start is by understanding how complex diversity is, and how it can help drive engagement.

He tasked each leader to learn 10 random facts about each person on their team. By diving into the core of what motivates and drives individuals, Galer-Reick said employees will feel more engaged and motivated with their teams and, in turn, the business.

Line managers need to support remote working

At the moment, remote working – while mostly permitted – is the exception and not the rule for many organisations. This needs to change, said Helen Honeyman, head of HR policy, wellbeing and governance at RBS. “We actually talk about flexible working but, in the future, it should just be how we work,” she said.

The business case for flexible working is well known, with flexibility shown to increase engagement and productivity. But HR departments looking to make their offices more flexible need buy-in from line managers. “If your line manager doesn’t value it, your team doesn’t value it,” said Honeyman.

At RBS, the solution was to democratise the issue. The bank created a toolkit that facilitated discussions within individual teams around what flexible arrangements were best on a case-by-case basis. “You use problem-solving to come to a solution that works for them,” said Honeyman.

Don’t underestimate the importance of HR software

The importance of making the right decisions around HR software should not be underestimated, according to Karen Myers, group HR director at William Hill.

Speaking on a panel discussing how to find the right technology fit for your business, Myers drew a comparison between the sophistication of technology being deployed with customers and the experience offered to employees. “The question is how do we bring that customer technology into the employee experience agenda," she said. “It's the most important challenge we face in HR."

Due diligence, added Myers, was crucial when choosing a supplier: "Talking to other HR professionals who have used the software gives you an idea of the sort of support they received after implementation."

Classroom-based learning is still relevant

Classroom-based learning hasn't had its day – but its purpose does need to evolve in a technology-enabled age.

Alistair Cumming, head of learning and development at Lidl GB, told delegates a blended learning approach meant a specific role for traditional methods. "The classroom isn't for imparting knowledge – you can get that from a book or from e-learning," he said. "The classroom is for applying learning and taking it back to the shop floor. It's a place where you can make mistakes… and that means there will always be a place for classroom learning." 

What makes any form of learning more effective, he added, is if learners truly understand why they are taking part. "Without that, you get what I call a canteen culture, where people sit around and say 'why do I have to do this?'" said Cumming.

Ethics aren’t cool – but they should be

Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov may believe that the rise of automation is happening too slowly, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start considering its morality. In a panel session about the ethics of automation and driving meaningful work in the future workplace, Alejandro Saucedo, chief scientist at the Institute for Ethical AI and Machine Learning, highlighted the need to make ethics “cool again”, pointing out that – in a similar vein to the process of developing and implementing the GDPR – today’s ethics guidelines will become tomorrow’s ethics regulations. “Standards are useless until someone starts using them,” he added. “But someone has got to get up and certify them.”

Kate Davies, chief executive of housing association Notting Hill Genesis, also highlighted the only thing preventing misuse of automation technology is an “active democracy”. “So much goes on behind closed doors,” she told delegates, adding that it’s in the public’s interests to be empowered and challenge what we don’t approve of.

Data and AI are part of HR’s future

Understanding the impact of AI is fundamental to business success, said Pippa Malmgren, non-executive board member of the UK Department for International Trade.

AI has the capacity to improve our ability to create new and meaningful jobs, and allows humans to exercise greater creativity by removing them from dangerous or dull tasks, said Malmgren. But HR teams need to think differently. “If you are not learning how to navigate in this new data-driven environment, you will be left behind,” she said.

“No one can leap into the economy of the future if they don’t know how to use this [AI] operating system.”

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