Thursday, 3 February 2011

New Optimism? – HR Directors Business Summit


  I’ve not been able to tweet for a while.  But I’ve got some time spare now, so will see if I can catch up.  It’s either this, or sleep (which I could very easily do too!).

First up, last week’s HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham, UK.  As an overall summary, I’d say this was a great event – and not just because of my participation in it which I’ll summarise in my next post.  One of the things I liked about it was the much greater focus on innovation, and ambition, than last year.

So back then, I became seriously concerned, and blogged, about how depressing I found it that every session seemed to emphasise ‘we don’t need anything new in HR’.  Attendees, and even more so the speakers, seemed to got themselves to believe that HR is simple – that’s it all about doing easy things well.  One of the speakers in the final panel even put this forward as a summary of the conference herself.

What rubbish I thought – and still do when people suggest this view.  (Good) HR’s isn’t easy.  It’s not simple.  It ain’t the same as our fathers’ HR.  Good HR is complicated.  It’s focused on intangibles.  On differentiation.  On uniqueness and innovation.  And it’s based on new ideas and emerging experiences.


So why was I happier this year?

Well we started off with Lynda Gratton, which generally sets things off well (I do wish she would do less self-promotion though).  Lynda emphasised the need for HR to get better at understanding the future, helping us focus on the things which are most important.  She also gave a good plug for social media noting Nokia’s statistic about 5 billion people being connected around the world – and that it’s these connected people who will change the world. (She could have suggested HR people get connected too – there were very few of us tweeting in the session - see my next post.  And despite Lynda’s belief in connection, and her regular blogging, I still don’t think she really understands what social media’s about). 

Then I attended what was just about the best session for me (no, still not one of mine) – delivered by Lynne Weedall at Carphone Warehouse / Best Buy Europe.  Lynne emphasised the way that work has changed and will change further still.  We’ve come to a chasm and won’t be able to jump over it in small steps.  She talked about the need, which I have also described, to think from the future back – to have a vision and work back from there.  To do this, HR people need to pose impossibly questions or at the very least, ask themselves what would fundamentally change their organisations.  And they need to look to do things differently (to zig where others zag).  All music to my ears.

The change theme was reinforced by John Mahoney Phillips from UBS talking about human capital metrics (see slide) and even using the phrase ‘creating value’ in a meaningful way.

So – a lot more focus on ambition, innovation and a desire for new ideas than the year before.  Of course my summary could just be down to the few sessions I attended.  Or just a result of chance emerging from the speakers which were selected.  But maybe, it’s a sign that HR’s feeling more optimistic again.  That we’re starting to raise our eyes above short-term restructurings to look towards what’s going to support the future of our businesses.


Of course, not everything was so rosy – for example, the suggestion from Tesco’s Therese Proctor that the credibility of the HR function relies on getting the basics right.  Well yes, but… (let’s just not go there now).  And of course, this was also the point at which we learnt the UK economy had shrunk again (making Vance Kearney from Oracle’s suggestion that we’re getting bored talking about recession appear even more out of touch).  So if there was more optimism this year, it’s certainly possibly that this was badly out of place!


What did you think if you were there?  And if you were, or not, are you feeling more optimistic now?


Also see summaries of the conference at



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