“It’s like HR Glastonbury,” said one Twitter follower last week, joining the queue to get into the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition last week.

CIPD annual conference and exhibition logo

There may not have been quite as much mud and rain (and hopefully better toilets) as at the famous music festival – but there was certainly a great line-up of speakers and some stimulating debates about everything from organisational culture and well-being to talent management and the four-day working week.

Here’s our pick of the best – and most thought-provoking – ideas coming out of this years’ CIPD conference event.

The future HR profession

A talk by BBC HR Director Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth about how HR could increase its profile, impact and influence got a fair bit of media traction. She stressed the need for professionals to focus much more on hard skills, citing financial literacy, reward and data analysis as examples of topics where HR needed to brush up. There was shock around the findings of a study claiming only nine per cent of HR professionals felt they had the capabilities they needed in their role. Top tips from the experts for HR people wanting to get on: self-confidence, commercial understanding, knowing what makes you different, being resilient, finding your passion, retaining a sense of perspective and learning how to deal with imposter syndrome.

The impact of technology

HR will be far more resilient to the effects of automation than it may think, said TV presenter and author Jason Bradbury (arriving on stage on some kind of motorised skateboard). While acknowledging the key role face-to-face relational skills would continue to play, he also explained how technology could be used to boost empathy. Virtual reality tech could be used to teach employees how to better understand other people, for example, and could be useful in tackling issues like discrimination. Meanwhile, Victoria Anthony, group HRD at Galliard Homes, warned about the danger of being derailed by ‘shiny’ new HR technology. Key to identifying and implementing the most suitable systems, she said, was to “get your brief nailed down at the outset, stick to it, and involve some of the workforce.”

Attracting and retaining talent

Scarcity of talent is now reaching crisis levels and is one of the biggest issues currently facing HR, was one of the key messages to emerge from the conference. There were some interesting insights about the role culture has to play in attracting and retaining valuable employees. Sharon Hunt, HR lead at Microsoft UK, said having a clear mission, purpose and values would help organisations stand out from the crowd when it came to attracting the best people. Environments, where employees feel they can be their authentic self, were also becoming increasingly important. O2’s Ann Pickering said hiring people with the right mindset was becoming more important than recruiting for specific skills – and that once organisations had people on board, they needed to focus on creating cultures that would keep them engaged. The Ministry of Justice’s Neil Wooding suggested it was time for organisations to rethink the way they approached talent management, warning that traditional programmes risk “immediately suggesting that 90 per cent of people are untalented.”

Encouraging good work

Several speakers focused on well-being as a critical driver of ‘good work’, and encouraged practitioners to take a more strategic, values-driven and holistic approach. Jane Miller of NHS Business Services Authority stressed the need for a ‘joined-up’ approach to inclusion and well-being. “Part of well-being is looking at how you can allow employees to really feel more listened to, and that partially involves accepting that people come from different groups and backgrounds and will experience issues around workplace well-being differently,” she said. Broadcaster and equality campaigner Trevor Phillips encouraged practitioners to move away from often short-lived initiatives to fix cultural problems and to look instead at taking small, incremental steps that would help create more open and inclusive environments. On a panel about broadening inclusion, Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, pointed out that HR had a long way to go in ensuring the profession itself is diverse. “HR teams aren’t diverse, and if they’re not diverse, our organisations won’t be,” he said.

Did you attend the conference last week? What were the highlights and most impactful takeaways for you? Comment below to share your learnings.

*Quotes and information drawn from HR Magazine, People Management and HR Zone.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.