3 of the best talks from the 2024 CIPD Festival of Work in summary:

  • The CIPD Festival of Work returned in 2024. One of the best talks of the day was from Stacey Dooley MBE, who discussed breaking barriers and igniting change in media, mind, and society.
  • Away from the keynote theatre, a discussion on how to use evidence based strategies for smarter decision making within learning and development also drew a large crowd.
  • Another incredibly popular talk at the event investigated tactics for nurturing a connected culture for building thriving workforces.

What a fantastic event the 2024 CIPD Festival of Work turned out to be!

Returning to the expansive surroundings of the ExCeL Arena in London, the two day spectacle was chock-full of insightful talks, workshops, hackathons and, of course, demonstrations of some of the finest HR systems and Learning Management Platforms on the market today.

A team from Cezanne was also at the event. Nestled on their brand new stand, a perfect mix of HR software and pick ‘n’ mix sweets proved to be a huge attraction for festival goers. The stand was buzzing for the entirety of the two-day event, with 1-1 demonstrations of the Cezanne HR system, and lively discussions about the latest trends in people operations. The team certainly earnt a glass of fizz come kicking out time!

Cezanne HR and Payroll Software at the 2024 CIPD Festival of Work

Of course, whilst it was great to see the best and brightest HR tech on display, one of the main reasons so many people flocked to the event was the dizzying array of talks. This year, there were over 150 content-driven sessions over the course of the two days. With insights and debates on some of the big topics within the world of HR from some of the industry’s most influential voices, it’s little wonder the event attracted over 11,000 people!

Didn’t get the chance to go this year? Not to worry… we’ve picked out three of the standout presentations that took place at this year’s CIPD Festival of Work.


Keynote speaker: Stacey Dooley MBE on breaking barriers and igniting change in media, mind, and society

Perhaps the most popular talk of the event was on the first day, and featured television personality and investigative journalist Stacey Dooley MBE. Her keynote discussion, hosted alongside founder of the parenting platform MusicFootballFatherhood, Elliott Rae, delved deep into how to break social barriers and ignite change within the workplace. As part of the talk, Stacey discussed her own experiences in journalism – mainly, her views on journalistic integrity and the challenges faced by women in the media industry.

Stacey Dooley MBE at the 2024 CIPD Festival of Work

Image courtesy of the CIPD Festival of Work

A packed-out audience attended the talk. Stacey and Elliott discussed a range of important topics related to creating an inclusive and transformative work environment – including the need for businesses to truly listen to their people. The talk also emphasised the human element of the workplace and how it’s vital to building successful businesses – something which technology and, to a degree, Artificial Intelligence (AI) simply cannot replicate.

Stacey encouraged attendees to consider how they can play an active part in fostering positive change within their own organisations. She highlighted priorities such as mental health wellbeing, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), and gender equality all being vitally important in driving that positive change. But perhaps most importantly, businesses and leaders must give them all careful consideration when nurturing positive experiences – they’re not simply there for box-ticking exercises.

Using evidence based strategies for smarter decision making within learning and development

Away from the Festival of Work’s keynote theatre, the Learning and Development stage had consistently large audiences. One of the talks that piqued my attention was led by Deepti Pelluri, Head of Learning and Organisational development at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Deepti opened the talk by revealing her background in business and learning operations. Her experiences with many different organisations had opened her eyes to the fact that many learning and development programmes were being done on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis. This was backed up by a quick poll she took with audience. With 84% of the audience confirming they didn’t have access to the right data to guide their decision making.

So, all about data… right?

Deepti highlighted the types of data needed to help guide your decision making (including performance data, ROI, training records, skills gaps and overall business goals). But, she made the interesting point that whilst you may have the data you need at hand, it’s about making sense of it and understanding what affect it has on both upstream and downstream business operations.

That’s because analysing data is only part of the solution when it comes to smarter decision. As humans, we like to correlate and validate what we believe in. We look for evidence that makes sense to us to bring us to the answers we want. This is where data – no matter how accurate – can sometimes become misleading.

A talk at the 2024 CIPD Festival of Work about using evidence based strategies for smarter decision making within learning and development Cezanne

So, what can be done? Deepti explained that with effective learning and development programmes, people and learning professionals must identify the business metrics they want to positively affect with their strategies first. Then, use their data to identify how the metrics are affected, and continually guide their decision-making.

However, in closing her talk, Deepti mentioned that learning and development isn’t just about your data and metrics. The behaviours of your workforce are vital in any successful strategy. You can build the best learning programme in the world, but a positive attitude towards learning is critical.

To do that, organisations must also understand a culture that embraces learning doesn’t just happen overnight, and certainly doesn’t develop just in the classroom! It takes time, and constant nurturing.

Fireside chat: building a thriving workforce: Strategies for nurturing a connected culture

The third excellent talk I attended the CIPD Festival of Work 2024 took place at the Internal Comms stand. It looked at how businesses can empower employees to thrive in any work environment, fostering a culture of resilience and adaptability.

Charing the talk was Claire Hodson, Head of Change Management at the CIPD. And, discussing the topic were Anne-Marie Blake, Co-Founder of True Communications, and Jane Sparrow, author and founder of The Culture Builders.

Claire asked the panel their thoughts the key challenges in redefining the employee experience and building a connected culture. Jane answered that she believed the core challenges come from the diverse makeup of workforce teams. These can also become further complicated by mergers, acquisitions and spread out workforces.

A talk at the CIPD Festival of Work about building a thriving workforce: Strategies for nurturing a connected culture Cezanne

Jane also felt that the pace of change is the key reason why companies are struggling to keep up with nurturing more positive workplace experiences. This is because she believes when organisations look to do that, they’ll immediately look to technology first – rather than investigating their cultures, which are the real driving forces behind workplace experiences.

She believes if you truly understand the culture of a business first, the technology needed to support it will follow.

Lack of trust in HR is still a huge problem

Anne-Marie stated that when it comes to creating more connected workplace cultures, typically, someone senior will be highlighting the need for change and why they want it. But, she argued that the need for change must really come from people within the business. This is because it’s not that people don’t like change: it’s the fact that change can mean uncertainty, and that can be uncomfortable.

Anne-Marie believes that people professionals need to think about how to manage any kind change within the workplace – and with good reason. She added that only 1 in 5 people trust HR teams due to a continued negative image and perhaps a misunderstanding of what HR teams do. So, people professionals must take the lead in creating safe spaces for honest talks about what needs to change within a company, and why.

What can people professionals do?

Claire asked the panel what they thought organisations and their people teams could do to create more connected cultures. Jane answered that firstly, you must have trust and respect within a business. Then, look at the core traits of high performing cultures. They’ll have psychological ‘safe spaces’ for people to express what they feel and trust they’ll be listened to.

When you’ve these founding elements, you can then have formal and informal dialogues to identify what needs to be done to create the ideal workplace culture. For example, businesses must support their line managers in encouraging their people to speak up about how the employee experience can be improved. They shouldn’t feel afraid of highlighting problems or seen as rocking the boat when they want to have a great working experience as much as anyone else!

Anne Marie added that it’s also about listening, but not just in typical monologue town hall meetings which might not generate engagement and feedback. HR teams need to persuade their leaders to ask open questions to groups. Ultimately, it’s not really all about what the boss thinks when it comes to the culture of a workplace. And, most importantly, remember that if you don’t act on the dialogue you receive, you’ll ultimately damage trust and faith.

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Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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