Early thoughts from Day One at #cipd13

While time allows, I wanted to write some early thoughts and reflections from the morning at CIPD’s annual conference in Manchester. The first for me is about the keynote by Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee. Apparently, they’ve written a book or two. In talking with Martin Couzins, he ruminated on how the focus was on the big corporates and organisations – and nothing from the SME (small and medium enterprises) population. If the UK is largely kept alive because of these SME’s, we need to be more mindful about the case study’s we expound and who they’re meant to represent.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion in HR. Yet at these conferences we typically hear from white middle aged men (and some women) in senior positions. Because, you know, BME executives and senior managers just don’t exist, or have anything of value to share. Am I being harsh? Not at all. It’s a fact of conferences. Whic in turn is a fact of corporates and organisations. Diversity and inclusion is a core part of HR and organisational practice? Not from what I’ve seen so far, or from what I’ve been reading on the backchannel.

Additionally, then, there’s no diversity of thinking from Rob and Gareth. They’ve just created their own version of an employee engagement methdology, written a book about it, and are talking about it. Because organisations can’t think for themselves. This pisses me off. Organisations get so myopic in their operational activity that they seem to forget they have the capability to make a difference without needing the likes of Goffee and Jones telling them how the big corporates do it.

I also take issue with the data source Rob and Gareth had access to. By his own confession, Rob Goffee said they naturally end up talking with executives in organisations. And then later he talked about the need for ‘difference, radical honesty, and authenticity‘. Yet they didn’t talk with other members of the organisations they’ve investigated. What about junior workers? Middle managers? Subject matter experts? Adminstrators? Do they not also have stories to share? This natural inclination towards the senior leaders is understandable, but goes against current thinking about open and transparent organisations.

I’m not knocking the keynote itself, it was very good. They presented a lot of useful information which will probably get the grey cells working for a lot of people in the room. What was lacking though was deeper content about creating best places to work.

The next session held a lot of promise in the title – Creating Meaningful Work through Big Data. This was delivered by Andy Campbell, HCM Strategy Director, from Oracle. Now, being Oracle I was expecting some impressive stuff about how Oracle is used to help create meaningful work. Instead what we got was quite lacklustre stuff about how big data is being used in other parts of the workforce. In truth, you could get just as much from a post I wrote before about this.

We were shown a demonstration of how they incorporate all sorts of data about a staff member into one system so a manager can see everything about someone from one place as opposed to different systems. That makes sense to me, and is not necessarily about big data as opposed to aggregation of a lot of data into one place. And there was one example of the smart use of data which I loved. In professional rugby, each player wears a GPS chip in their shirt which sends immediate data about their performance on the pitch. Using information such as the player’s performance, the team performance, previous performance, and other factors like the effect of weather on play, the time of year, all help the coached and managers make informed decisions about what to do next. That’s clever use of big data.

When we think about big data and HR, what we need to think about is how can we, in HR/L&OD, take big data and inform people practice? I just don’t think it’s happening, and I’m dubious about if it’s possible. Capturing social sentiment, turnover rates, and recruitment stats are all useful data points. What we’re not doing is finding a way to bring that together in a meaningful way which helps us to make actual informed decisions. Oracle should hold the promise for it, from what I saw and heard, they’ve not got it right yet either.

I’m hopeful that we can use big data to inform people practice, we just need to get past the hype and rudimentary systems we think are helping us make it happen, and wait for a bright spark to truly make things happen because of big data.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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