Goodbye HR, Hello People
A summary of this year’s HR Grapevine conference on the future of the people function
Last month, HR Grapevine’s 21st annual HR conference yet again showed why it is one of the most important dates in the HR calendar. Titled ‘Goodbye HR, Hello People’, the day platformed the ways in which the HR function is evolving to become even more peoplecentric and business focused as the parameters it works within change – and change quickly at that.
Opening comments by Conference Chair Daniel Cave, Managing Editor, Executive Grapevine, paid testament to the constantly iterating landscape that HR must now work on – noting how this has come to affect employee’s expectations of work. “There has been a lot of recent noise around the productivity benefits of a four-day working week, a deeper look at what employee wellbeing actually means, as well as genuine, systemic attempts to tackle workplace inequality – whether that means democratising access to the career ladder or allowing different voices to be heard,” he said.
“These examples, alongside innumerable others, form part of the larger challenge that HR departments are now having to adapt to, and in some cases lead, which is: evolution and transformation.”
With four sessions – How to build a culture for today that can adapt for tomorrow hosted by Helen Rosethorn, Partner, Prophet; How can HR put people first in the machine age hosted by Richard Doherty, Senior Director Product Marketing EMEA, Workday; How can HR lead during change and transformation? Hosted by JC Townend, Chief Executive UK & Ireland, Lee Hecht Harrison; How to build a future-proof talent pipeline? hosted by Bev White, Chief Executive Officer, GI Group – the day was given over to discussions of how HR can best prepare for the future in these areas.
Indeed, with the title taken from an elucidatory 2018 blogpost from Paul Burrin, SVP, SagePeople – which communicated how HR departments should be thinking creatively to empower and encourage any organisation’s greatest asset: it’s people – much of the day’s 16 presentations focused on the ways in which HR departments at different firms are transforming themselves for the benefit of employees.
Angela Williams, Chief People Officer, British Airways, speaking in session one, explained to the 400+ attendees how she had essentially built her HR department from scratch – ensuring that the famous airline’s people were put back at the centre of the firm’s business plans. Previously she had told HR Grapevine “[I was taken on] to drive engagement with BA as an employer, where everyone feels proud to act as an advocate of the brand for our customers, colleagues and shareholders.”
In session two, Jo Davis, Group HR Director at Mitie stunned the crowds with a video showcasing the facility management's futuristic workplace at The Shard – an office space designed with better employee engagement in mind. Whilst Jason Fowler, speaking in session three, explained that as business transforms it is tech that is paving the way for revolution. Additionally, Siobhan Thomas, Global Talent Acquisition Director, told us not to start worrying for our jobs - even as more of our colleagues become robots.
In the final session, Syreeta Brown, Managing Director, Head of Global Recruitment Strategy & Programmes, Citi explained how recruitment is already changing, explaining that “candidates are now becoming more the headhunter than the [recruiters] are.” She noted how Citi think of themselves as the candidate, who has to impress the actual candidates, when it comes to creating a pipeline fit the future. In this session, Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent, MediaCom caused audible gasps when she explained how the firm had ditched CVs when recruiting for entry-level positions.
Most importantly, it appears that those who attended on the day got a lot from it. One delegate got in touch to tell us, "Brilliant. The whole day was engaging; each speaker brought a wealth of ideas and experience.” Another person who attended, a Director of Talent, got in touch to say the day was “Excellent [with] some great speakers, great presentations [at a] great venue.”