ACE summary – Emily Allen


Emily Allen headshot

CIPD ACE 2022 was brilliant. As usual it gave me a wonderful opportunity to step back from the day job and think about the bigger picture. 

In my current role as Head of CIPD Qualifications at MOL, I'm responsible for developing and improving our CIPD courses. I need to stay up-to-date to make sure we’re delivering the best content to our learners and supporting the HR professionals of tomorrow. 

I’ve just come back from a year on maternity leave and, as so much has happened this past year, I felt more than ever, that I really needed a CPD boost, to find out what’s going on in the world of the People Profession. ACE is excellent for this. 

A current theme, which many speakers made no attempt to hide (especially Sue Perkins), was their anger at the current political situation.  They spoke of how such drastic mismanagement of the country and the short-term leadership issue have led us to a financial situation where we’ll be facing difficult challenges for the next 2 years. 

So it was natural that most sessions were looking at what we, as HR professionals, can do to give something back and support our community and environment, during the tough times ahead.

The sessions

The sessions I went to covered many of the issues of the moment, such as the political landscape, hybrid working and flexibility, Diversity and Inclusion, and Environmental Social Governance.

The conference opened with Robert Peston (who I think is brilliant and follow on Twitter) speaking about the current political and economic landscape. He predicts a “shallow recession” over the next 2 years. We’ll all feel poorer as prices rise. As a keen observer of politics and someone who knows a lot of details, it was interesting to hear his take on the recent political chaos and how it could continue until an election in 2 years’ time. In the meantime, Peston thinks our politicians are not thinking strategically about the biggest risks, such as climate change, facing us in the coming decades.

In a session on hybrid working and flexibility it was said with regards to hybrid working; “the toothpaste is out of the tube”. We can’t go back to a time before working from home became the new normal. So now we, as HR professionals, need to work out how we manage this. We reacted to a situation during Covid and we now live in a world with different expectations around hybrid working and work life balance. Employees have seen the benefits of working from home, but there are big losses too; especially around human capital and transfer of knowledge to those early in their careers. The discussions go on with no solution, and it’s possible we will pilot many schemes before we find one to suit our organisation and employees. But, we’re the ones to lead on this, and we can add some real value to our organisations by thinking strategically about it.

In another session, Minter Dial (Author of “You Lead”) discussed ESG (Environmental Social Governance). This subject really hit home for me. In this talk Minter discussed how your company needs to partner with a charity that has links with your organisation (either values or practically), for example Weetabix with FareShare. You can’t support all the charities. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy needs to be aligned with the organisational strategy or it may just be a fad led by enthusiastic people – it will be the first thing to go when times get hard or when the people who led on the project leave the company.

It was also discussed how leaders must be authentic in their personal as well as professional lives. For example, a leader can’t talk about a commitment to CO2 reduction and then come to work in a brand-new low-MPG 4 x 4. People expect more these days and living the values is important at the top.

A session on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) gave me far more practical ideas of how to handle D&I than any session I have ever been to before. For example, if your organisation is saying race equality is important – show it. Put on workshops and invest in training. When you create a policy, do an “equality impact assessment” – think “how will this policy affect different groups of people and what are the mitigations?” Hold focus groups to find out what people would like to see when applying to your organisation. When advertising, demonstrate you’re committed to diversity in the role specifications.

The face-to-face experience

This was a quieter event than in the past – partly due to the proposed rail strikes on the Wednesday (which, in the end, didn’t happen but would have factored into a lot of people’s planning). This is a shame and a reflection on the chaotic times we live in, which is precisely the reason we need to get together as a people profession and ensure we’re driving change in the world of work for the better. Work should be good for us.

But, while we all had access to the conference sessions online, it was also heartening to see how many people came to see the sessions face-to-face and get value out of being present and connecting with people. This all feeds in to how we in HR develop our flexible/ hybrid working strategy to work best for attraction and recruitment, retention and engagement.

Conclusion

It could easily have felt like quite a negative conference experience. After all, we’ve all been impacted by Covid and we’ll all been impacted by the pending recession. We’re dealing with an extraordinary mis-trust of politicians and the leadership of the country. We’re worried about having to go through rounds of redundancies in a similar way to the previous financial crisis, or even being made redundant ourselves. 

But, as Peston said, no matter what happens, recessions and bad times always end and there is always an upturn. 

It’s the organisations, and people who invest now, who are in a good position when times get better. We know from previous recessions that organisations investing in their staff and infrastructure when times are hard, are the ones who make it out the other side.

So now, more than ever, is a time to really think about what it means to be a people professional. We need a voice and we should have an opinion. We are the people experts, and we’re not just there to realise everyone else’s goals. Ulrich called this “HR with attitude”.

And there are other positives too. The old adage “never waste a good crisis” was mentioned several times. It’s when times are hard that we become creative. Businesses will go bust, and new ones will be generated. 

So take a step back and think about what change you really want to make and how you can really support your employees, the community and the planet. I don’t think we can predict what will be happening at ACE 2023, but I’m looking forward to finding out how the people profession is making progress.

Emily