The third day of the conference was one which asked more questions than delivered answers.

On the last day of the annual conference, there was a certain amount of questioning of the HR function, and what the future is: Sharon Doherty, Group HR and Organisational Effectiveness Director for Laing O’Rouke, in her ‘Beyond business partnering’ speech, asked the audience how many of their CEOs felt HR is truly aligned with the business. The response was perhaps a little shy – in itself a sign that HR is still not confident with this strategic role which is deemed essential to the business and the future of HR.

The continual self-reflecting and questioning sounds useful- questioning the status quo is usually a good thing – but for HR it has become damaging. The continual soul searching only serves to feed the whiny image which is not helping HR recruit the best and brightest – particularly from the graduates and MBAs the industry badly needs.

Sharon pointed out that you would never find a finance department questioning itself to this extent. Why should HR feel at pains to continually justify itself? It’s a good question.

Sharon then gave the assembled HR practicioners a choice. Three options for the future of HR:
1/ HR gets muscled out – presumably back into the admin role it has fought so hard to lose
2/ HR remains the same – status quo reigns
3/ We stop trying to justify ourselves, transform the role into an essential lever for growth and potential.

Where do you see HR in ten years time?

Be honest now…

The audience voted overwhemingly for the third option. Inspired by Jim Collins and having all read the Rough Guide to Happiness the night before, there’s no stopping this year’s delegates. The question which remains is how this will happen – what will you do in your organisation to achieve it?

The third keynote was presided over by John Humphrys: his dulcet tones organising, questioning and puzzling the candidates in turn, making a lively discussion.

Christopher Kelly began the panel discussion by stressing the importance of values in leadership. He illustrated this with the MP expenses scandal, citing this as an obvious and very public failure of leadership.

Steve Easterbrook, who pointed out he worked on McDonald’s HR ‘five days a week’ (who could he be referring to, the assembled collectively wondered…) made a good point about values too, and about sticking to your organisational values no matter what. Leadership needs to be sustainable and the senior team must be fully engaged and integrated with all levels of the organisation.

Shaa Wasmund, widely toted as the voice of the under-30’s and the ‘twitter’ generation, she put across some very good points, including the need for ethical leadership (harking back to Jim Collins saying ‘pick leaders who are ambitious, but not for themselves’)instant access to information, the openess giving a need to be honest and ethical. She cited ancient democracy, with her fear than too much power in the hands of too few, is dangerous. Today’s world means we are all leaders – leaders of few, leaders of many, leaders of thought… leaders without title.

John pressed the panel for a definition of what was actually new about the ‘new leadership paradigm’when leadership has always needed to be more honest and ethical.

Steve Easterbrook had to agree – indeed, corrruption and the fear of too much power in the hands of too few was what inspired radical democracy in the first place. However it remains a constant strggle and John’s comment of ‘in the old days’ gave creedance to the fact that things have and are changing, not least in the sphere of social media, which as readers could see, the conference spawned well over a thousand tweets, many including links, blogs, photos, articles and thoughts from people both inside and outside the conference. Information is getting heard: everything is more open to scrutiny.

Shaa added that past leaders were in it for themselves: leaders who lead authentically lead with passion and sincerity.

What does leadership mean to you? Are we entering a new paradigm?

And then: if we know where we want to go, how do we get there?

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