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Editor’s Comment: Reflections on the CIPD annual conference 2004


Annie Ward

By Annie Hayes, HRZone Editor

The key messages at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conference this year are clear; it is time for HR to pick up the baton of innovation by championing employee engagement and change management to ensure that every business is fit for success.

The opening keynote was delivered by strategy guru Gary Hamel, visiting professor of strategic and international management at the London Business School. He urged HR to take a lead role in “reducing the amount of time organisations spend on denial.”

He said the way forward was not best-practice but ‘strategic resilience’, companies he said had to continually reinvent themselves with the use of innovation.

A belief shared by speaker and author Kjell Nordstrồm. He told delegates in his thought provoking seminar: ‘Karaoke Capitalism’ that to succeed, as individuals and in business, we need to dare to be different.

Nordstrồm’s book has been hailed by critic Tom Peters as the ‘hitch-hikers’ guide to the galaxy of business. The title derives from the meaning of karaoke – kara means ‘empty’ while ‘oke’ means orchestra and it is when we examine this further that we get to the essence of what the book is trying to convey.

Anyone who has frequented a karaoke bar will be aware that the idea is to imitate pop singers, literally ‘copy’ them and this said Nordstrồm is what business must get away from. Like Hamel, Nordstrồm said innovation and individualism are the only way that businesses can succeed if they are going to get ahead. The challenge is to champion originality and not copy others.

Successful companies he said create a ‘temporary monopoly’ a moment in time when a business is perceived to be unique. Brand-names including Ikea, Microsoft, Madonna and Ipod have achieved this.

Behind these successes is not technology but people and innovation. Something which Hamel is keen to see:

“You need 1,000 wacky ideas to produce 100 that are worth experimenting with, 10 that are worth investing in, and one that will transform your business.”

HRZone member Martin Schmalenbach commented that innovation and change are all about leadership:

“I think that taking Hamel’s notion further it’s really about leadership. Kouzes & Posner’s research-based model for looking at leadership may be a good place to start:

  • Model the way – effectively giving permission for people to innovate and act

  • Inspire a shared vision – and some direction

  • Challenge the process – the innovation bit!

  • Enable others to act – two heads are better than one apparently

  • Encourage the heart – more about giving people permission and confidence to innovate, act and so change things.”

Something that BBC Director of People Stephen Dando knows all about. He told delegates that former Director-General, Greg-Dyke had become ‘god-like’ and that this had been the danger. Seeing an organisation as historic and long-standing as the BBC crumble in the wake of his departure following the Hutton enquiry with protests, marches and public-grief almost brought the corporation to its knees.

It seems, therefore, that the key to success is somewhere to be found between these notions. Yes, innovate and champion change but let leadership come from all facets, power in one person can be dangerous and destructive innovation can come from the bottom upwards as well as the top down.

While these ideas were being much-touted at the conference it was interesting that at the grass-roots level many delegates while feeling inspired just ‘weren’t getting it’ – one said to me:

“It’s all very well them telling us about change, we’ve heard it all before but they don’t actually explain what tools we need to do it.”

Application it would appear is still the barrier to change. Interesting insights were delivered by a number of speakers who told us that to deliver a ‘change agenda for business improvement’ it is crucial to engage employees.

A study unveiled at the conference showed that successful companies have strong values which express beliefs and norms about what is important and what are appropriate, valued behaviours.

Strong shared culture companies they said tend to have better performance seen in levels of organisational commitment, quit rates, customer satisfaction and appropriate financial measures.

The CIPD sponsored research conducted between 2000 and 2003 examined the impact of people management on organisational performance. Twelve businesses were assessed some were ‘excellent’ five listed in the Sunday Times top 100 companies to work for while the others weren’t so good.

Out of these twelve, six were listed as having the ‘Big Idea’ something the researches could pinpoint as ‘the something extra’.

The winners were:

  • Jaguar for its ‘quality’

  • Selfridges for being ‘friendly, aspirational, bold and accessible’

  • Tesco for its ‘performance’

  • AIT (a small software company) because it was a ‘fun’ place to work and made money

  • OMT for its excellence

  • Nationwide for its ‘mutuality’

John Purcell, Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of Bath and Director of the Work and Employment Research Centre said:

“These six companies have a human resource advantage which is made up of two things: Human capital advantage and organisational process. The real source of success is a culmination of having good people and good practices.”

A mixture of resilience and drive to empower individual thinking seems to be the recipe for success. Something that Joe Simpson, mountaineer and survivor has in abundance.

Simpson’s presentation, ‘Touching the Void’ recounted the details of his survival from an horrific expedition mountain accident in the Peruvian Andes.

He expressed to delegates how in our every day lives as well as extraordinary situations we deal with these commonly-touted HR issues, planning, strategy, teamwork, goal setting, leadership, responsibility, motivation and our ability to reach beyond what we thought was possible.

“Never stop making decisions” he said, in Simpson’s case a failure to do this would have resulted in his death.

Innovation is not something just for management speak and out of the reach of ordinary workers but something we can encounter daily and working in an organisation that nurtures this is the key to unlocking the successful businesses of the future.

HR it would seems has the tools to drive employee engagement, foster individualism and champion change, the challenge as Hamel said is an historic opportunity to create organisations: “In which people can bring their full humanity to work every day.”

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Annie Hayes


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