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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD


Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) believes we are at an inflection point in HR and that the opportunities for the profession to make an impact on the business has never been greater. With the CIPD’s centenary year in full swing, HRZone recently caught up with Cheese, to find out his plans for the institute and the changes in the workplace that are causing the profession to up its game.

Q At the CIPD conference in November, you said that HR needs to redefine itself in the face of the “new normal” – the post-recession world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. What exactly does HR need to do?
A The first thing is understanding that we are in the midst of great change and understanding that it’s not going away. Whether you look at it from the point of view of the economy or workforce, we have to adapt and work within the new context. The ‘new normal’ effectively means we have to look at how to engage people and build more diversity.

Q Has the message about the importance of engagement been accepted and understood?
A I think to some degree it has. You can’t simply rely on people being at an organisation for years any more. Since things like the banking crisis, people do take seriously ethics and culture and the purpose of the work they do. These concerns have always been there, but they are now in sharper focus. So, you need to build trust and build corporate culture, because they are critical elements for engagement.

There’s a lot of talk about Generation Y coming into the workforce and analysis of how they think about work, the importance they put on purpose and the lens through which they look at business. Business leaders have to pay attention – this is a much more central concern when talking to younger generations.

Q What do you think the future workplace will look like and how do organisations need to change?
A We’re putting together a framework talking about the future of work, the future of the workforce and the future of the workplace and understanding how HR needs to respond. For example, more flexible ways of working are here to stay and borne out of a more diverse workforce.

Technology is enabling us to work in very different ways and the younger generation don’t make the same distinction between work and home. We are going to see a diverse workplace and different ways of working and need to understand that from the HR perspective and work hard to make line managers understand. HR people need to build models and practices to take advantage of it and we must do a better job of training business leaders and managers. For example, given the choice between having someone turn up at 9am on Monday and leave on Friday at 5pm and someone flexible working or on a job share – you know which managers would prefer. This stuff is harder to do, but is part of the changing nature of the workforce.

Q You’ve talked in the past about the need for HR to partner finance and marketing. Why is this important and how far along the road is HR in terms of becoming a strategic business partner?
A When we talk about HR talking the language of business and being a partner, what we really mean is the language of finance, but HR also has a shared agenda with finance. Finance understands what drives value – and the biggest driver of value is people. They have a shared agenda in terms of providing insight into value and to understand the cost benefits. It involves being more analytical and the best thing to do is partner with someone that has the competence and shared interest.

Marketing spends much of its time trying to understand the demographics and understand the motivational drivers of customers and being able to attract more diverse people. They understand the behavioural drivers that create loyal customers. HR needs to understand the drivers of employees or potential employees.

You could just say HR needs to be more analytical and aware. Yes, that’s true, but the best way to do that is to partner.

Q How widely are analytics used by HR professionals?
A We’ve still got some way to go, but there’s a definite improvement. In times when so much is changing and the people agenda is so much at the forefront of business thinking: culture, leadership, talent and skills have no doubt brought into major relief a strong collective interest in analytics and pressure on HR to build more analytics about what is happening.

Analytics input is fundamental. We are on a learning curve and if this stuff were easy to do we would have already done it. But the time is right and we have to make progress and set more common frameworks, which we can use to ask and answer questions of other business leaders and to drive a focus on people management and engagement. Always start with the basics: what’s your headcount, attrition rates, engagement trends. Then build from there into more sophisticated things: how much do you invest in people, the effect of behavioural dynamics and culture.

Q Talent management has long been a key interest of yours. How mature is the use of talent management in companies now?
A We’re now taking a broader view of talent management. In the early days, talent management was about identifying the high potential, in quotes – ‘talent’. Most organisations recognise that talent is everywhere across the organisation and we need to understand the kinds of skills that make our businesses successful.

Another point with talent management is to try to think what is the talent proposition that you need to create. It needs to be more diverse; people have different aspirations and career trajectories, so you can’t take a monolithic approach to talent management and must tailor rewards and benefits. It has to be tailored in different ways – how to recognise and reward people who are working flexibly and the performance of people working part time. HR must be smart in how they understand the talent proposition, but it’s got to do it in mindful ways and keep processes easy for managers and individual employees. You have to make sure you make it simple to understand.

Q What are your plans for the future of the CIPD?
A This is a great institution and next year is the 100th anniversary, so there will be a lot of events to recognise that. HR is at an inflection point and the CIPD needs to recognise and lead in that.

I’ve taken a strategic review of the business and come up with a framework. First, we need to understand the changes in the workforce and workplace and how they impact HR practices and thinking. So, the first part of the strategy is getting that clear and having stronger strategic partnerships and collaboration with thought leadership individuals and organisations – magnifying our collective strengths against the research and policy framework.

Then we want to get more flexible on certification and recognition and creating a more segmented view of the world – to the learning and development community, for example. We are very focused on HR, and as I talk to the learning and development community, they have been rather lost on the journey, so we need to re-embrace and re-energise that group. We have to think what 21st century membership will look like: it’s more segmented, and we have a monolithic membership offering and we need to be better targeted and segmented. We need to be relevant not just to senior HR people, but different people with different interests.

We also need to better articulate the different ways HR professionals can develop their careers and articulate what HR is as a career. The understanding of HR at the school level is pretty minimal, so it’s important to find new ways to attract more people into the profession as a career of choice.

Finally, we need to better engage and support SMEs and independent consultants via the CIPD branch network. We’re good on the big HR agenda, but two thirds of companies are SMEs and we need to be more relevant to them and the consultants who are often the biggest leaders of change. So learning and development, SMEs and better engagement with top HR professional consultants is key to creating a more broad-based agenda.

It is a very exciting time – there has never been a more interesting or more important time to be in HR.. it’s now time for HR to stand up and be counted.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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