Author Profile Picture

Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

Read more about Jamie Lawrence

Interview: Vanessa Robinson, Head of Research, CIPD


Vanessa Robinson is Head of Research at the CIPD. She is a guest speaker in the 20 Minute Master Class series of online webinars. For more information on the CIPD's research into social media and to ask Vanessa your questions you may register for this complimentary class here:

1. What’s the most surprising result/outcome from your recent research and why?

I continue to be surprised that despite the wealth of academic and practitioner literature on management and leadership, in practice leadership and management capability is still a major concern for organisations. Recent CIPD research (Real life leaders: closing the knowing doing gap) shows that organisations might be unwittingly setting their leaders up for failure by not aligning systems and structures to the behaviours they expect of leaders.  Over the last few years we have undertaken various strands of research into one very important element of leadership: trust. We’ve identified that problems of trust, particularly in senior leaders, have been building up for some time. Our 2011 research (Where has all the trust gone?) did highlight some good examples where businesses and public bodies managed to take employees with them through difficult economic times, however, even trained managers may not get the opportunity to empower staff and create trusting relationships within an organisational structure with over complicated reporting lines and internal policies.  

2. What will define the HR department of 2020?

Building on the previous point, HR functions today and in 2020 have a critical role in ensuring a strategic approach to leadership development and to building sustainable healthy organisational cultures that allow individuals to flourish and that support high levels of performance.

Additionally, our annual HR Outlook survey has identified a number of key insights which HR needs to address if they are to be truly impactful (and indeed relevant) in the future. These include:

  • Building better relationships and being visible
  • Demonstrating their credibility
  • Keeping talent high on the agenda
  • Building the future leadership capability of HR.

3. Where are organisations going wrong when it comes to social media?

CIPD’s recent research on social media identifies that the take up of social media for work purposes remains low. Whilst three quarters of UK employees use social media for personal purposes, just a quarter use social media for work purposes. There is no doubt that social media can bring value (and potentially competitive advantage) to many different aspects of work, including communications, networking and collaboration, recruitment, learning and development and employee voice, so organisations might miss a trick if they don’t see the possible advantages. One particular area which our research suggests  is holding back the advance of social technology is the low level of support for bring-your-own device (BYOD) practices. (Our survey identified that just 24% of respondents worked in organisations where employees could connect their smart phone to the IT system, for example).

4. Can you give us some insight into what innovative companies are doing with regard to data analytics?

Research CIPD recently conducted in conjunction with Oracle identified that the capacity for and engagement with talent analytics and big data are impacted by three main dimensions: silos (both systems and structural), skills and suspicion (including the cultural and professional obstacles to embedding an analytical approach within HR).

Those companies that are being innovative are developing both strategic and tactical solutions. From a strategic perspective, they are thinking of analytics as a continuous improvement strategy, putting people analytics at the heart of business priorities and prioritising analytic capability as a must have capability with the HR function. Tactically, they are identifying these analytical skills, and they are sourcing talent from a wider pool including those with economics, behavioural sciences and psychology backgrounds.  

5. Unconscious bias is surfacing as the pervasive elephant in the room when it comes to many of HR’s core tasks, such as recruitment and promotion. What should companies be doing to help mitigate the problem?

Unconscious bias is one of a number of diversity related issues that organisations need to ensure they address so that they do not become pervasive. As well as providing regular diversity and inclusion training and guidance to employees to ensure that these potential issues are made explicit, HR can also take a lead role in undertaking “audits” and carrying out detailed analytics around some of their core tasks, such as recruitment, selection, reward and promotion to identify underlying data and trends, which should also help to identify whether diversity issues, including unconscious bias, are prevalent.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence