The CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition is over for another year.  Last Wednesday and Thursday, HR folk came from far and wide to immerse themselves in conference sesssions and events related to this year’s theme: Embracing the New World of Work. 


1.   Accept (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.

2.   Hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection.

The first definition of “embrace” is, of course the interpretation intended to be applied to this year’s theme.  The world of work is changing, and although this of itself is nothing new, the pace and urgency we are seeing make it increasingly risky to just stick with existing work practices if new methods and technologies have not at least been explored and evaluated.

Everywhere you went at Manchester Central (in both the conference and the exhibition), there was technology.  The incredible advances that are being made in the HR space were shared by speakers in the conference sessions, and exhibitors out on the floor.

The fact that the conference was a sell-out would indicate that many in the profession are keen to understand the opportunities and indeed threats of the changing work environment, and to take away learning to enable them to adapt and their organisations to evolve.

But I felt that there was a relevance to the second meaning of the word “embrace” as I went about my BlogSquad duties. This embrace is the act of holding someone, one single person, as a sign of affection.  In every conference session I attended, there was talk of how employers must find more effective ways to respond to and engage with each individual in our modern workplaces if they are to keep good people in their businesses and get the best from them while they are there.

Catherine Allen of Ella’s Kitchen (Wednesday, Session B2) emphasised the importance of responding to the feedback gathered from employee surveys, so that staff can trust that their responses are valued and acted upon.  The survey was just one of several feedback channels that the company uses to ensure that every member of staff has a voice within the business.


Cisco is a company that has made huge leaps in its people analytics capability in just 4 years (Thursday, Session E2).  Ian Bailie explained that they have gone from merely “counting stuff”, to adding new sources of data (pulse surveys and other feedback channels), linking with other internal data (such as performance reviews) and then pulling in external data (from Glassdoor and LinkedIn) to enrich their analytics.  But their latest project, that’s the embrace.  Cisco is rolling out a skills profiling platform so that it can actively identify and offer stretch assignments and new internal roles to its people, long before they begin to get itchy feet in their current positions.  The company aims to offer a bespoke career experience based on individual skills and capabilities.


Sharron Pamplin and Matthew Patterson of Atkins gave an overview of the Total Reward approach at the firm (Thursday, Session F2).  70% of employees are more likely to stay with an employer that offers good benefits (according to the presentation), and the opportunity to alter the offering depending on an employee’s personal circumstances is a key aspect of an effective benefits scheme.  For Atkins, the introduction of online Total Reward Statements was a game changer.  Every employee has their own personal portal, and 94% of staff have accessed their account.  In order to hold their staff a little closer in that embrace, they’re now introducing customisable avatars to the platform (look closely, bottom right – you can be a superhero!).


Every single person who attended the conference and exhibition was unique.  Every one of them different, physically, psychologically, socially.  Just like the people who work for their organisations.  Each person needing something slightly different from their work experience to give of their best and to manage their lives in the context of work and vice versa.  Technology is cool stuff, but unless it is used to enable the human embrace in our workplaces, it will be a waste of time and money.  Personalisation of the employee experience is, in my view, fundamental to harnessing the very best of what technology has to offer.

Until next year…..

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