#CIPD12 It’s about leadership

David Weir's gold medal

Here’s a quick summary of the sessions I learned most from at the CIPD conference.

1. The golden finish

We got to hear from David Weir (the David Weir), Jean Tomlin, (HRD for London 2012), and Andy Hunt (CEO of the British Olympic Assoc). It brought back all those fabulous memories of the summer, and on a totally self centred note, I was totally chuffed to bits to get to hold one of David Weir’s gold medals. How awesome is that?!

Jean said that the big thing she learnt from the Olympic experience was:

“if you give people in the UK the chance to do something great, then they will step up and do that. And I think it is the same inside organisations. I think that leaders of organisations need to do that to – to really lead and to create the conditions for people to bring their personalities to work and really flourish and do something great.  I know we often say those phrases, but I really believe it and I have seen it happen”.

2. Gary Hamel and Andy Rubin

On day one I really loved Gary Hamel’s keynote and later on Andy Rubin’s description of values based leadership at Pentland Brands – both of which I wrote about already

3. Clive Hutchinson, CEO of Cougar Automation.

Clive deploys Robert Greenleaf’s servant based leadership principles in a big way.

“Maybe I went a bit mad.  But I want everyone who is in a leadership position to serve their teams. Leaders need to serve the people. The people are the ones doing the work. They are the ones delivering for the customer“.

I’ve highlighted the word customer because, believe it or not, not that many speakers mentioned the word.  Clive does a whole ton of interesting stuff like letting people elect the business unit leaders, allowing people to walk away from a team, and he doesn’t have any HR people at all.

“Why do I need HR if my managers are truly serving the people who work for them?”

What was also interesting about this session was that all 3 speakers had really interesting things to say, and Clive’s approach in particular knocked my socks off. But because the session was labelled ‘SMEs…’, only people with an interest in SMEs went to it.  In my opinion Clive should have been on the big stage for all of us to hear from.

3. Darren Hockaday, HRD at London Overground Rail Operations.

I loved Darren’s honest, common sense approach and focus on the leadership team getting out and listening to employees. To the extent that the exec team hold meetings on train platforms. And the stats on the improvement in employee and customer satisfaction were really impressive.

4. Stuart Crabb, Head of L&D at Facebook.

I typed a ton of notes during this session and I will try to write a separate post about it next week.  The main gist of Stuart’s talk was that as HR/L&D people (in fact, as managers) we must question our own assumptions and upbringing in terms of how we build our companies.  Generations of the future will not appreciate working for a company that is built in the image of a Baby Boomer CEO, with a ton of hierarchy and status symbols like big offices.  Also Stuart highlighted the need for us to make our companies be places where people can bring their authentic selves to work. This chimed with Gary Hamel’s plea for us to stop creating companies which are completely dispriting for people to work in. Stuart said, movingly,

“We tell employees ‘Don’t be your LinkedIn self from 9-5 and your Facebook self from 5pm; just be yourself’.  As a gay man I am proud of being who I am at work.  I can say that”.

What this all meant for me

The reason why these speakers stood out to me is because I felt that they all demonstrated the need for leadership (whether it be HR or CEO or whoever doing the leading, including bottom up leadership).

  • Leadership in terms of needing to have the clarity of thought to work out how to best construct their companies to enable those doing the work to do amazing work that wows their customers.
  • Leadership in terms of having the courage to make that happen, and not to follow the herd and not to be a slave to the way things have always been done, or to be a slave to the ridiculous complex processes of the big consulting firms.
  • Leadership, in terms of having the humanity to understand that it is people, with all our messy emotions, who will achieve great things together, if given half a chance.

10 thoughts on “#CIPD12 It’s about leadership

  1. Flora, thank you for all your informative tweets and concise but reflective blogs. I have really enjoyed them – they have been perfectly formed. When I was able, I got involved in the discussions, and occasionally a disagreement or two. I love the transparency immediacy and brevity of twitter, and I’m grateful that when I jumped into a discussion people immediately included me, although I would then disappear!

    Actually – although i was due to come but couldn’t because I got drawn into other priorities, I really felt like I got the benefits of going. Sitting and hearing speakers isn’t really my thing to be honest, one every now and then is enough I suppose, but hearing/reading reactions, discussions and take outs – that most definitely is.

    What this blog says to me is that leadership is as much about who you are as what you do. I think that the leaders you are describing are people who know who they are, who accept their vulnerabilities and who have strong personal value systems and ethics.

    “May be I went a bit mad….”
    “I am proud of being myself at work”
    Darren has an honest common sense approach…

    If you’re worried about your image, your status, if you’re locked in to self defeating behaviour patterns, if you don’t want to explore your frailty and then get all the stronger from knowing how frail you are, well, you aren’t going to be dragging the exec on the front line to see the passengers, you’d never go a bit mad and try something really exciting (you’d see it as a risk, not an adventure), and if you don’t love yourself (me hippy Flora) then how can you expect to be able to serve others willingly.

    These characteristics I’m sure are also perfectly married with clear thinking, decisive decision making and willingness to make tough decisions. I have no doubt that whilst these people don’t view money as their only reward they are excited by profitable cost effective businesses.

    I think we’re seeing the gradual dismantling of the old boy network that protected self interests at all costs, and I think social media is accelerating this. Some fundamental values are beginning to shift and as they shift we’ll see more leaders like this.

  2. Love the positivity in this post – love the concept of servant leadership, having worked under a servant leader (can you work ‘under’ a servant-leader? maybe that should be worked for a servant-leader). It was the best time of my working life in the corporate world, I felt that I could follow my instincts and do the right thing for my internal customers, and they would then be able to do the right thing for our external customers.
    Interesting that ‘customers’ weren’t mentioned much at CIPD12 – surely that’s what we all exist for, to serve customers?

    • Hi Graham, I think you are spot on with this: ‘I felt that I could follow my instincts and do the right thing for my internal customers, and they would then be able to do the right thing for our external customers’. I referenced customers, both internal and external often – and you are right, we still don’t hear enough about them at events like these, let’s keep it going.

      • Graham, Doug, Megan, thank you do much for taking the time to comment. I totally agree that it’s important to be comfortable with who you are. And that there’s loads of great food for thought in the Servant Leadership model – it was so nice to hear of it actually being used in a meaningful way.
        Customers – yup, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it.

  3. Pingback: Two decades in HR – has anything really changed? | Flip Chart Fairy Tales

  4. Hi Flora,

    A truly inspirational post.

    Customers? I think we need to think about and reference our activity to them more often. Your points were excellent.

    Authenticity? I still think we have a long way to go to get people to just be themselves. We don’t encourage it (I don’t think) as we are too busy creating competency frameworks and other ‘ridiculously complex processes’ to control behaviour.

    Servant leadership? Well we have a way to go to get here on a widespread scale. All little steps are useful though!

    Thanks again for a truly great post! Oh, it was great to actually meet you too!!

  5. A really interesting and thought provoking post. I am not in HR, but am a manager who simply finds all these topics relevant.

    Perhaps there is a case for a new HR:

    It’s well understood how work is changing, but we do rather focus on the toys rather than the more interesting humanity. The need for leadership through this change is great. The people we call HR help us do this, but at their best, they are coaches and advisers, their location in HR a convenience. 

    What to call the new HR as it sheers off?  Something like the “fuel in the tank” but more human, more open and obviously less clunky ;) This new HR is a conscience, an adviser, a coach and a manifestation of the culture we want to encourage.

    In a perfect world, I agree that you wouldn’t need even this new HR.  That is a bit dewy eyed for all but a few orgs that were built that way though. I also suspect it is nonsense for an organisation of any scale. We all need a conscience. This new HR is the antidote for entropy, laziness and complacency. It is the cost of human weakness and is therefore a job for all eternity.  

    Being emotional is the new grown up:

    A little emotion is important at work.  Coaching managers, used to hierarchy, to be a little more emotional will take a lot of the new HR’s fuel. For years I thought that having controlled my emotions was what made me grown up, ok, not for that many years. It has occurred to me recently that being able to harness my emotions is another stage of development. When I first experimented, they were either on or off. Since “on” meant “fire hose”, the results were, um, entertaining. They say if you put a rookie in an F1 car they either spin or stall straight away.  That about sums up my early attempts.

    The rate of organisational, behavioural, demographic and regulatory change is greater than ever. Organisational coherence needs to be balanced by agility which tends to mean some necessary ambiguity. Even smaller, hollowed out orgs, when you include their suppliers and customers, are scattered all over the world and have to deal with complexity and interdependence that organisation, process and contracts can only cover in a comically limited way.

    All that complexity and fluidity means we have to connect with people, bond if you like, so I can call, mail or tweet someone in Santiago who doesn’t work for me, but for the relationship we have to be so strong so that my request for help gets attention from my personal connection, rather the dry hierarchy, a process or a contract. 

    Some emotion, some self, is what creates those strong and lasting personal connections. It’s why the words and behaviour are important.

    Emotional connections have a long half life. Your memory of my strategy presentation has a short half life. Worse, you associate me with my role and the org structure; our relationship is weakened as soon as either changes. 

    The hierarchy is not dead, its just not fit for all the purposes we use it for; thats messy:

    The awfully written No Straight Lines and a brilliant McKinsey book, The Performance Culture Imperative, A Hard Nosed Approach To The Soft Stuff,  helped me understand how we should apply hierarchy. It is still good for accountability, but no longer fit for purpose for communication and collaboration. The matrix was a laughable sticking plaster. Getting people at all levels to behave differently but productively is a huge challenge and VERY interesting.

    If there is one great challenge for the new HR, it’s getting all this out of the conference room and into everyday management.

    • I remember an inspiring manager that I had in the 1990’s – he said that H.R. and training (as L&D was referred to then) were like the oil in the engine. Anyone who tries to run without oil in the engine will get in a pickle before too long!

      • Phil, Anthony, Graham – wow I love it when the comments are so much more excellent and thought provoking than the post. Blogging is ace isn’t it.
        I an struggling to add anything more intelligent things other than thank you and that I really want to read that mcK book.

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