HR faces numerous ethical challenges and choices as technology progresses and ways of working evolve. The CIPD’s Future of Work Conference in London last month combined an exploration of these critical issues with case study discussions from leading organisations including John Lewis, Atkins and Addison Lee.

Perry Timms, People and Transformational HR (PTHR), gave a lightning tour of ways to bring a new, human touch to work. Describing businesses as being ‘on the brink of mass distrust’, Timms urged organisations to focus on customer and employee experiences, to reconnect with their original purpose and why they exist.

‘Trust and a commitment to learning need to be at the heart of the organisational model,’ he said.

Timms challenged the audience to think and work differently, to consider ‘learning partners’ and ‘super-mentors’, for example, as alternatives to traditional management structures.

Building on that theme, Corporate Rebels Founders Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree, spoke about the different approaches to work they have witnessed from visiting the world’s most inspiring organisations. Encouraging businesses to focus more on their people and to transition from ‘ivory tower secrecy to radical transparency’, they appealed for a more human-centred workplace, supported by moving examples of organisations that are making the change.

John Amaechi OBE, Organisational Psychologist and Founder of Amaechi Performance Systems, held the room spellbound in his closing keynote as he spoke about the responsibility we have to choose and back our leaders carefully.

He made a passionate plea for every person in the room, to exercise the choices they have inside and outside of work, to choose what they believe, who they follow and to resist the temptation to retreat behind leaders who offer boldness and lack of compromise.

‘These challenging times call for nuanced thinking and an appreciation of complexity,’ he said, ‘and we need to avoid the trap of attractively packaged easy answers that create a reliance on individuals rather than bringing out the leader in all of us.’

Change often creates fear and people will opportunistically attempt to profit from our primal reaction to events, Amaechi said, adding: ‘the leader who appeals to your lizard brain is not one of great nuance and reason, not a compromiser or a wordsmith and certainly not a person who will seek consensus before they act.’

It was a stimulating end to a day that began with a question from the CIPD's Head of London and Branches Engagement, David D’Souza, about whether people would ever want a hug from a robot, and ended with Amaechi’s challenge to think in the broadest sense about our human responsibilities to each other as a community, and within organisations.

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.