Philippa Lamb: Doesn’t that sound of an orchestra warming up get your heart racing, all that anticipation about what’s to come? That was the wonderful conductor Gernot Schultz with Manchester’s Piccadilly Orchestra at this year’s ACE and we’ll be hearing more from him in a bit. First though what’s on the agenda for you as we barrel headlong into a brand new year? Well here are a few thoughts from a very unscientific straw poll when we asked conference delegates what they reckoned their senior leaders might be thinking about at the start of the New Year.
Think about your board of directors in their board room what is the biggest thing they’re going to be talking about?
FV: What did they do on the New Year’s Eve ((laughs))
PL: Why is that?
FV1: Start of the year instead of having a diet think about CIPD.
MV2: Bringing in more revenue ((laughs))
FV2: Q1 orders for us, Q1 revenue, money and what it’s going to cost them.
FV3: Values and behaviours, so what is it that we’re actually looking for? How do we want people to turn up in the workplace?
FV4: It will be culture, culture, absolutely culture.
FV5: I think the change to data protection laws.
FV6: Retaining staff is a big one for us, making sure that we get good people and that we keep good people.
PL: Some of those may well chime with you too and today we’re going to explore what we think HR is going to be talking about this year. You won't be surprised to hear that AI tops the list or that productivity is on there too and we’ve chosen two others which we’re suggesting will be even more important this year than last and that's agility and leadership.
Now talk about tech ramped up last year as stories about AI and machine learning became regulars in the news. Clare Dillon left Microsoft Ireland’s leadership team a couple of months ago to start her own consultancy. Now she helps organisations make the most of emerging tech so she knows more about all this than most of us. For her it’s the sheer range of technologies that makes right now such a fascinating moment and she thinks the opportunities for HR are really exciting.
Clare Dillon: Most remarkable about where we are right now in terms of the evolution of technology is that it’s not just one area that is evolving very quickly, it’s that there is actually innovation happening in multiple sets of areas: nanotechnology, bioengineering, robotics, AI, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud storage and computing power, you’re looking at wearable devices, you’re looking at sensors. They’re all beginning to advance together.
PL: This isn’t niche anymore.
PL: All the mainstream news programmes are talking about it all the time, largely in the context obviously of job loss
CD: That’s right.
PL: But do you subscribe to the way of thinking that it’s more about bits of jobs than jobs?
CD: I do. What I find more interesting are the services that are actually enhancing our ability to do our job.
PL: Such as?
CD: Tecs.oi which is a service that analyses the job descriptions on a website and tells you whether the language is inclusive or not. So it’s kind of like a spellchecker hyped up to be an inclusivity checker. And they’ve had really good results by helping us be better humans which I think is really interesting as an artificial intelligence agent.
PL: Do you think that most organisations will actually end up using these technologies just to cut the cost of what they already do or do you think they will really grab the opportunity to do what they do better?
CD: So I think they should and certainly there are reports out there to suggest that the folks that actually are going to get the most out of artificial intelligence are not just looking at it from a cost-cutting perspective because people have to become more competitive all the time, they have to look at new opportunities for growth. And the most successful businesses are not just transforming from a digital perspective but they’re transforming their business models. So if you’re only looking at cutting costs you’re by definition going to lose because there's going to be someone coming bigger, faster, better behind you doing something more innovative.
PL: I mean as you say these technologies are getting increasingly good at doing tasks like analysing medical scans or writing news articles – all those sort of things that we wouldn’t have even thought of five years ago. Do you see a time when AI will become genuinely creative?
CD: I've seen some research reports to say they can never replicate the creative process that humans have, however in saying that I have seen computer-generated art. I have heard computer-generated music.
PL: And novels?
CD: And novels. I mean humans often can't tell the difference. If you can't tell the difference between the output then maybe it doesn’t matter how we got there.
PL: I mean these are interesting philosophical questions. I mean what is art becomes a whole broader question now.
PL: Where does the human fit if tech and AI can do all that?
CD: I think about some of the functions that for example HR do and I think about the fact that they’re not able to get to enough people to do them like in certain large organisations perhaps coaches are only available to the top 2% or the top 10%. And I think about the value that would be inserted into the organisation if everyone had access to that. And then I think well actually that's where the real value is it’s not about replacing the folks that are there doing it because some people will still love that face to face interaction but it’s about dramatically increasing the ability to deliver those services.
PL: So it’s scale?
CD: At a scale and then you think about the planning for that and the fact that you’re dealing with so many more people at that much richer level and then they're the kind of considerations that HR will have to start looking at: where are people who do need coaches? What do they need coaching in? That is a whole new set of work. So it’s a different set of tasks, it won't be the same things anymore.
PL: For learning and development professionals this sort of AI will begin to define not just how but what we learn. Here’s corporate learning expert Nigel Paine.
Nigel Paine: Building up profiles of individuals and allowing learning to become personalised essentially.
PL: Okay so what might that mean on the ground?
NP: What it means is that if you've got some kind of online platform as you use it, it knows your role, it knows where you’re struggling a bit, it knows where you’re focusing; it knows where you’re going very fast through stuff or slow through stuff. So it begins to build a profile of you in the background and therefore it starts suggesting rather than you having to search. An entirely personalised learning operation which is different for every single person.
PL: So it’s self-directed but it’s personalised?
NP: Yes it’s personalised and therefore increasing individual productivity, because it’s almost anticipating where you're going to go wrong rather than reacting when you have gone wrong and that will definitely increase productivity by possibly several percentage points in an organisation.
PL: Interesting in these times of low-level productivity and another tech idea has caught Nigel’s eye too.
NP: Imagine Netflix for learning, so a very attractive, easy to use, very accessible platform that keeps flashing stuff in front of you and says, “So here’s a little synopsis I think you’d love this. This is 95% likely to meet your needs. This is something that the organisation is focusing on I think you've got a little gap here!” very colourful, graphics-led, not a boring list of things and every time you click on that platform you’re building up their knowledge about you. So on the one hand you can say it’s scary, on the other hand you can say, “This is going to save huge amounts of time and effort.” And I think that will become learning that is literally part of your work.
PL: And where is the level of excellence with that level of learning at the moment because you talk about the idea of the learning chasing you around, it’s like ads chasing you around the internet isn’t it and we all know how annoying that can be when the algorithm hasn’t quite got it right?
PL: So where are we at with it?
NP: Well we’re pretty close I think. If you look at some of the experience platforms they allow you to plug in so much other resources so that’s information coming from different sources. So they kind of generate themselves almost.
PL: It’s highly refined?
NP: Yeah highly refined.
PL: Because the argument always goes that we exist in an echo chamber if we do that because it only shows us stuff that it kind of knows that we’re interested in and you don't have that diving down a rabbit hole experience which admittedly can be time-wasting or venturing into territory that you might not be expecting to venture into.
NP: You are right and I think there are two responses to that. The first response is that it’s not just you it’s the organisation plus you. So it’s not just learning about you it’s learning what the organisation needs. And the second point is that the output of this has to be more curious, more confident, more competent learners. And once you've got that people move off on their own.
PL: Organisational agility is on everyone’s agenda for this year, not least the police. Currently tackling the many challenges of merging two very different police forces, Devon and Cornwall and Dorset, Graham Smith can talk about all this from experience. He’s director of people and leadership for the combined force and to give you an idea of the scale of the job that's 7,500 people spread across 5,000 square miles. And if you’re picturing people management inside the police force as a bit old school well think again.
Graham Smith: Having come into it 17 years ago now it hasn’t been quite what I was expecting.
PL: In what way?
GS: Policing has very much got a can do attitude and you expect it to be very regimented, very hierarchical, actually some of the most open and left of centre thinkers are some of your senior police officers.
PL: Have we all been led astray by too much TV drama do you think?
GS: Yeah maybe there's an element of that.
PL: And less siloed and more creative than people might think you’re saying?
GS: Very much so. I think people would be stunned by some of the levels of creativity and some of the things that are tried.
PL: Fascinating, I need more examples now you've said that.
GS: I was talking to somebody about the workforce planning process that we use and how we look at demand and how we’ve got to constantly shape around that demand and then deal with the supply side of it and they were shocked from a private sector perspective as to actually just how creative we have been in terms of looking at the process but how lean and how fast it was. So the fact that we are taking in data, we’re capturing huge amounts of information about crime and we’re looking at demands on the organisation and we’re looking at threat, risk and harm and we’re assessing where we can put those resources in the most effective way possible.
PL: And that's now, it’s not in the future, it’s constant, right now!
GS: And that's now and then we’ll go back through that cycle and we’ll go and repeat it with the next set of data because it never stands still. And some of the issues around call handling I think there are areas within the private sector that would just be stunned by the amount of work that is done to ensure that we can get to calls as quickly as possible and to triage that in the most effective way.
PL: From what you’re saying it sounds like there's a lot of public misconception about how the police forces operate across the country and maybe some lessons from the police force for the private sector.
GS: Yeah we do these things called ‘organisational raids’ where we’ll set a team up and we will go into an organisation, so in Dorset companies like John Lewis, J.P. Morgan, and we’ll put a team in and we’ll say, “Right teach us what you do, what’s important for you, how do you make a difference?” and then we’ll grab those lessons and we’ll bring them back into the organisation.
PL: So you take operational lessons from retailers and the rest, from investment banking, and bring it back in and see what you can learn from it?
GS: Yeah. And certainly at the moment there is a huge push in policing around academic rigour, levels of creativity and looking at things differently but putting the academic rigour behind that. So in Devon and Cornwall at the moment we have a programme on wellbeing that we’re linked in with Exeter University, we’ve brought in doctorate students from Exeter to work through the research findings and we’re looking at things like the impact of shift patterns on sleep quality.
PL: And when you've crunched that data and you've got some outcomes from it from what you’re saying you can turn that into practice quite fast?
GS: We can turn it into practice quite fast and because of the level of cooperation between the police forces we’ll share that across the country.
PL: Sounds like agility to me. Paula Leach has one of the most interesting and testing jobs in the UK right now, she’s chief people officer at the Home Office. With Brexit looking Whitehall has already created and filled 3,000 new posts. Brexit Secretary, David Davis, tells us there could be 5,000 more by this time next year. For Paula all this is more a resource challenge than a policy one and of course Brexit is only part of what the Home Office does every day. So whichever way you look at it it’s a big job and right now it’s all about agility and productivity.
Paula Leach: It is and there's multiple ways in which we can approach that. We’re used to working at scale so those numbers, although they sound very big, we’re working in a system which is very big and delivering across the whole country, so proportionally it’s challenging but it’s not something that we’re not used to doing. The open challenge for us is when do you make the choice about committing to those resources given that we’re not entirely sure exactly how we will need to deploy? And secondly what range of options do you look at? So this isn’t just about hiring more people, it might be about how do you create capacity within an organisation. So that can mean a number of things, including choices that we make about prioritising work, it might be about where we base work, it might be about how we balance skills in the organisation. So all of that is part of this, it’s not just about incremental resource in an organisation.
PL: And obviously at the start of that challenge it’s finding them isn’t it? And when talk about these 8,000 new people you don't just whistle them up from nowhere do you?
PLE: Actually whenever you have a big change in an organisation’s demand, so for example in our case Brexit could be an example of changing demand for the Civil Service resources, you have to look at that in concert with the opportunity and the opportunity is for us to go faster perhaps with some of our technological transformation and then that directly leads into skills. So that's about what’s the skills mix for the future? We’ve already got many of these plans in place, the opportunity is whether or not we accelerate some of that and how we manage to redeploy resources that we already have, reskill them and then reach into a marketplace within the country that, to be honest, is quite saturated and quite in demand, which is the technological and digital marketplace.
PL: As you say thinking across public sector, not just Whitehall, everyone’s in a cost-cutting environment, money is tight, there's all the issues around tight budgetary constraint leading to tight investment in people, let alone tech, this sense of the returns from doing more of the same are drying up now, so is it a year when you and everyone across the organisation in its broadest sense will need to be thinking in really innovative ways because you can't just repeat what’s happened even in the last post-recession years?
PLE: Yeah I mean I can't think of any organisation that doesn’t constantly need to be thinking both about continual improvement and about transformative change within an organisation.
PL: And I suppose with Brexit I mean expectations have never been higher and it’s a hard deadline isn’t it, so it’s not just a general aspiration to do better or be more innovative it’s a ‘deliver this by this deadline’ situation?
PLE: It is and it provides an impetus to us as an organisation. We’re a high performing organisation, we’re absolutely committed. We can't not deliver in this space and we want to do so efficiently. So that requires us to be thinking well ahead as much as we can and planning for those scenarios and that's exactly what we’re doing. And those scenarios range and that makes it quite complicated because we could be talking about redeployment of resources and some extra resources, all the way through to quite significant change. But having said all of that we are doing the scenario planning, we’re looking at the ways in which we can start to change now, not waiting until such time as clarity become available.
PL: I mean I've sat here and asked you a string of questions about Brexit, I really wonder are you fed up with talking about Brexit? Is it the only conversation?
PLE: It’s not the only conversation. I think if you think back across however many years there's a version of some major change that has to be absorbed in the public sector at any given time.
PL: But this is a big one.
PLE: This is a big one but having said that we are where we are and looking backwards and thinking about how difficult it is isn’t really very helpful, so I think from our perspective this has got to be about providing confidence in the people that use our services, providing confidence within our own employees and teams that we can meet some of those challenges.
PL: Now back to that lovely moment at last year’s annual conference when the CIPD’s CEO, Peter Cheese, introduced conductor Gernot Schultz. Gernot is a long-time member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a musician and an educator and for Peter the parallels with his work for leaders was obvious.
Peter Cheese: Any of you who know classical music will appreciate what conductors do. Those who don't probably think it’s just a bloke waving a stick and all the hard work’s done by these guys. He will demonstrate there's a lot more to it than that. You also need to understand that Gernot only met this orchestra, when did he meet you, yesterday, yesterday evening something like that?
FV: About two hours ago.
Peter Cheese: Or about two hours ago. So a leader coming into an organisation, a group of people and helping to lead and to orchestrate. So I think you'll find lots of parallels between the world of orchestral music and how the dynamics of orchestras work, all the subtle undertones that go on and all the divas that sit around us and all their talents and bringing them all together harmoniously. So Gernot please come up and join your orchestra.
Gernot Schulz: The role of a conductor yeah from outside we seem to be the dictators, waving with the baton and then the members of staff do the things we want them to do, but that's not the way it really works, not at all, not at all.
PL: I suppose if I was to make a comparison with the sort of work most people do, office-bound work, you come in as a leader of a group of experts who don't even necessarily know each other very well. You don't know them, you may know them, you may have worked with them before, you may not, and you have a very limited timeframe in order to produce a really high quality piece of work and as you say they're experts, they know they're experts so you can lead but you can't necessarily command, how do you convey all that in a very short rehearsal time?
GS: At the very end it’s a matter as, to my opinion every kind of leadership is, it’s a matter of your personality, of your ability to be authentic.
PL: So what links you with these musicians is the music, you have no other immediate connection with them I guess, that's your shared purpose, do you need to know them to get the best from them or do they need to know you?
GS: At first I perceive their habits, how they are used to play this or that piece, that's obvious within the first five minutes. And then there is my way to see the music and now it’s about this gap. So it’s a hard work of integration and of coming together, my vision, which normally I don't change, at least I don't change very much, I have to stay to my conviction and to convey that in a very convincing way. Yes as I said I cannot command them, I cannot force anybody to do that, I have really to convince them.
PL: And how do you do that?
GS: My lifelong work to be very deep into the scores, into the music, into the composer’s life so that there is obvious for everybody it’s about a higher purpose. It’s not about me.
PL: Your favourite piece to conduct and why?
GS: That's an often asked question.
PL: A particular favourite if you were relaxing at home what would you listen to?
GS: No music there.
PL: That can't be true.
GS: I have music around me all the time.
PL: And funnily enough Nigel Paine has a bit of a thing about silence too.
NP: We know more and more about how the brain learns and one of the clear reference points that’s emerging is that we don't reflect enough and in this world where everything is full on all the time the only time we are quiet is when we sleep and that's quite useful to have a good night’s sleep but I think there's a huge value in just taking even a minute or two minutes just in silence, sometimes with your eyes closed and just think about what you’re learning, what is important to you and what you should focus on. And funnily enough when you do that that is what you focus on and the learning is deeper. So I'm a great believer in silence, I think we should have more silence in L&D.
PL: And for all those people raising their eyebrows listening to this and thinking, ‘Mm,’ it’s embedded in neuroscience isn’t it?
NP: It is, it is absolutely true. Yes we weren’t meant to chatter our whole life.
PL: That's a nice message to take forward for the year isn’t it, say less!
NP: Say less, be silent, 2018 welcome.