Is there anyone out there? – #CIPD11 Day One

Day one at the CIPD conference and as I said yesterday it has been a while since I was here.  Now it may be me, or it may be a reflection on the economic climate….but where the hell is everyone?

The CIPD boasts 135,000 members on its website.  I’d be amazed if 1% of them were here.  Which means that either people can’t afford to attend, people don’t want to attend or everyone has been abducted by aliens sent by SHRM in a form of extraordinary rendition to the US.  Whatever is true it feels like a poor showing.

Looking at the programme of contents, it isn’t as if the subject matter isn’t relevant.  My experience to date is that the quality is pretty wide-ranging (to say the least).  That said, given that I’m yet to speak myself I’m probably setting myself up for a right royal fall. But that is to be expected at any conference….there are very few that can deliver a consistently high calibre of sessions year in year out.

So what is it that are keeping the numbers away?  Even the exhibition stands, once like a slightly tacky freebie version of Sodom and Gomorrah are quiet.  When I asked people how attendance was going, the normal response was, “We’ve seen a few people”.  But then they are hardly going to say that they’ve been sat on their backsides all day with little or nothing to do.  Is it the quality of the freebies? There are only a certain number of Quality Street and rubbish pens that one person can consume in their lifetime.

All in all, I reckon a couple of things are at play.  The number of people attending just the exhibition must be down, as companies reign in their discretionary spend, leading to the impression of lower footfall. And that leaves the people who are willing to pay out to attend the conference proper. With a three-day ticket costing over £1000 people will think twice about the value an event like this can give them compared to other uses for limited funds.

A recession is hard for everyone, and the recession that we seem to be in is doubly hard. I’m not sure that the CIPD are necessarily doing anything wrong with their approach, but as people choose not to go there is always a fear that they want come back again in future years.  Is this the end of the conference as we know it? Some will argue that the unconference format is the way forward, but I’m really not that convinced.  The financial model of large conferences, however, relies on numbers and numbers seem to be dwindling.

Maybe tomorrow will prove me wrong, maybe this is the new norm and my absence over the past few years is fogging my memory. But looking at current rates, I’d say that we can only have a few more years to go in this format before it becomes unviable.  I don’t think that is good for the profession of for the Institute.

Something is going to have to change……

16 comments

  1. Sukh Pabial · November 8, 2011

    It’s a good question. I think the point about the recession is going to be the obvious candidate for laying the blame, mostly because it’s true. Some other things that occur to me, and I’m talking about myself here:

    – Manchester is a long way to travel for the conference. I would have very much enjoyed being part of it, but do not fancy trekking up north for 2 days without the family.
    – The cost is an issue, not because my company couldn’t support it, but because it’s a lot to justify. Add on top travel and accommodation, and it starts to build up.
    – How many others were there from a non-traditional HR background? L&D, coaching professionals, independent advisors/consultants? It’s billed as a HR conference, it certainly is, and the content is of wider interest than just those with HR specific interests, so how was it marketed?

    My tuppence.

    • Neil · November 15, 2011

      Thanks Sukh, I think you make some valid points although I would say that not all HR professionals live in the South East and advanced train tickets to Manchester were not that expensive if you travelled off peak.

  2. Claire I. · November 8, 2011

    I work in the third sector and unfortunately find the the fees for the CIPD conference are just too high for my organisation. Also the fact we are restructuring at the moment leaves our very small HR Team with no days free for our own development. Not an ideal situation, but is nonetheless the reason I won’t be attending this year, nor next year if the cost doesn’t come down!

    • Neil · November 15, 2011

      I wonder whether there is consideration of a lower enterance fee for third sector businesses? Not sure whether that exists already but might be a nice idea.

  3. David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) · November 8, 2011

    Money is clearly tight but you don’t shrink your way to greatness. So I suspect that the answer lies in your statement that the financial model relies on numbers… it’s quality and value that counts not quantity.

    • Neil · November 15, 2011

      I think the number issues is a real part of this. I don’t think it was about quality, but perhaps more about relevance?

  4. OHC Solutions (@ohcsolutions) · November 8, 2011

    Good observation Neil.

    Whatever the reasons are for the poor attendance, l think it would be great if CIPD can join
    in this discussion. Who knows, maybe this is not just the “new norm”; maybe this has been
    the norm for some time. We might as well start using social media/blogging as an information sharing tool.

    • Neil · November 15, 2011

      Thanks. I still think there is space to bring people together face to face, I’m just not sure on what scale. Regional conferences?

  5. MegP · November 9, 2011

    £1000 for a ticket plus travel and hotel, conservatively £1300.

    What I can do with that? well – last month attended a really challengiing CPD workshop with two experts at top of their game for £125, subscription to an excellent learning group £85 for six sessions over 12 months including drinks and food, three coaching supervision sessions, some books and still have a couple of hundred quid for #trulondon or something of that nature.

    Not sure the CIPD agenda and target audience extends outside the corporate world and therefore not sure how connected they are to the real world. Have the CIPD management consulted recently with it’s membership to expore content, construct and needs? What are the aims of the conference? Why do they do it – just because it’s tradition? Something needs to change Neil? Here’s a thought; what about quarterly country wide one day themed events with CIPD members at all levels running and contributing to practical sessions, discussions and an optional evening event.

    • MegP · November 9, 2011

      Meant to say for a price that is inclusive and matches most market offerings priced at around £120-£150. You might get some third sector and SME attendance and therefore a more representative audience, not forgetting the huge freelance labour force delivering HR products and services.

      • Neil · November 15, 2011

        Great thoughts Meg and I like the idea of the quarterly one day themed events. I know friends from CIPD read this, so who knows maybe you’ll see some thought being put to this in the future?

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  7. Gareth Jones · November 11, 2011

    I think its a valid point. Couple of points from me:

    As someone who is working with the CIPD on a number of things, conferences included, I can tell you they are aware of the challenges of the current conferencing model. Meg, you highlight a good point – have the CIPD consulted with the members? Well yes they have, but the fact that you are not aware of that is an issue in itself. We need wider collaboration and visibility of that conversation. That is on the agenda too – to engage more widely with members AND non members and in fact its a project that is central to Jackies strategy.

    David – love the “you dont shrink your way to greatness” comment. One of my best bosses once said that if you focus on cost, you will one day end up the lowest cost producer of nothing.

    Neil – I agree the unconference isn’t the alternative but then i dont think its meant to be. Its a different format and not a new one. And maybe calling it an unconference sets the wrong expectation. Its a discussion forum ala bar camps. Different aims, expectations and outcomes. Which is why i dont think its appropriate to try and slip bits of traditional conferencing into unconferences to make them more ‘conferency’!

    Im privileged in that im both a member and im working with them on these issues so not only can is see the challenges they face to change and respond to the market needs, but also the effort they are making to respond. What i think is necessary, and is the subject of a soon to be blog from me, is a much higher level of engagement from both sides – member and body. It is a collaborative, participative and co creational future we are entering. Our membership body – read our ‘community’ – AND our members need to embrace this. Sometimes the barrier to moving on is not the body itself, but the members themselves.

    • Neil · November 15, 2011

      Thanks Gareth and you make some fair points. The problem with consultation is that it often only reaches those that are already engaged and not the disengaged (a problem not just for CIPD but for many).

      • Gareth Jones · November 21, 2011

        Yes, a good point about consultation. I think this quote from a comment on a post i cant remember (!) sums it up nicely:

        “The trouble is, many professional bodies mistakenly think they are serving the profession and it’s beneficiaries but actually all they are doing is serving their professional membership or factions therein.”

        It was part of a longer comment about membership bodies that really hit the spot.

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