Conferences are the ultimate fake news

Last week saw a significant change in corporate Britain when, in amongst the ongoing Brexit shenanigans, Marks and Spencers were demoted from the FTSE100 for the first time since the creation of the index which, broadly, highlights the largest corporate organisations listed in London.

Whilst the origins of the demotion lie predominantly in the changing retail environment, it reminded me of being a young and enthusiastic student of HR and being bombarded with case studies from these organisations. I particularly remember one about the quality of talent attraction and management at M&S. One would think that if it had genuinely been so good at attracting the best and brightest, they might have been able to see this coming – Next Plc remains in the FTSE100.

This isn’t intended to be a pop at M&S, in fact over the years I’ve spoken to a number of their HR team and they’re a decent bunch. They’re just a symptom of the over exaggeration that we encourage in the industry through our conferences and awards. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sat in an audience and listened as people talk about their businesses without the data to back up their assertions, or indeed the times I’ve sat as a judge and read a submission for an award that talks about the “transformation” delivered by their initiative, launched only six months ago…

In a world where we question the veracity of almost every news story put before us, we seem to turn a blind eye when a conference brochure tells us “How Xx Plc DISRUPTED their HR model to drive bottom line growth” or we place praise on a company for driving organisational transformation, only to read months later of the inherent discrimination that exists against women or minorities.

Before you say it, yes I do speak at conferences and I have won awards. But I’ve always been clear what the data is, what the evidence supports and where I’m expressing opinion. It isn’t about headlines, it’s about integrity. And my greatest ask is not of the speakers or the entrants, but of the organisers and the awarders. What’s really sexy and exciting isn’t the BIG SHOUTY headlines, its the evidence of meaningful results. That’s what we’d all like to see.

And if you don’t believe me, here are some real examples:

“Unlocking creativity and adaptability – how inclusion will drive your business through disruption”

“Unleashing human potential: Applying Digital HR in the workplace”

“Actionable, Impactful People Analytics & HR Insights Which Add Value & Build The Future Of The Business”

You couldn’t make it up…