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……

HR across the pond

One of the things that we often forget as British people, is how small our country is in relation to many in the world.  Even most of our near neighbours are bigger than us, despite our unwillingness to accept this.  We also have somewhat of a split personality –  we are Europeans but perhaps our closest neighbour and friend is America, a country that sits several thousand miles away from our shores.  As a quick confession, I should throw in that when I travelled to the US last Friday it was for the first time.  I’ve never really had any inclination to go there in the past, but the difference this time was the attendance at HRevolution.

Now the fug and haze has gone away from the event, now that I’ve had time to reflect, what do I take away? I’m not going to be able to compete with the many wonderful posts being written on the event itself, but there are some things that struck me when I look at my US colleagues compared to those in the UK.

– Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that we are having many of the same conversations.  There is a huge amount of management literature coming out of the US (as I write this I’m sitting in a dorm room at HBS, one of the major culprits) and I guess I wrongly assumed that US practitioners would be streets ahead of the UK in the way that they practiced. They’re not.  US HR pros are dealing with the same struggles, the same frustrations and the same obstacles as practitioners in the UK.  Whether I’m relieved or disheartened by this I’m yet to work out.

– On the plus side, I think there is an absolute belief from everyone that I met that HR and HR professionals CAN make a difference and regardless of which side of the pond we work, there is an absolute business benefit to be achieved from great, aligned, focussed and down to earth people interventions.  How far people are down that path is more dependent on the quality of that individual and the appetite of their business than it is the country, state or county that they come from.

– We all have frustrations with our professional bodies, but we’re all working to improve them.  One of the great things that I took away was that SHRM were actively involved in supporting and sponsoring HRevolution.  Could the CIPD play such a role in the future? I would certainly like to think so.  Not only would it add to their credibility, but it would show that they are willing to open up their doors (and wallets) to non-CIPD events that helped to grow the profession.

– We lack a bit of cool and swagger.  I know that I was with a select group of HR pros and that those that attend Hrevolution are smarter than the average bear, but there was a confidence in the HR people who I don’t see in similar events in the UK.  Is this a general US vs UK factor? I don’t know, I’ll have to work that one out over time.  But if we could get it to rub off on us a little then I don’t think it would be a bad thing.

 What else did I take away? Well a whole load of great new friends and contacts.  A sense of energy and excitement and a real curiosity to learn and cooperate more with my friends and colleagues across the pond, to see how we can continue to make progress in our practice and in the profession as a whole.  And for that I am truly grateful.  I can’t list the people who I want to thank as there would be far too many and no-one would get to the end of the list (think the movies). Without exception everyone I met was exceptional. The organisers were amazing and the entertainment…..unusual.

Given the chance I’ll be back as soon as I can.