CIPD conference summary: Sustainability


Sustainable HR leadership   Sustainability is the last of Jackie’s key themes and follows on directly from the last theme / last post (Morrisons’ point that Everyone’s got talent = sustainable performance).

At the conference, it was addressed by Siobhan Sheridan and colleagues from Defra, and David Benson from Oxfam.

At Defra, the key actions were:

  • Getting the basics right
  • Using resource flexibly
  • Making policy that works in a consistent way
  • Focussing on customers
  • Engaging staff,


For Oxfam, it centred on the annual talent process, consisting of workforce planning, succession planning and the identification of high potentials.

But the session which probably gave it the highest priority was the one from the CIPD on their Next Generation HR report.  Although I didn’t think that much of this, I do completely support the research’s focus on longer-term business sustainability.  Indeed, I’ve been arguing since the very beginning of the recession that organisations can’t afford to allow themselves to become too focused on the short-term.

And I do like the way the research suggests this focus on sustainable performance means that we need to understand HR leadership differently:

Operational Excellence is a pre-requisite to everything else. For instance, there is no point developing world class insights into talent management if this is not backed up with excellent processes and delivery. In some organisations, as this implies, there has been a focus on the thinking leadership elements of the HR agenda at the expense of delivery. [Yes, and in some organisations, it’s the reverse – ie good delivery but without enough thinking.]

Organisational Insight and Influence is all about the function trading on its position at the heart of the business, and being able to see the organisation clearly as a result. HR functions do not therefore simply serve the business, but run a commentary on its current health and effectiveness, and on its fitness for the future.  [I like this – a good example of HR creating value.]

Some HR functions are also able to play a powerful Organisational Commentary and Guardianship role by looking beyond short term business drivers to the implications of decisions in the medium term. In adopting more balanced positions that take into account the needs of wider stakeholders, they are looking beyond simply the wishes of the current CEO, or the senior team.  [To be this is a necessary part of organisational insight and influence.  HR needs to have a medium to long-term view of the organisation in order to comment independently now.]

In the past, HR tended to overplay its role as the voice of the employee. Now it is possible that many HR functions overplay their role as partners of the current management regime. [I don’t believe we ever did overdo the employee champion role – it’s just that it wasn’t sufficiently balanced with the business management one.  These aren’t alternatives, both are required.  But the addition which is required now and in the future is an additional,equal focus on human capital / organisational capability.]

The CIPD suggest that HR functions can drive the medium term sustainability of the business by taking actions like developing a balanced remuneration strategy; challenging decisions that might undermine the long term integrity of the brand; developing processes that challenge inappropriate behaviour at all levels in the business; and defining future leaders differently.

I think we can do more than this.  The future isn’t just about balancing these competing demands, its about offering a new, more sustainable basis for competitive advantage – one that puts people first, and really does treat people as an organisation’s most important asset.  Yes, it’s human capital management time!



See my previous posts on Transparency and Authenticity.

See my other conference posts.


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    I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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