Technology and humanity in the spotlight at CIPD
7 July 2022

Technology and humanity in the spotlight at CIPD Annual Conference

New ways of looking at the role of HR, and of using technology ‘authentically’, dominated discussions on day one of the UK’s biggest HR event


Rachel Wakefield

Rachel Wakefield

Rachel Wakefield was a copywriting specialist for Ciphr in 2018-2019.


HR transformation Leadership and management Technology


New ways of looking at the role of HR, and of using technology ‘authentically’, dominated discussions on day one of the UK’s biggest HR event

While technology was a dominant theme of day one (7 November) of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition 2018 in Manchester, so too was the need for organisations and HR professionals to maintain – and emphasise – their humanity in the face of an increasingly reliance on digital tools to recruit and manage staff. Here are four essential highlights from the conference’s first day.


1. HR must lead the charge for responsible work in this digital age

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese kicked off the conference with a rousing call for change: “It is time for business to stand out and demonstrate that it can act with responsibility; that it can look after its people effectively, be the voice of social responsibility and engagement as well,” he said. HR professionals are the rightful leaders of these changes, he added, before unveiling the CIPD’s new profession map.

Continuing the theme of authenticity in a rapidly changing work environment, Rachel Botsman, lecturer at Oxford University’s Said Business School, discussed the importance of trust when using technology. It is vital that decision-making depends on our trust in the value of human instinct, and not the rapidity of technology, she added.


2. Technology can help us build better relationships with job candidates

Although technology can support talent acquisition to automate some processes, delivering a great candidate experience and successfully hiring the right people depends on an organisation’s ability to develop authentic relationships with candidates, said HR professionals who showcased their recruitment strategies in an revealing case-study session.

Rebecca Martin-Cortez, head of resourcing at home improvement retailer Travis Perkin, said it was important for HR professionals not to be swayed by the newest innovations on the market, but instead to look at the tools they already have, and focus on using these existing tools to create an ‘authentic’ recruitment experience. She explained how Travis Perkin focused on developing its website to be an innovative part of its hiring process, encouraging more two-way interactions with jobseekers. This was a real change from the company’s previous strategy of using a recruitment agency to source talent. The result? Application rates increased significantly from 1,000 to 15,000 per month.

Martin-Cortez urged HR teams to embrace the digital tools at their disposal: “Don’t be afraid to experiment with new technology. Give yourself permission to play with innovations and refine them for your needs,” she said.

Simon Halkyard, talent acquisition partner for data intelligence at Shop Direct, home of Very and Littlewoods, shared his experience of recruiting software developers for the company’s HQ in Liverpool – far away from the traditional tech hub of central London. His strategy involved “creating a digital process for a digital business”, which comprised hosting technology-focused events and using video interviews and a new CRM system to encourage HR to take a more proactive approach to candidate engagement.

Being proactive and understanding the needs and wants of tech jobseekers was essential, he said; they are engaged not by “sugary content” but by technology-focused events where they can set about tackling real-life business problems. “I wanted to get the balance of technology and the human touch,” said Halkyard, who used these events to give potential candidates the opportunity to speak to current software developers, enabling them to get a real sense of what it would be like to work at Shop Direct.

“People are interested in storytelling; in belonging and being part of something,” he added. Shop Direct’s talent acquisition team created a technology-themed Tumblr page and microsite, separate to the company’s corporate website, enabling the team to be “braver with tech content, and the message would not be diluted by the corporate messaging on the main site”.

Engaged website visitors were invited to register with Shop Direct’s CRM system, which the talent acquisition team used to send them emails about life at the company and current vacancies. It was set up to give a bespoke feel, with 20 different campaign messages for 20 different segmented groups. Applicants were asked to answer three simple questions in a video interview that would tell the hiring manager more about the candidate’s life, passion and values. The comprehensive nurturing strategy helped convert interested people into applicants, and means the team wastes less time engaging with unsuitable candidates, Halkyard said.


3. Dynamic learning will help people succeed in the digital age

Delegates were somewhat relieved that panellists Steve Barratt, director of capability and talent entry at BT; Debbie Alder, HR director general at the Department of Work and Pensions; and Rajeeb Dey, founder of Learnerbly, were all in agreement that robots won’t be taking over workplaces anytime soon and that human skills will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.

“Although a lot of tasks are becoming automated, they still require the human touch,” said Barratt. “We will see new types of jobs become available.”

But it’s up to HR teams to ensure that workers are ready and equipped for the new roles that will emerge during the era of increased automation, they cautioned. “We need a workforce that is flexible, dynamic and continuously learning, particularly when these days there are five generations of people in the world of work,” said Alder.

More creative thinking will be the key to success, added Dey. “It’s not about tech versus humans: it’s about how we integrate technology to better support humans with active and dynamic learning in the workplace.”


4. Storytelling through data helps HR influence stakeholders

For many HR professionals, knowing how to communicate data insights effectively is an absolute imperative. But how do you use data to effectively communicate a proposal that you know is essential for your organisation – but might be challenged when it comes up against a budget or risk report?

John Taylor, insight and analytics functional manager at Centrica, explained how he visualised data through dashboards, rather than Excel spreadsheets, to help him craft and explain a compelling narrative to other stakeholders – which gave them a better understanding of the importance of their people data.

HR should be using digital tools to bring data to life, added Jonathan Ferrar, CEO of Insight222. “The focus for HR should not be upon its challenges and functions; it should be about communicating the value of its people in relation to the organisation’s business challenges. In other words, democratise the data.”

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