HRD Summit UKHRD Summit UK 2020: Day 1 – Margaret Heffernan, Bernard Marr, National Trust and more

HRD Summit UK 2020: Day 1 - Margaret Heffernan, Bernard Marr, National Trust and more

Day 1 of this year’s summit featured packed sessions on creativity, trust, purpose and much more from world leaders in HR and business.

The HRD Summit UK 2020 officially commenced today, with the world’s best and brightest minds in HR coming together to share ideas, information and inspiration, and to participate in the UK’s largest event of its kind. 

A record attendance of 1,500 HR professionals descended upon Birmingham’s International Convention Centre (ICC) for a carefully selected first day of keynote sessions, CoLabs, match meetings, demonstrations and more. Opening the event in the ICC’s main hall was Rachel Montgomery-Young, Portfolio Director, HRD, welcoming all attendees and outlining this year’s central theme: Harnessing Human Creativity. 

Frank Douglas HRD Summit UK 2020
Frank Douglas opened the HRD Summit UK 2020.

Kicking off this year’s Summit in style was Frank Douglas, CEO founder, Caerus UK – the event’s official chair. Douglas delivered a charming and impassioned speech, first thanking HRD’s advisory board members for their support, and going on to stress the importance of “psychological safety” in the workplace. “The biggest killer of organisations is complacency,” he said, and later described the optimal role of HR Leaders to be “chief non-complacency officers”. 

With the Summit’s first day well underway, HRD Connect attended the event’s first Keynote speech. Delivered excellently by acclaimed entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan, this session offered attendees an exclusive insight into the power of collective intelligence in the workplace. Heffernan described the typical creative process as “fantastically disorderly”, saying that “it doesn’t feel safe”, and that, ultimately, this is just a natural phase in the process of reaching a good idea.

margaret heffernan hrd summit uk 2020
Margaret Heffernan speaking to a packed crowd during her keynote session at the HRD Summit UK 2020.

“A great idea is the product of sifting through lots of bad ideas,” she said, adding that it’s important to “wander” without necessarily looking for something. “The thing is about great ideas, is you can’t schedule them,” said Heffernan, concluding her session and asserting that freedom leads to deeper levels of ideas and motivation in the workplace. 

This led us into the day’s second keynote session, courtesy of bestselling author and futurist Bernard Marr. In his talk, entitled, Merging Human and Machine, Marr explored the changing influence of technology in HR. He offered several elaborate examples of how machine learning and artificial intelligence have influenced the world of business in recent years, stating that “the capabilities of machines are slowly superseding that of humans”. A packed-out auditorium were left visibly impressed by explanations of how streetlights can now detect gunfire and alert authorities, and how an in-built mobile assistant can autonomously make a dinner reservation. 

However, as Marr approached his conclusion, he turned his argument on its head. He introduced the notion that the onset of data and technology will not necessarily replace jobs, but “repurpose” them. He stressed the need for workforces to improve digital IQ and literacy, and that the advancing digital age actually presents an opportunity to make business more human, rather than less. 

“We need to think about the things that we as humans do that computers cannot, and we need to re-imagine our jobs and the human role,” he said. “Finding this human touch that will make a difference is really important.”

Attendees began arriving at the venue and registering from 7:30am onwards.

Next, we turned our attention to the theme of employee engagement, attending an insightful talk hosted by Tony Lehner, VP People, Sage. Entitled Performance and People, the session examined how teams can exploit the link between staff engagement and business results. 

More specifically, Lehner explored the correlation between high attrition and low engagement, and how Sage, the UK’s largest technology company, has tackled this. “It’s all about what development and help you need,” he said, explaining that among Sage’s senior team members, 43% are now female. 

Lehner also cited bonuses and reward systems as a key theme. He explained the negative impact of awarding more generous bonuses to newer members of staff, and stated that business leaders should pay closer attention to employee needs such as these. It’s not only about listening to them but then acting on what they tell us,” he said. 

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Concluding, Lehner explained that such systematic and organizational change has to come from the top-down. “There has to be investment from leaders across the business,” he said. 

Attendees were able to relax between sessions at several locations across the site.

HRD Connect also had the chance to attend one of the Summit’s thriving CoLab sessions. Hosted by Pedro Angulo, Head of Leadership Development, AIB, the session focused on how HR leaders can contribute to creating a stronger and healthier workplace culture.

“Strong cultures are built on long term, sustainable, strategic advantage,” said Angulo. He detailed AIB’s ‘phased approach’ to this topic, which has taken place over a number of years, citing the three stages of the operation: building awareness and connecting with purpose, embedding this awareness and proving it by doing, and cementing the values to make it ‘part of the DNA’. 

This year’s Summit featured over 100 exhibitors, each with something unique to showcase.

Angulo then continued his talk with a group activity, requesting that attendees tackle the issue of “creating a purpose-led culture that drives customer innovation” through a series of advice and challenges that could be offered to workforces. 

“Culture is not a fad,” said Angulo, concluding the CoLab in dramatic fashion. “If you really want to crack it, it takes more than 3 or 6 years.”

Elsewhere, attendees gathered at the Summit’s Gold Theatre to join Derval Blehein, Talent Solutions, LinkedIn, for an inspiring session on prioritizing talent among modern businesses. Blehein set out the 4 key trends impacting the current talent landscape, and shared strategies used to combat competition and attract candidates. 

Following further remarks from Frank Douglas to officially bookend the Summit’s first day, attendees gathered at the HRD drinks reception to reflect and network, whilst enjoying some well-deserved drinks, canapes and live music. 

Make sure to read our comprehensive coverage of the Summit’s second day.

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