Cathy-Brown

Evolution of Work Conference Chair’s Report: Word of the day = humanity

How technology is helping revolutionise the way we work: that was our starting point at Friday’s Evolution of Work Conference. Exploring the myriad ways that AI, robotics, nano tech, bio tech and all the other scary sci fi concepts have become real and present, and are transforming our societies and economies.

It was enlightening and exciting then to realise that all of our speakers had a definite theme that focussed on the human side of the equation, starting with CIPD’s Ruth Stuart highlighting that ‘the future of work is human’. We have agency in the changes that are happening, and it’s up to us to be responsible professional citizens, for instance by making conscious choices about automation and asking ethical questions about the use of technology. The Land Registry’s Caroline Anderson told us how they built trust back into the organisation, not just by implementing a digital communications solution, but by ensuring that the platform was simply that, a platform, and all the hard work took place by connecting at the human level.

The story of Missguided exemplifies the human approach, with a workforce composed of 88% Gen Y & Z they internally use words that we perhaps don’t readily associate with work – fun, love, positivity, thinking big. And “vibes” to describe values and behaviours. They are seeing 75% growth year on year, with their Mermaids, Divas, Unicorns and Angels having an active voice on what makes them happy and hard working.

Another couple of words less used in business terms than we might like are ‘brave’ and ‘compassionate’ – highlighted by Phil and Ant at River Agency, and Tony from Public Health England. The call to to be brave as both organisations and individuals is clear, and once again the point that we have a personal ability and responsibility to change our own behaviour was made – we can’t just sit around and hope for things to get better around us. Tony’s session touched on another theme that ran through the conference too – the fact that we have to stop designing jobs, systems and policies to police and punish the tiny minority. We have to put our trust in people at work. 99.9% of us are there to do the best job we can do. The most engaging thing you can do as a manager is let us do it, in our own way.

Bruce Daisley from Twitter gave us a hugely thought provoking glimpse into how we might proactively manage our own energy and engagement through the barrage of daily life. He busted a lot of myths for us. Research demonstrates that hedonistic rewards like perks don’t motivate us, working long hours (40-50 plus) makes us less productive, not more, and blurring our home and work life together (pool tables in the office, anyone?) simply doesn’t work. Bruce told us to find happier friends and get more sleep – always good advice!

In the interests of our own wellbeing and energy we then had some lunch, starting full on an hour later with Dr Gorkan Ahmetoglu from UCL, making the very insightful point that technology deludes us into thinking we can all be entrepreneurs. Set up a website and off you go. Sadly the truth is many of us are totally unsuited to the entrepreneurial way of life and mindset, and the fact is that the most thriving economies are the ones with fewer start ups.

We came back to our humanity again then, with Paul Hutchinson and Chris Lloyd making the point that in reinventing performance management systems, we need to test the culture, not just the technology and Neil of Anchor stressing once more that we have to design work for the 99%, not the 1%.

Our final speaker, Danielle MacLeod, captured all our common themes in one great session at the end of the day. She gave us a mantra “human beings are not objects”, she gave us two words rarely used either together or about work –  “ruthless compassion”. She reminded us not to design policies aimed at policing the 1% and busted some leadership myths for us – empathy is a required skill, being ‘always right’ is NOT the sign of a good leader.

So, at the end of an exhilarating day, we had some clear conclusions from our speakers. Regardless of the rapidly evolving context we work in, regardless of our generation, gender, race or age,  as human beings some things remain consistent about what we need to feel engaged.

We need a clear upstanding of the purpose of the organisation, and we need to feel connected to that purpose emotionally. We need to feel understood and appreciated as individuals and managed well & with respect. We want to feel that our voice and view is welcome, sought after and listened to. And we need to trust in that organisation and our leaders.

We are not human resources, we are human beings.

Cathy Brown, Conference Chair and Exec Director at Engage for Success