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Reflections on Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2018

There was something very apt about the Changeboard Future Conference 2018 being hosted at the historic Royal Geographical Society. Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society champions the advancement of geographical science all over the world and has supported pioneers such as Darwin, Livingstone, Shackleton and Scott as they set out on their explorations of new frontiers. Whilst there’s no doubt we live in changing and uncertain times, we too have the opportunity to build an optimistic and prosperous future in the 21st century. However, navigating our way through requires us to think carefully about building a future which works for all.

This conference bought together HR practitioners, thought leaders and campaigners from a range of disciplines and perspectives, to debate, ask questions and share learning about charting the right course through the fourth industrial revolution. Sova Assessment were proud to sponsor this event and believe that identifying and developing future talent is an important part of the debate around building a successful future.

The term ‘fourth industrial revolution’ was coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, and describes the digital revolution which is dramatically impacting our personal and working lives. The conference explored several key themes such as what skills we need in the future; the importance of wellbeing and good mental health; what it really means to be diverse and inclusive and how to build a future which works for everyone.

Here, we share just some of what we learned and took away from the event.

Good work, for everyone

Technology and automation continues to transform the way organisations operate and has many advantages for improving efficiency, providing easy access to information and making our lives easier. As jobs are re-designed for the new economy, the relationship between employer and employee must also be examined. Commissioned by the Government, The Taylor Review was an independent report on modern working practices and its author Matthew Taylor, CEO RSA Group, shared the lessons for organisations including, the importance of good work which doesn’t negatively impact on your health and wellbeing; employment rights for casual workers; effective people management to improve productivity; a rejection of the inevitability of there being people who will lose out because of technological change and that citizenship doesn’t stop at the door of the organisation. He strongly emphasised the need for protection for those categorised as ‘precariously self-employed’ such as in the gig economy.

Lord Chris Holmes MBE, who sits on the Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence believes that we are “failing to appreciate the ‘everythingness’ of 4IR” and that we should be rationally optimistic about the future, whilst acknowledging the challenges. He believes that technology is too important to be left to technologists and that we must all make active choices about how it’s used and the social, economic and ethical implications. From a talent perspective, we have every reason to feel positive, but recognise that we need to develop the right skills to work with technology, in our existing employees and in our future talent. Diversity is still a challenge in building future skills, as highlighted by the fact that last year, of the 4000 students who took Computer Science A-level, only 100 were female.

Wellbeing and mental health

A thread running throughout the day was the need to rethink how we view and deal with mental health issues and wellbeing at work. With 1 in 6 British workers experiencing a mental health problem, it’s an issue which touches many of us. This was brilliantly demonstrated when Dr Alan Watkins, founder of Complete Coherence who asked delegates to stand up if they have family or are personally affected by mental health and pretty much the whole room stood up. Sue Baker, Director, Time for Change discussed that whilst public attitudes to mental health were shifting, we were ‘still at the foothills of mountains of social change’ when it comes to talking about and supporting people in the workplace. Given the upheaval and transformational change going on in organisations, we must remember that it can be stressful for individuals, so it’s important to raise awareness of mental health, update our policies and practice to support employees and equip line managers to have conversations.

When asked what organisations could do better in this regard, Geoff McDonald, former Global VP for HR at Unilever and mental health campaigner, called for two changes; firstly, that performance management conversations should include a focus on the energy and mental health of employees, and secondly to address the imbalance of investment in ‘health and safety’ where ‘safety’ has received more attention and funding than ‘health’.

Diversity and inclusion

Why is it that as children we assume inclusion, but as we get older we start to think about not fitting in or being part of the ‘tribe’? This was the question asked by Deborah Frances-White, Comedian and Writer, challenging us to think about what inclusion really means. Hiring for diversity isn’t enough, it’s about a sense of belonging, feeling safe and being included. Her rally cry to those haven’t experienced exclusion, is to talk to those who have and give them the job of building inclusive processes and policies.

Sir Lenny Henry, Comedian & Diversity Campaigner, spoke candidly about his personal experiences of growing up, working in the media industry and fighting for diversity. Passionate and engaging, he called on all organisations to change the way they tackle diversity and inclusion and highlighted the importance of continuous education for all.

Digital transformation and people strategy

During the conference we heard from Aviva, Boots and Royal Mail, who shared their learning about the profound impact digital transformation is having on their organisations and the implications on their people strategy. Moya Greene, CEO, Royal Mail Group talked about how the internet had completely changed their business, but all too often we are over-confident about our ability to change. Sarah Morris, Group Chief People Officer, Aviva, believes that having pushed for a ‘seat at the table’ for many years, HR now have the opportunity to act as change agents in the business.

The question for us now is what are we going to do with it to help organisations move towards a healthy and fair digital future? At Sova, we believe it is time to start identifying, developing and equipping leaders with the skills and mindset needed to build agile, digital ready organisations in which people thrive, not just survive.

In summary, there’s no doubt that the digital revolution brings with it lots of opportunities to transform our lives, our workplaces and our world, but to make the most of these, requires us to put people at the heart of this change to ensure it benefits us all, not just the few.

A fantastic, thought-provoking event, thank you to everyone at Changeboard.

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