Another ACE CIPD Conference


Well. The CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, often referred to as CIPD ACE was exactly that once again this year, ace!

I’ve attended this annual conference every year for the last 4 years and sporadically before that. The reason my attendance changed from sporadically to regularly is because of one reason – the quality of the programme. It just keeps getting better and better.

In previous years i’d only attend if I could put together an itinerary from the programme that was value for money and beneficial. Ace is not cheap at around £500 a ticket (2 day, earlybird), plus accommodation, time out of the business and travel costs and so I make the decision each year as to whether i’ll attend, having carefully considered whether the offering will give a fair return to my employer. I’m very pleased to say, for the last few years, it has more than done that.

Before I start talking about the sessions I experienced (or highlights of which, rather) I thought i’d mention how I approach the event. I throw myself in at the deep end. For me, it’s not just the 8 sessions over 2 days in the main conference areas, it’s filling the gaps including lunch times with the taster sessions from the exhibition area, and attending the social/fringe events. This year, I attended 11 sessions covering a whole array of topics.

I also make the most of seeing friends from the HR world and doing some light networking. I’m not big into networking (which is why I disagree with some friends who would like more networking time built into the programme) but i’ll make an effort because I like meeting new people. Also, some people I met, largely on twitter a couple of years ago, have become friends whom I respect, and everyone likes having new friends, right?

So, back to the event. There’s simply too many sessions to mention each one, so i’ll focus on the key areas.

Day one – opening keynote – A Fair And Inclusive Digital World That Works For Everyone – Baroness Martha Lane-Fox

A superb and fascinating start to the conference was the opening keynote from Founder of and tech entrepreneur, Baroness Martha-Lane Fox.

An insightful speech which included how Martha had to sell a dream to suppliers in order to create a cutting edge business that required a huge leap of faith in what was the emerging technology of the time – the internet!

What I particularly liked about Martha’s approach to this session was her acknowledgement and acceptance that she and her business partner needed to keep up-to-speed with advancements of technology at every stage, and recognising that despite their business being at the cutting edge of tech, they couldn’t take their eyes off the prize. It was moving so fast at the time, they would have been left behind. It felt like a vulnerability, that humility converted into opportunity and desire to succeed.

A key quote that I recall was where Martha cited McKinsey research findings that stated that we could achieve 50% more at work if we better use the tech we’ve already got available to us. 50% more is a huge opportunity and is certainly food for thought.

Day one – Adopting An Ethical Approach To HR And People Management – Peter Cheese – CIPD, Siobhan Sheridan – MOD, Professor Roger Steare – Cass Business School and Ben Yeger, GameShift

I was slightly late to this session but I walked in as Ben Yeger from Gameshift was offering a deeply personal and moving account of a profound ethical challenge he faced whilst in the military that shaped his life. Ben’s bravery and clarity when describing this situation, was both haunting and inspirational.

Following Ben’s opening, the panel discussed the need to focus on ethics, to HR and in business in general. The debate mentioned the current issues including that of the various sexual harassment allegations that are widely publicised and how HR need to take a lead on encouraging positive ethical approaches within business.

I asked whether the panel felt that we were at a tipping point in society for ethical wrongdoings, particularly in the world of work. Peter Cheese posed the question back to me in which I offered optimistic hope yet I was unconvincing in my answer (mainly because each time I think we turn a corner, we face another ethical dilemma). The panel responded that it is an unknown but we’re learning continuously from each wrongdoing that comes to light.

Day one – Intent-Based Leadership – Creating Leaders And Engagement At Every Level – David Marquet

This was a great discussion where David focussed on his time in the American military where he led a submarine through an intent-based leadership style, allowing others to make decisions for themselves and staying out of the way whilst that happened.

This was a personal highlight not just because of the excellent content but because of David Marquet’s hilarious and brilliant presenting style. There were moments there where I wasn’t sure if I was listening to David or Steve Carrell.

I took a simple message away from this session that I already knew; when good people who know more than you are doing good work, get out of the way and let it happen, supporting it wherever you can.

Day Two – The Big Conversation about Families, Parents the Workplace – Rachel Burnham – Burnham Learning And Development, Gemma Dale – The Work Consultancy, Gary Cookson – Disclosure & Barring Service

Now, it’s very easy to assume that an 8am session on day two might be a ‘graveyard slot’ but this was anything but. CIPD Manchester had arranged a specific event to focus on their campaign ‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ and I was happy to assist with facilitating one of the discussions.

Following an introduction by Rachel Burnham of Burnham L&D, Gemma Dale and Gary Cookson both gave ignite talks on the subject of how home life and work life need to work together. Gemma outlined many of the issues that people face when requiring flexible work and how myths need to be busted, and Gary gave a personal view (by means of a fantastic rhyme) of what working flexibly has meant for him and his family.

Immediately after the ignite talks, each table discussed various themes and presented back in (disciplined) 1 minute overviews.

This was a very enjoyable session and invoked some thoughts in me that I will blog about separately.

A big well done to Rachel, Gemma and Gary for an interesting discussion that has created some outstanding content on social media post-event.

Day Two – Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence And Automation? – David D’Souza – CIPD and Clare Dillon – Microsoft

At this session David D’Souza and Clare Dillon offered for and against points of view in relation to whether we should fear AI and Automation. David argued that we should and Clare argued that we shouldn’t. Both, I believe without ‘insider knowledge’ would probably prefer to sit on the fence a little more in real life as this is obviously not a black and white issue.

What I took from this session was the common ground. Both presenters accepted that there was something to fear, that there is an undoubted risk within AI and automation, be that its capability, ability to act and develop autonomously, or the impact it could have on humans. Both excellently made the point that there is tremendous opportunity in this tech that could change the world, and it is natural that this should both inspire and frighten us. Me, I prefer to be cautiously optimistic, but recognise we need to embrace AI and Automation, carefully and considerately.

Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the facilitated debates in the session from ‘DebateMate’ who had facilitators dotted throughout the room, coordinating discussions amongst the tables. This was a great idea, in a style i’d never come across before and really exposed me to lots of different and often contrasting viewpoints in a very short space of time.

Day Two – The New World Of Work – What Constitutes Good Work? – Kate Bell – TUC, Matthew Davies – Addison Lee, Sarah O’Connor – Financial Times, and Stefan Baskerville – New Economics Foundation

The last session i’m going to comment on was a panel discussion in the exchange hall that included Kate Bell from the TUC, Matt Davies from Addison Lee, Stefan Baskerville from the New Economics Foundation and the panel facilitator, Sarah O’Connor from the Financial Times.

This excellent discussion was made so by the diversity of the panel, representing a number of different aspects of the workplace. Matt talked about the potential opportunities as well as lessons learned from the hype of future work in days gone by and this helped contextualise much of what we read and hear about today. Matt’s right too – there has never been a better time to work in HR. Blog on that coming soon.

Another key point I took from this session was the expectations of the TUC. As a strong proponent of collaborative working, I was encouraged to hear the views of Kate Bell in relation to how the TUC needs to work alongside businesses (and of course, vice versa) to support good work of the future. I put this into perspective when thinking about what i’d learned in the earlier session around AI and automation. There is a clear risk of losing jobs due to technology. I don’t yet accept that the numbers thrown around in relation to this are accurate, but none the less, a substantial risk exists. It is pragmatic, reasonable and logical that Unions should be at the heart of these discussions.


So those were my key highlights from the event. Yet again I pretty much stayed clear of the exhibition area – as an introvert, it’s an uncomfortable environment for me. I avoided the cloakroom – building on something I have learned from previous years. I also left the venue for lunch, the food choices inside were, once again, not very appetising, but there wasn’t much else to complain about.

A huge thank you to the CIPD Blog Squad for generating so much interesting and awesome content. As is always the case with these things, you can’t be in two places at once, so reading up on what was going on in the other sessions helped further increase my learning opportunity.

It was also great to see some HR buddies, old and new, to put faces to names (and twitter handles) and to enjoy a pleasant couple of days, learning lots and giving me inspiration, around excellent company.

Finally, thank you to the CIPD (and Haymarket) and very well done all round.

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