Question time for CIPD

Written by
Changeboard Team

19 Jul 2013

19 Jul 2013 • by Changeboard Team

The event

At a recent breakfast event held by Advantage Resourcing in partnership with Changeboard, Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, said that there’s never been a more interesting or important time to be in HR. Joined by 128 attendees from all levels of the profession, Cheese invited participants to put questions to him, give honest feedback and discuss how the CIPD can support HR professionals not only in the coming years, but throughout their HR careers. 

Lost faith

In the view of Jamie Newton, manager at Advantage Resourcing, HR professionals have lost faith in the CIPD. He explains: “I’ve spent 10 years speaking to HR professionals who are disillusioned with the CIPD. In our latest annual market report and salary survey of more than 2,000 active clients and candidates, we also asked how people felt towards the CIPD. They felt it was irrelevant. People didn’t understand where their membership fees were going, they didn’t feel the CIPD was part of their daily lives and many simply told us: ‘It’s of no use to me’.

“We wanted to give the CIPD an opportunity to hear from its membership and discuss in an open forum the relevance of the CIPD for today’s HR profession.”

Lack of support

Newton believes that there’s a lack of support from the CIPD for the profession, which exists to help HR practitioners in their day-to-day work. He argues that the CIPD is perfectly placed to offer this, yet feels it has been somewhat ‘absent’ in recent years. 

“We’re entering a very positive time for HR – it’s finally being seen by many as more than just a ‘default profession’,” he says. “Businesses are in a post-recession mentality focused on growth and taking competitive advantage. As such, they are turning to HR to guide and support them on this. But while organisations are now recognising the value HR can bring and are looking to HR for commercially sustainable solutions, the CIPD needs to support this changing dynamic and ensure HR professionals are equipped to meet this increasing demand. How to become an employer of choice, address the ongoing issue of skills shortages and increase employee engagement and staff retention are all typical questions being asked by businesses today. The answers don’t always appear in a textbook and the CIPD needs to recognise this and offer alternative support to assist the profession.  

Qualification gaining weight

During his presentation, Cheese acknowledged that the CIPD has not ‘kept pace’ with HR in recent years and recognised the need to offer a better qualification structure to include opportunities for continuous professional development and clearly mapped progression routes. For Newton, the gravitas of the CIPD qualification is increasing among employers, so this is positive news. He explains: “Of the mandates I undertake, about 65% want candidates to be CIPD qualified, and that figure is increasing. 

“It is seen as a professional qualification that not only shows your commitment to your role – in some sectors, it’s seen as intellectual parity. For example, in the legal sector, fee-earning lawyers have to be qualified to practice. Why shouldn’t individuals within the HR department hold a professional qualification? The challenge for the CIPD now is providing support beyond the initial qualification. It would be great to see the CIPD engaging more with senior people through conferences, on its website and even delivering workshops to keep their skills refreshed.”

Beyond being commercial

In the coming years, Cheese also said he wants to see HR professionals be inspired about the impact they can have on their organisations in building innovative cultures, diverse workforces and driving the business agenda. As part of this, he emphasised the critical need for HR to be recognised as a business profession – something Newton feels it is still yet to achieve. 

Newton says a recurrent problem among his candidate base is a lack of ‘business knowledge’. He says a surprisingly high number of the HR professionals he meets are ‘either unprepared or unable’ to talk business, which is particularly evident when discussing new roles. “It’s beyond ‘being commercial’, which we’ve been talking about for years,” he says. HR professionals need to think about and talk about both the financial priorities and realities of the business they work for in order to correctly align the people agenda to actual business need. If a business needs to reduce cost and improve operating income percentage, presenting an HR business case to the board that requires significant investment is always going to be viewed with skepticism unless you can talk about the return on the bottom line.” 

Newton asks if you, as a senior HR professional, can give a fluid commentary on your company performance over the last 12 months in terms of EBITDA percentage, revenue and where you sit within your industry. “If you can’t tell me how well your business is doing, or at least discuss company turnover over the last 1-2 years, you’re not in tune with the reality of putting a relevant people agenda together,” he adds. 

“Most businesses want HR to add value,” continues Newton. “At interview for an HR director role, the CEO will tell you the state of their business, present you with the numbers and ask: ‘what are your suggestions?’ If you can’t explain or have working examples, you’ll struggle to create the right impression and demonstrate your worth.

“You need to question how you’re going to upskill yourself for the future,” adds Newton. “This is where CIPD can play a part in helping HR professionals understand the numbers and how that should shape and affect the people strategy,” he suggests.

Professionalisation: a numbers game

Cheese pointed out that getting better at metrics and measurements is a huge part of professionalising HR, and Newton agrees. “The problem with HR is the constant concern that it’s a cost centre which needs to demonstrate consistent ROI and justify its existence. It’s not just about data, but the numbers behind what you’re doing,” says Newton. “There’s been a shift in the last decade from HR standing in the boardroom saying how many people have been recruited over the year. Now businesses want to know about retention rates, cost and time-to-hire averages, how long the onboarding process is, how long someone takes to start delivering as per role expectations or generate revenue, and to discuss overall staff costs as a percentage of gross profit.”

He argues that often commercial skills only come with experience:  “No one knows how to run a P&L unless they’ve been given one to run – but that simply isn’t good enough within the HR profession anymore, because if you are leading an HR division and thus responsible for this cost centre, decisions you make about that department and its expansion or contraction need to based on more that just ‘heavy workloads’ or ‘hiring a specialist because of a skill shortage across the team’. The responsibility of addressing this surely lies with the CIPD to offer training in these skills.

“The CIPD’s partnership with CIMA could be a prime opportunity for finance to help HR upskill, to put metrics and data behind facts.” Newton also suggests that incorporating basic finance skills within the qualification would be a logical step.

Be more bespoke to move forward

So where does Newton see the future of HR, and how can the CIPD help the profession to be more effective? “I’d like to see HR shift from approaching business with standardised ideas and off the shelf models. A medical practitioner wouldn’t prescribe medication until a diagnosis has been made; HR needs to diagnose first and offer strategies based on business priorities and an appreciation for the financial landscape, rather than just prescribing best practice, Ulrich models or solutions that are just in line with what the competition is doing. It’s not about re-inventing the wheel. Let’s stop talking ‘commercial business partnering’ and ‘gravitas’ and start talking real business.” 

“People welcomed the opportunity to question the CIPD. In a year’s time, it would be great to reflect back and I’d like to see the CIPD offering some skills it says the profession needs, reaching out to HR specialisms, answering questions about commerciality and increasing its membership so we can see some solid tangible steps towards empowering the profession with the tools it needs to aid businesses in achieving their goals and ultimately for HR to be seen as absolutely intrinsic to business success.” 

He concludes: “Right now, people feel they don’t need the CIPD. The CIPD’s challenge is to give people a reason to need it.”