UHR Conference (9 – 12 May 2017)

HR Global Innovation recently did a joint presentation at the Universities Human Resource Conference in the UK. One of our partners, Liz Baré, made the following observations about the event.

The Event. UHR Conference. 9 – 12 May 2017.

The Place. Newcastle on Tyne. As foreigner, but steeped in English literature and history, my understanding was that the North of England was gloomy and characterised by “dark satanic mills”. Well, the sun shone for the whole conference and the inner city of Newcastle is lovely, not grimy at all. The Conference venue was opposite the older town, set above the River Tyne in an area characterised by a new entertainment complex and buildings proudly erected with European Union money, or so the signs told me.

The Conference organisation.

Normally, I would not comment on the structure of the Conference, but given our experience with ACU HRM Conferences, I thought there was much to learn. The Conference was held over 2 days, with 2 plenary sessions each day and the choice of two smaller workshop sessions each day. Each workshop was repeated. Of course, if you were presenting a workshop, as the ACU and HR Global Innovations did jointly, then you could only attend 4 of the 8 workshops in addition to your own.

There was plenty of time built in for networking and, in today’s web enabled age, for delegates to keep across problems in their home university.

The Conference was well supported by sponsors, each of whom had a 2-minute time slot to speak. They were asked to make their sessions entertaining, which they did and certainly got their message across.

Why were we there?

ACU and HR Global Innovations gave a workshop entitled The future of HR in Higher Education; taking a global perspective. We ran this informally and Brian Mallory, Steve Daysh, Keith Stephenson, John Steele and I all contributed. We emphasised the commonality of HR challenges in universities around the world building on the ACU HRM Conference in Mauritius in 2016. We wanted to encourage international collaboration, particularly through the ACU HR in HE Community and to get feedback on a range of opportunities for new initiatives. We wanted to showcase the HR in HE Community to UK HR Directors.

We also canvassed support for the possibility of developing HR study tours to the UK along as part of an international HR leadership development program.

We found instant and positive support about some of the initiatives from our UK colleagues and we are working to see if we can make the study tours happen.

The overheads for our presentation can be found at (please link these to the blog.)

What were my highlights?

Well apart from our session, the friendliness of the UK HR people, the conference dinners and the venue, there were some good presentations

My first highlight was the initial keynote by Professor Gareth Jones, who has moved between business and academia in leadership and HR roles. Asking the audience “Why should I be led by you”, he challenged many of assumptions of traditional leadership development approaches.

Successful leaders, he said should

  • Sense situations
  • Take symbolic actions to demonstrate change
  • Embrace crises as they are opportunities
  • Reveal weaknesses
  • Generate closeness, but retain distance for dealing with difficult situation
  • Tell stories as a compelling communicator
  • Use emotions to liberate energies of others
  • Be authentic

His message If you want to be a great leader be yourself more with skill.

It was a great presentation and I recommend you look at it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVlbmnhki8k

Matthew Elliot (People Director, Virgin Money) told the story of the merger of Northern Rock (a long-standing finance company) with Virgin Money and how it was guided by strong customer focus, which he said characterised the Virgin brand. Underpinned by the philosophy every one’s better off(EBO), which argues that a good workplace experience and engagement underpins excellent customer service. He told stories of things they had learned along the way which about strengthening engagement and inclusion.

Again, you can see the presentation by Matthew on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMJLWmWg68w

And a presentation by Professor Janet Beer highlighted the current HR challenges of UK higher education, in particular gender and inclusion which were also covered in Matthew’s presentation. Professor Beer’s presentation can be seen at. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLwip92VmwE

Was there something missing?

Because I am a political junkie, I really wanted to know how UK universities were preparing for Brexit. All right, we were in the middle of an UK election campaign and the negotiations to leave the EU had not started, but given the potential impact of Brexit on research funding for UK universities, I was surprised there were no keynote sessions on this topic. HR people told they were doing things that they could… in particular working to reassure their European staff.

But the workshop run by CUPA(HR) delegates, David Blake and Pamela Prescod Ceasar, on the State of American Higher Education – post US presidential election was fascinating. Reflecting on the need to provide stability and continuity for staff and students in periods of disruptive change, both speakers provided insights into the importance of communication, allowing discussion and reaction and of keeping the business running as usual. UK participants then discussed their own reactions to Brexit. For me this was a fantastic session, and a great example how much in common we all have and how much we can learn from each other.

Were there any things that could have been improved?

Not much, it was well organised and supported. I was staying about a mile away from the conference venue and walked along the Tyne river bank and under a big bridge a couple of times

each day (and evening). My biggest worry was avoiding the droppings of a colony of kittiwakes. They seem to be prolific in many ways. Have a look at http://www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk/activities/conservation-research/tyne-kittiwakes if you have an overwhelming desire to know more about these birds.

Was the conference worth going to?

Yes, this is the third or fourth UHR conference I have been to, and I am always impressed by the innovativeness and professionalism of our UK colleagues. There is always something new to learn, to understand different perspectives and the friendship and welcome is always great.