The organisation of the future at HR Tech Europe

HR Tech Europe logoLast week’s inaugural trip was a pretty intense learning experience for me and I’m only now just getting my thoughts in order. Quite a few speakers I’ve seen recently at this and other events have referenced making time for reflection, so instead of firing off a quick summary blog, I’ve tried to really reflect on what I saw and heard at HR Tech Europe.

First impressions are it’s a slick event, well planned and executed by the organisers. There are no exhibition-only attendees, everyone there is a delegate at the conference which I thought might mean it felt a bit less busy and buzzy but that wasn’t the case. The exhibition seemed generally busy with some quite cool tech on offer, more of which in a follow up post. I was really impressed with the speaker line-up and the sessions on offer in the conference. On more than one occasion I had a clash where I had to make hard choices of who to watch.

The outstanding element of the event for me were the keynote speakers. I am not always a real fan of keynotes where high level, conceptual ideas are put out there – which is all well and good but leaves the rest of us with little practical advice on how to take things forward within our organisations. Not so here.

David McCandless Beauty of Data, HR Tech EuropeDavid McCandless presented an interesting view on how to represent data and make it beautiful. For me, it sat outside some of the themes from the other keynotes but was fascinating nonetheless. He expounds that we need to look at data differently and demonstrated how easy it can be to pick up patterns and trends from data when it is not in a spreadsheet. And I’m all for making things pretty!

The sessions from the other headliners had more in common however. Yves Morieux, Ray Wang and Professor Gary Hamel (who were all excellent presenters) all discussed the lack of employee engagement in organisations today. In fact, not only are employees not engaged, they are ‘actively disengaged’. And this, they all seem to concur, is at least partly a reaction to the hierarchy, processes and layers that make up the modern day organisation. Morieux wryly referred to them as ‘labyrinths of complicatedness’ where disengaging is frankly the only sensible option. But disengaged employees don’t make for productive employees which presents business leaders with a challenge that needs to be addressed. However, he posits that the traditional pillars of management, and all the talent and leadership development that gets done these days doesn’t seem to be helping.

Morieux believes if we break down matrix structures and silos and work together that we’ll improve performance. It’s not about the ‘exoskeleton’ of org chart boxes but about focusing on the ‘nervous system’ of connectedness, adaptiveness and intelligence. Basically the different parts of the organisation need to co-operate because when that happens, everything takes less time, less resource and less complexity. He showed a video of a relay race where a team won by the finest margin. When examining what made that millisecond of difference, he found it was lots of little things all coming together at once. It was the athletes’ mental belief, their co-operation with each other, the power that was not just in their legs but rippling throughout their entire bodies…and there’s no measurement for that. The inference is that organisations need to stop being so obsessed with reporting and measuring, foster co-operation, understand what people *really* do in their roles (going beyond the box in the org chart and the typed up job description), nurture their skills and intelligence and encourage them to make a difference.

Wang’s session also looked at shifting business models. He bounced around the stage with great enthusiasm talking about how the advent of the digital era has revolutionised the way we work. A quick show of hands in the audience demonstrated that many of us now work from home for example, we use social media in our working lives as well as our personal lives – but the structures within which we work have not evolved in a way that keeps pace with these changes. Technology has moved the goal posts and we need to change how we hire, onboard, train and develop our people now. No pressure then! One of the parts of his session I loved was his smashing of the millienials myth to talk about segmentation of the workforce not by age but by digital proficiency (apologies for the slightly blurry pic).

Ray Wang Digitial Proficiency, HR Tech Europe

Employees now want to create and manage their own experiences outside prescribed plans and we should allow context to drive activity.

Ray Wang Digital Context, HR Tech Europe

His 5 steps to digital transformation advocate changing organisational structures and nurturing ‘digital artisans’ to create, innovate and thrive rather than be stifled within existing hierarchies. And key to all of this is HR and IT finding a way to work in co-operation with each other :) (Photo credit: Mervyn Dinnen).

Ray Wang 5 Steps, HR Tech Europe

And then as if to bring it all together, Professor Gary Hamel burst onto the stage as the closing keynote, loud, impassioned and incredibly engaging despite it being the end of a full on two days. All my devices (phone, iPad *and* laptop) had run out of juice by this point so I don’t have tweets to refer back to (I always use them as notes after live tweeting from events) but what he said had a real impact (Photo credits below to David D’Souza).

Professor Gary Hamel, HR Tech Europe

He told us he wasn’t there to reveal the management practices of the future because the right practices simply haven’t been invented yet. But what was clear from his perspective is that current organisational hierarchies are broken (bet you’re surprised about that by now) and that the only way to sustain competitive advantage is by constantly innovating, not just products, services and technology but the structures and direction of a company itself. The old ‘incumbents’ like Walmart are now struggling against the ‘insurgents’ like Amazon thanks to their inability to change and embrace new ideas from their employees (again, there was a reference to employee disengagement here). Hamel believes organisations need to invest more in the creative capital that employees represent whilst also handing them more power.

His view on existing management structures is pretty scathing and he referenced some organisations like Morning Star where there are NO managers, NO bosses, just peer review. Pretty powerful stuff and pretty wonderful in its way, but for the likes of Vodafone or BP or any of the other large companies in the audience, this must also seem pretty impossible. What I liked about Hamel’s session was that he had some practical tips for starting to make change in small areas. He was involved with the CIPD last year in creating a HR hack and I love the idea that incremental changes can start to happen thanks to one or two brave individuals.

Professor Gary Hamel, CIPD HR Hack, HR Tech Europe

He acknowledged that real change takes time and iteration. And also that the likes of Facebook and Amazon are now becoming the new incumbents so the pressure is now on them to keep innovating too. He closed with some thoughts on what some are already putting into action to create the organisations of the future, today.

Professor Gary Hamel, closing, HR Tech Europe

Ultimately I doubt any of the attendees at HR Tech Europe are going to be able to go back to their organisations and completely overhaul their company structure. But the fact that employee engagement is so high on the agenda and the root causes of this are now being explored can only be a good thing. If small but sometimes painful processes like expenses or holiday requests *can* be changed and improved whilst employees also potentially being given more time and space to be creative then that seems like a reasonable but achievable goal which is worth chasing. Incidentally, one provider I spoke to at the event told me that all of their staff are given creative time when they want it to experiment and develop new ideas. Two of their staff have now independently developed a new piece of software which has been such a hit it’s been taken to market and is delighting their customers. Good to see some of this theory can work in practice. It will be interesting to go back next year and see what progress has been made and whether the organisations of the future are becoming a reality, even if it’s just bit by bit.

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The night before…HR Tech Europe

I should be packing right now but instead I thought I’d share a few things I’m looking forward to at this week’s HR Tech Europe event. I’ll be tweeting and blogging on Thursday and Friday this week and hope to bring a flavour of what’s happening, what’s new and what’s exciting to those not there (or those in different sessions to me).

A brand new event
It’s my first time at this event and I genuinely have no preconceptions about it other than the fact the line-up is great (more below). I’m excited to see a new exhibition and some vendors who are breaking down barriers with their technology. The disruptHR zone is a cool concept as well and great to see smaller start-ups being given an opportunity to show their wares alongside the established providers. I’m also intrigued to see the difference that having just conference attendees makes. At most big UK events, the expo can be attended for free so there are lots of exhibition only attendees mixed in with those attending the conference. Not so at HR Tech Europe, but there are 2,000 people registered so it should still be busy and buzzy!

Making new connections
Happily there are a few people going that I already know (hat tip David D’Souza who’s a fellow newbie to this event) and am planning to meet up with, but there are going to be a lot of faces I’ve never seen before. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, hearing new stories and forging new connections.

New insights
I’m attending streams on the ‘Future of Workforce Learning’ and ‘HR Technology’ as well as the opening keynote and one or two other general sessions. Some speakers I’ve heard before but am eagerly anticipating new insights from the likes of David Wilson, Charles Jennings and the lesser spotted David Havis (who I haven’t seen for ages!) It will also be good to hear new insights from speakers who are new to me from the likes of the Boston Consulting Group, Travelex and Etihad Airways. Having the chance to hear current case studies and sessions from a broader European perspective will be interesting too.

Using more words
As the curator of backchannels, my priority at live events is often the immediate 140 characters available on Twitter. I try and reflect on certain sessions afterwards on my blog, but the shorter format of tweets is usually my focus. However on this occasion I am part of the blog squad so will be doing more analysis and providing more in-depth reviews which should be a useful and interesting exercise.

I’m also getting into the swing of things by using the official event app. In addition to the hashtag #HRTechEurope the app provides access to other attendees and is building interest and anticipation in an engaging way. I’m enjoying using it and been really rather impressed with it.

Let me know if there’s anything you want to keep an eye out for and I look forward to sharing as much as I can over the next few days.


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The ‘Amazon of learning’ comes to HR Tech Europe

Springest is one of the exciting companies taking part in this year’s disruptHR Zone at HR Tech Europe. I spoke to Jon Woodruff, director of business development and global partnerships, to uncover what the ‘Amazon of learning’ is all about.

Springest is part of the disruptHR Zone at this year’s event, tell us a bit about the company.
Well, Springest has been around since 2008 and we see ourselves as disruptors of the training market – in a positive way! Springest is an independent comparison website for training courses and educational programmes. So learning and development providers place their offers with us, allowing individuals and organisations to view, compare and evaluate their options and find their ideal course. We’re changing the way people buy training and are excited to share that with the attendees of HR Tech Europe this year.

The site has been described as an ‘Amazon for learning’. Is that a good way for people to understand what Springest offers?
In a way, yes! Springest has over 35,000 courses, from 420 different providers, covering 570 different subjects from IT to legal to software engineering. Users can find training to suit their learning preferences, location and budget. Then once the course is over, they can share their experience by submitting a review. We have a star rating system for different elements of the training to let users evaluate their decisions by seeing feedback on what’s most important to them. So it is in fact an online marketplace for learning and the reviews can place a big factor in the purchasing decisions of our users.

It’s an interesting concept, what were the drivers for setting up a site like Springest?
In 2007, our founder Ruben Timmerman was searching online for some training he needed. It was a web development course and he realised that although there were lots of seemingly good training options out there, he had no way of comparing and contrasting the good ones and the bad ones. He felt this was something that could – and should – be addressed. So the concept was born! Originally the site was called eduhub but was rebranded to Springest in 2012.

We started by focusing on training courses in the Netherlands but have now expanded across Europe into other countries including Germany and the UK. Some of the big training providers grasped the idea straight away which gave us a great number of courses to get going. And it’s snowballed from there with over 200,000 visitors to the site every month. We have a fantastic team of developers that make sure our search engine optimisation is world class. This means the providers get better Google rankings, more visitors and ultimately more learners engaging with their training.

What do you feel are the main benefits of Springest for learners?
Firstly, it’s so easy! All learners need to do is search on a keyword or the subject area they’re interested in and Springest will return a series of results based on their ranking. Once they click onto a course and start reading up on the detail, they can at any time hit the ‘compare’ button to see how it ranks against other similar courses. We take into account key factors including price, location and duration as well as the rankings from the reviews. It’s all displayed in an at-a-glance table to make the decision making process as straightforward as possible for learners.

How can organisations take advantage of Springest?
Organisations can use the main site to suit their needs but if they have a lot of training requirements then they can have their own branded version that we call ‘Go’. We believe that people will be more motivated to learn if they get to choose their own courses. Go lets learners within organisations find and book the training they need to grow and removes the pressure from the HR department to do it for them. The aim is help motivate learners make good decisions about their training and help improve the impact of an organisation’s human capital development.

Given that a lot of learning is moving online these days, do you think that will impact Springest’s offering?

No, in fact we’re embracing it. A lot of the courses we feature are virtual sessions so learners can still find the subject they need, compare and contrast with other courses and learn online from wherever they are. Far from learning technology representing a threat, we are excited about the opportunities it represents for our learners as it will lead to greater choice and greater reach in the future.

For more information visit

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Great expectations

On Monday I had the unfortunate task of sending my mobile phone off to be repaired. Happily, while I wait for it come back with a new screen (whoops) I have been lent another phone of the same make and model. I took the SIM card out, slipped it into the borrowed handset and voila! My profile was there with all my contacts and apps. Easy.

consumerAnd d’you know what? I expected it to be easy too. My expectations around the technology I use every day have risen to a seriously high level. I expect hardware to just work out of the box. I expect software to be intuitive. Even if it is something I use for work. And it is this ‘consumerisation of technology’ that is having one of the biggest impacts on corporate systems today, including those used in learning and HR. More and more our experience as consumers in our personal lives influences what we expect in a corporate setting. Arguably, iPhones changed the game initially and now everything from Netflix (seamless content consumption between devices) to Google Hangouts (who needs webinar software?) is eroding the status quo of organisational IT.

Research from City & Guilds Kineo and e.learning age
suggests staff now:

• Expect to find information online easily as and when they need it
• Expect to work seamlessly across devices
• Have a low tolerance for technology that is difficult to use or doesn’t work
• Have online social networks where they seek support for both personal and professional challenges
• Expect a more personalised experience

In short, it is no longer good enough to have corporate software that is dull and clunky. People will avoid using it at all costs. And this has put real pressure on software providers across the board to develop new front ends, reduce the number of clicks required and focus on the end-user rather than system administrators. Huge budgets are being spent on user experience design and development to ensure the next generation of HR systems of intuitive, mobile and customisable. But is it working?

Only skin deep?

lipstickInitially it seemed that it was like putting lipstick on a pig in some cases. Excuse the analogy but when some systems emerged with pretty new home pages hiding the same old lengthy processes underneath, there was little cause for celebration. However, this seems to be starting to change. More software providers in the HR and learning space are embracing fundamental shifts in how their systems need to work to suit today’s employees. It isn’t just about adding on new bits of functionality. It’s about fundamentally re-examining how people get their jobs done. Social, for instance, isn’t about sticking in a chatroom or message boards and hoping people use them. It is about collaborative working, building networks and helping staff derive genuine interaction and value from their colleagues. And it is now starting to become a properly integrated part of the next generation of HR systems. Properly optimised mobile sites are also finally emerging and gamification is even starting to play a role in a business context according to Gartner. Indeed, Open Badges are already being used in learning and development by some organisations. Plus the content employees can access through their corporate systems today reflects the changing nature of how we consume information across different media today. Video, podcasts and apps are starting to stack up alongside traditional elearning and PDF reference guides.

There are also new kids on the block emerging with different takes on solving challenges in learning and HR. This has put pressure on the incumbents to raise their game and take employee engagement very seriously indeed.

HR Tech Europe logoSo with my expectations justly raised, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the new user-led solutions in action at HR Tech Europe this month and discover just what the next generation of systems has in store for us. I shall report back with my findings and would love to know your thoughts and experiences on this.

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Learning Live 2014: The Chimp Paradox

OK, so this is really overdue. I’ve had a few things crop up that have stopped me publishing this before now but hopefully it’s still relevant. The event might have been nearly a month ago but the ideas and indeed its impact will live on much longer I think.

20140911_102846Having been kindly invited by the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI) to be part of the backchannel team for Learning Live 2014, my main duty was to share what was going on via Twitter. However, the keynote presentation from Dr. Steve Peters was almost impossible to do justice to in a series of 140 characters. So I decided to take notes instead and see if I could begin to recap it in a blog. Here’s the overview for what the session promised:

Attendees will be educated into the workings of the human mind, particularly emphasising emotional management leading to optimising performance. In speeches, as in his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, Steve explains his method to help us understand and control our ‘inner chimp’ – the irrational, impulsive, seemingly impossible part of our mind that often holds us back. Examining motivation, confidence and communication, he shows that competition is as much in the mind as it is in the field or on the track – or in the office.

I came into this session not having read the book (although have since purchased it, like many others in the audience I suspect) so had no prior conceptions about what Peters would say. He began by telling us he isn’t a sports psychologist but a psychiatrist who isn’t even much of sports fan. Yet he works with British Cycling and helped them win numerous medals over the years. Peters told us that he can’t do a neat little ‘top five tips’ style presentation but that if we want to succeed and achieve the things in life we want then he had some useful insights.

Human beings have two machines that we can use to succeed; the body and the mind. Our minds are divided into six different parts of the brain. which Peters groups into three key areas:
• The chimp
• The human
• The computer

20140911_103451The chimp is the animal part of our brain that controls our emotions and causes a lot of the battles we struggle with internally. Peters showed some pretty hilarious videos demonstrating how when we feel threatened or angry or our emotions generally take over (like a printer squirting ink over some poor soul in an office) then our chimp kicks in and we fight back (said poor soul proceeds to smash up said printer with anything he can lay his hands on!) This is how we are genetically programmed to respond – which might be fine in the jungle, but clearly it is not always helpful, particularly in a working environment.

Peters believes we all have a responsibility to manage our inner chimp. But the trick is not to squash it. If we can slow the internal workings of our brain down a bit then we can try and use it to our advantage. If our human brain knows what we want to achieve and why – then we can start to assess how our emotions, thoughts and behaviours impact the probability of us achieving our optimal performance. For example, if you are due to give a presentation but particularly nervous about it, your chimp might take over and you could end up panicking, causing you to stutter and make a mess of it. But if you can *manage* your chimp, harnessing the adrenaline but using your human brain to reassure yourself that things will be alright then you can start to reach your optimal performance levels in presenting.

We are what we achieve?

What Peters said about achievement itself was very interesting. He used the example of a school report where a child had tried hard in Maths but failed the exam. Yet found English easy and didn’t have to try to ace it and get a great result. He asked the audience what we would say if the child asked if we were proud of them. Most said they would applaud the effort that went into the Maths even though it didn’t lead to any real achievement.

5 Wishes_Chimp ParadoxHowever, he noted that although this is a noble sentiment we are setting the child up for a fall because this isn’t how we view success in reality. He talked about how people feel on their death beds and most of them will not give advice to work harder or achieve more, but to ‘be happy’. It seems we are torn apart by the different parts of our brains, and our conflicting desires to succeed and keep achieving versus taking stock and being content with what we have.

Interestingly Dave Brailsford, who works with Peters and the British cycling team, once said of his prodigious athletes ‘We’re into happiness’. And Peters asserts that if people are happy, they are unbeatable. Happiness and achievement are far from mutually exclusive. But he also teaches the athletes that he works with that the achievement of medals is not the be all and end all. It does not exclusively define them. And in acknowledging that and harnessing the desire of the chimp to win, his athletes become more relaxed, happier and seemingly more likely to win. Hence the use of the word paradox in the session title!

Peters recommends allocating time to our emotional skills development and to stop and think about what we’re doing. What do you want to achieve? Does what you’re doing right now help you achieve that?

As you can see, it’s a session that in some ways asks more questions than it answers and one that has been challenging to try and distil even into this many words, let alone 140 characters. I hope to have more insights once I’ve finished the book and you can see Peters speaking here. But even if you take nothing else away, I think the underlying principles of harnessing and managing your emotions, taking the time to *really* thinking about what you want to achieve and why, and of course, being happy while you do it, are ideals we can all strive for and use to help our own performance; whether that’s in the workplace or in elsewhere in life.

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Learning and Skills Summer Conference 2014

Is it really five months since the learning community descended on west London for Learning Technologies? Well it must be, for this week sees the Learning and Skills Group Summer Conference open its doors on Tuesday 17 June. Run by the same fabulous team, this event is designed to explore some of the main themes from the January event, the monthly webinar series and online discussions on the Learning and Skills Group community site.

There are lots of different types of session including auditorium sessions, café sessions, workshops and seminars, all with the common theme of interaction and engagement. Plus, the Summer Forum exhibition runs alongside the conference giving attendees a chance to meet suppliers and see what’s new.

Uniquely this year, I’ve pulled together the back channel team for this event but won’t actually be there myself. Alas, a flight to Crete was booked long before the date was confirmed but my crack team of tweeters will be there to bring you everything you need to follow what’s happening whether you can attend in person or not. Below is all you need to know to make the most of what’s going on.

The team

Here are the details for the dream team who will all be attending sessions throughout the day and bringing you insights and resources from across the conference. If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, go forth, find and follow.

Don Taylor (Conference Chairman) – @DonaldHTaylor
Learning Technologies official feed – @LT14UK
Learning and Skills official feed – @LAS14UK
Martin Belton – @martinb66
Barbara Thompson – @CaribThompson
Alex Watson – @s0ngb1rd
Kim George – @kimsgeorge
Marco Faccini – @marcoable
Mark Bradshaw – @memarkyb
Susie Finch – @susiefinch

You can also follow Ascot Communications (@ascot_comms) for reminders on who’s covering which sessions, when and other general signposting messages and updates.


This year’s conference features four tracks and over 20 speakers discussing current learning topics as diverse as video in learning, storytelling and MOOCs. To follow what’s happening across the event, you need to tune into the hashtag #LTSF14. Try and use this if you’re tweeting (whether you’re there or not!) The team is keen to be able to bring your thoughts and questions into sessions even if you’re not able to be there.

So we can cut through some of the ‘noise’ on Twitter, each conference session will also have its own individual hashtag so you can just tune into what individual speakers are saying. For example, someone might tweet: Laura Overton says 72% of organisations regularly undertake employee engagement surveys #LTSF14 #T2S1 You get the idea. For the full conference programme click here and see below for individual session details.

Keynote: Open – how we will work, live and learn in the future, David Price OBE #OA1

Session one: 11.15 – 12.15

  • Three tech trends that could change learning forever – Donald Clark #T1S1 (Covered by Marco Faccini and Barbara Thompson)
  • Grabbing the attention of time starved learners – Laura Overton #T2S1 (Covered by Alex Watson)
  • Creativity and the art of learning leadership – Doug Shaw #T3S1 (Covered by Kim George, Mark Bradshaw and Susie Finch)
  • How to design and deliver a corporate MOOC – Martin Couzins #T4S1 (Covered by Martin Belton)

Session two: 13.30 – 14.30

  • Transforming organisational learning – Jane Hart #T1S2 (Covered by Mark Bradshaw and Alex Watson)
  • How to capture your audience with stories – Deborah Frances-White #T2S2 (Covered by Kim George and Barbara Thompson)
  • Level up your learners with games – Kris Swanson #T3S2 (Covered by Marco Faccini)
  • Making learning stick – Mark Edwards #T4S2 (Covered by Martin Belton and Susie Finch)

Session three 15.00 – 16.00

  • The big shift: changing how we think about learning – Nigel Paine #T1S3 (Covered by Barbara Thompson and Mark Bradshaw
  • Making mobile learning work – Terence Eden #T2S3 (Covered by Marco Faccini)
  • Video for learning – Mark Davies and Mark Copeman #T3S3 (Covered by Kim George and Alex Watson)
  • Design thinking: more than a process – Sam Burrough #T4S3 (Covered by Martin Belton)


As well as giving attendees an opportunity to talk to suppliers and see some solutions and demos in action, there is also a packed free seminar programme within the exhibition. There isn’t structured coverage of this but no doubt the exhibitors will provide resources and information about their chosen topics so stay tuned to the main event hashtag #LTSF14 for details.


If you’re not already a part of the LSG online community, it’s open all year round and available for you to join here.

Please do get stuck in and ask questions via the back channellers, air your opinions and share useful links and resources. It’s always a lively event online with so much value for everyone involved – and every contribution counts.

I hope you enjoy another fantastic event and I look forward to tuning into the back channel from my sun lounger before returning with a vengeance for next January.


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Resources from the CIPD’s Learning & Development Show

As I was awake at 5am this morning (as I am now most mornings thanks to being a new mum) I had a chance to look through some of the live blogs and tweets from yesterday’s Learning & Development Show #cipdLDShow. Interestingly for me, because I wasn’t there to cover the event in an official capacity, I ended up taking the opportunity to catch up with people and spent nearly all day in conversation (although many that know how much I like to chat won’t be terribly surprised by that).

So I thought I’d post some links here and will add more reflection on the event itself in a separate post.

Official CIPD Tumblr curated for this event by the inimitable Perry Timms (@PerryTimms):

A nice round up day one from one of the live bloggers, Phil Willcox (@PhilWillcox):

Thought provoking stuff (as ever) from Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) on the fact there’s nothing really new in L&D:

Some fun visual reflections from the day’s events via Simon Heath (@simonheath1)

Coverage from conference sessions on leadership, employee engagement and leadership from Ian Pettigrew (@KingfisherCoach):

CIPD report on its annual L&D survey:

Will add to this post as I get a chance to review more of the content from the show.

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