HR Advisors Conference Blog

Further thoughts from the conference or about the challenges of being in an HR Advisory role.

London ideas on being a culture champion

Last week in London the first UK HR Advisors Conference was held.  In every city that Angela has presented her session on how to measure culture and what HR Advisors can do to build culture from an operational level – different ideas have hit home with the audience. In London, the tips that stood out most were:

  • Describing your culture as a thing or a person. Angela shared her example of working in a car leasing company and describing the culture as a car – what type, where it was going, who was driving, how did the passengers feel? Many HRA’s attending thought that might be a great way to approach describing the culture in their businesses.
  • Hofstede’s cultural factors – while these were mapped for different countries, they also work for describing different factors of an organisations culture. An interesting issue that came out was does a culture have to either competitive or caring? Could it be both?
  • Naming your HR policies and using plain language, visuals and colours to make them interesting to read. Angela shared the example of Valve’s HR manual and talked about what’s she called hers in several companies. This stood as an idea for several HRA’s attending to get managers and employees to read the HR policies more!

We then had our panel talk about different culture case studies.


Julie Drybrough from Fuchsiablue, Heather Taylor Portmann from ustwo and Tamasin Sutton, HR Manager for Addison Lee. All had some really interesting ideas about culture. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Julie talked about culture not being a logical, structural thing but more like a murmuration of birds all flying around but not bumping into each other. Or like the sea. A fish swimming in the sea doesn’t see it, but it’s still there.
  • Julie also talked about finding the person in your business who know’s what’s going on and how to get things done. In Julie’s example this was Dave who watered the plants. He could have a quiet word in the EA’s ear if you wanted to see a senior manager or could spread information far quicker than any formal communications.
  • Heather from ustwo discussed how you keep your culture when you grow in size. Ustwo currently take everyone on an annual company holiday. Growing bigger you can’t do this anymore – but she’s found that if you discuss this with everyone and explain the reasons, you actually find that people have better ideas about what can keep the culture and things they would value more.
  • Heather also shared a couple of ustwo’s values including JFDI (Just F**king Do It) which has taught her not to be a perfectionist about everything, and Succailure – which is about making mistakes, failing sometimes but having success lead from that.
  • Heather also talked about when ustwo opened an office in Malmo, in Sweden. Sweden has excellent maternity leave and flexibility provisions so they applied this to their London office. In New York ustwo started a pledge to raise maternity leave provisions and got other technology companies to join them in the pledge!
  • Tamasin shared 3 culture stories from 3 very different companies from her HR career. One of the things that stood out for her was at a staff away day – everyone had to experience having a disability (she was partially sighted) and then discuss how they could deliver to clients who had this disability that they had experienced.
  • Tamasin also shared the acronym LOVE – Live the Values Every Day. If you do that, then others will see how it’s done.

After a very interactive session on disciplinary and dismissals with Sarah Owen, we finished Day 1 talking about rolling out HR Initiatives and went through the 4 personality styles (from the Management Bites programme’s bird styles: Dove, Owl, Peacock and Eagle). If you can learn to adapt your communications to the different styles, then people are more likely to listen! For more about how the birds came into play at the very first HR Advisors Conference (and there were sink plugs involved) have a read of this.

On Day 2 we started with Tom Robinson from Talent Tomorrow. Tom shared several challenging thoughts about culture:

  • Everyone complains when they are stuck in traffic. The thing is, you’re not IN traffic. You ARE the traffic. It’s easy to complain about how things are done in a company, but you are part of it. So change your behaviour and that’s the first step.
  • How many HR people believe that people are the most important thing in a company? Tom asked for a show of hands, and everyone put them up. But when he asked how many worked for CEO’s who truly believed that too – only a few people put their hands up. To change culture we’ve got to have CEO’s who understand that people really are the biggest asset a company has got. How do we change CEO’s mindset on this? That’s the challenge!

Andy Swann from BDG talked about building your change toolbox to help people through change. He had a 3 step process:

  1. Discover – look at the best of what is currently happening
  2. Imagine – what could be
  3. Create – make it happen.

To help people be positive about change, you need to ask questions in a positive way. “What’s going to be good about this change?”

Rashmi Chopra went through some case law that can impact on culture – including dress code, discrimination, maternity leave and zero hour workers. She talked about the recent case where an agency temp didn’t wear high heels to work on the front desk at PwC. PwC require women to wear high heels and she didn’t want to. The case prompted a furore of discussion and PwC are now looking at changing their policy. Rashmi said that the upshot of this is a video of men trying to wear high heels to see what it’s like. If you want to watch, just click here!

We finished the conference with Tim Scott talking about HR innovation and 4 trends that are going to change our workplaces.

  1. The ‘consumerism’ of work – with employees or clients driving what they want products or services to do
  2. The rise of social, digital and technology
  3. Artificial intelligence and automation – 35% of UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 10 years (and the story about IBM’s Watson computer was fascinating! Just google it).
  4. The gig economy – the rise of freelance workers

We did a stand up survey of which is going to affect people most and about half the conference felt the rise of social was the biggest change, a quarter picked consumerism or the gig economy and only one person attending felt AI or automation would affect their workplace most! Tim’s session was a brilliant way to end two intense days.

All in all, it was a fantastic 2 days. At Elephant we try and make our conferences different: safe to discuss issues, inclusive, interactive and practical – so you actually get to leave with real tools and techniques to use.

Here are some of the comments attendees provided:

  • It was a great conference. Really thought provoking and plenty of time for group contributions too.
  • I really enjoyed the 2 days – it was great to be amongst HR professionals at the same level as me and discuss our issues and network. The content was really well thought out and presented and I took a lot away from the 2 days.
  • The conference was very well organised from the onset. The choice of presenters was excellent. This has been the most meaningful event that I have attended in my HR career – therefore I very much look forward to attending next year.

To have a look at the photos and tweets from the conference just click here.

We also experimented during the conference with Qnnect – an app that companies can use to send updates, run polls and quizzes and have discussions (like an internal Facebook with much more functionality). There were some hilarious discussions happening. If you want to find out more about Qnnect, just click here.

As for building culture, we think this year’s set of HR Advisors Conferences have shown that HRA’s can have a significant impact on a company culture and in the future we’ll share how some of those who attended have tried out the ideas they’ve heard.


Next year the HR Advisor’s Conference explores what the future HRA role will look like. We’re running it in:

  • Wellington, New Zealand on 30 – 31 January
  • Auckland, New Zealand on 27 – 28 Februrary
  • Melbourne, Australia on 14 – 15 March
  • London, England in June/July 2017 (dates to be confirmed).


To be kept up to date just click here to be on the HR Advisors update list.


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This entry was posted on October 15, 2016 by in Culture Champions and tagged , , , , .

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