The CHRO Virtual Summit Reloaded: Event Summary

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As the Northern hemisphere summer of 2018 draws to a close and winter beckons, there’s a white-hot fire being lit under the feet of HR departments around the world. This fire is of course the oncoming transformation challenges they will face in the coming months. CHROs and HR leaders are going to feel this pressure the most – potentially out of all business professionals – as they are at the head of creating the organizations of tomorrow. Due to the rate of technological and organizational change, HR leaders have a huge array of challenges to prepare for – from the rise of AI and robotics, to the proliferation of new ‘agile’ organizational methodologies. The CHRO is now on the front lines of transforming organizations, transforming work, and transforming the lives of employees.

Following from the success of the inaugural event in May, the CHRO Virtual Summit Reloaded brought together 12 expert speakers and an international audience of over 3000 attendees for another thought provoking day of learning and idea sharing. The Summit’s full speaker faculty included:

  • Graeme Codrington, CEO, TodayTomorrow & The Future of Work Academy
  • Ingrid Eras-Magdalena, EVP & CHRO, Belmond
  • Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business, Ross School of Business – University of Michigan
  • Gerard Penning, EVP HR Downstream, Shell
  • Michael Arena, Chief Talent Officer, General Motors
  • Bahar Rasouli, Director of Global People Performance, Leadership, Leadership Assessment, Volvo Group
  • John Boudreau, Professor and Research Director, USC Marshall School of Business
  • Kathryn van der Merwe, CHRO, ANZ
  • Sanjiv Augustine, Founder and CEO, LitheSpeed & Agile Leadership Academy
  • Whitney Johnson, Innovation and Disruption Theorist
  • Johnathan Ferrar, CEO, Insight222 & author of The Power of People
  • Garry Ridge, President and CEO, WD40

Throughout the event, a few key ideas and themes began to emerge – topics currently high on the priority list for HR leaders and professionals. We’ll go through each of the individual sessions over the coming weeks, but here’s a quick summation.


It’s a little bit odd how the concept of agility has begun to creep into HR. As a business idea, it’s not entirely new or groundbreaking, you could even say it’s a become an empty statement thrown around offices. Everyone these days wants to be more agile. There are also a lot of misconceptions around what ‘going agile’ actually entails, particularly from senior business executives. If we keep to a more broad definition of agility (rather than the methodology of “Agile”), which is what appears to be the most prevalent at the moment, agile transformations require a number of important steps. The most critical is related to the culture and mindset the organization. The ultimate goal of becoming more agile is to create a company that is responsive and adaptive to challenging situations – something the command and control model was never that competent at. This means that leaders, and especially the C-suite need to be open to embracing authentic agile changes. From this initial point, some of the concepts of agile change can begin to take hold such as; strategic agility, individual agility, organizational agility, and HR agility.

“Our job as HR professionals is to build organizational agility as a capacity to respond to the external change in which we live”

Dave Ulrich

Building a great work environment

As leaders of the HR organization and a significant arm of the entire business, the CHRO is ultimately in charge of creating a work environment that drives business success. Again, this isn’t an idea foreign to HR professionals, but what’s really changed over the last few years is the amount of leverage HR leaders now have to implement true environmental improvements. As AI and cognitive technologies augment many of the practices that take place in the workplace, the fundamental need for human interaction is not going to disappear. As Dave Ulrich suggests, in fact, these technologies are going to facilitate a new focus for leaders to create meaningful interactions, negate digital exhaustion, and combat social isolation. Employee experience is not simply things, nor is it a collection of shiny new applications – it’s now a holistic approach to creating an blended environment that forges meaningful interactions and value for all.

“Organizations that create a culture of belonging – a tribal culture – are ones that create huge employee engagement”

Garry Ridge

Digital HR and the new skills for work

Few topics have gathered as much attention over the last 2-3 years in HR as the rise of digital technologies has. The proliferation of apps, HCM systems, cognitive computing, AI, blockchain, people analytics platforms and other avenues of digital outreach have really begun to make themselves felt in the world of HR. Digital technologies in HR is not just about making HR’s job easier and more focused, it’s about bringing HR and the business closer together. Furthermore, the range of digital skills required for both HR roles and many other important jobs is becoming more apparent. HR leaders must possess both the technical and adaptive acumen that the current climate requires – they must also be up to speed on the wider digital market and the skills that their current and future employees and must have to succeed. This skill set requirement will subsequently inform a huge range of HR’s duties – from recruitment to adaptive learning and development. Simply put, AI and digital technologies are changing HR and the workforce in a way that necessitates constant improvement, adaptation, and learning.

“The talented people of the 2020s are going to be the people who exhibit the types of skills and capabilities that machines are not able to do”

Graeme Codrington

Leading change

Of all of the tasks facing the CHRO, leading organizational change is probably the most pressing. Regardless of the specifics of the change, HR leaders now have a business mandate to lead change and positively impact the outcome of transformation initiatives. Why is it that HR leaders are so important in business change? The reality is that HR is uniquely positioned within organizations to strategically plan how best to use resources to impact change programs. HR has the knowledge of the business, the market, the skills, the platforms, the structures, and the wider social environment to make informed decisions on how to transform the company. The CHRO in particular has a powerful position to influence business leaders and particularly the CEO, providing counsel on people issues that significantly impact the direction of the organization, whilst also being the voice of the everyman.

“A leader cannot be everything, you have to deal with the strengths and weaknesses of leadership by compensating for that in the composition of teams”

Gerard Penning

Thank you to everyone who registered and attended the Summit! We sincerely hope that you gained some poignant insights and meaningful discussion-starters to help you in your professional life, and of course, for your organization’s continued growth and success. If you missed the Summit or some of the presentations – don’t worry – you can purchase access to the presentations and slides for a 30-day period by following this link.

The 3rd HR Congress Brussels, November 27-28 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog and #HRCongress18 to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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