Industry News

Five takeaways from the PEOPLE stage at PPA Festival 2022

By Laurence Smith

24 May 2022

Whilst previous Festivals may have gamely soldiered on without one, now - with new PPA CEO Sajeeda Merali at the helm - there’s zippo chance the people side of publishing will be getting overlooked for a moment longer. Indeed, attentive members will have noticed People being immortalised as one of the three pillars of the PPA strategy. And what would be the points of a Festival that didn’t ride in tandem with the strategy?

In publishing, creativity trumps productivity

Throughout a modern economy, HR Directors lie awake at night obsessing about how to motivate their workforce to churn out five per cent more widgets. Not so in publishing! The success of our industry hinges upon people being fired with the spark of creativity – a flair for attention-grabbing prose, and a passion for trying stuff tomorrow that’s different from what you did yesterday. The creative spark cannot be taught but it can be nurtured. Jill Ford (Head of HR, Bauer Media) and Olivia Crellin (Founder, PressPad) both set out a bold agenda for HR teams at the top of their game – they need to foster a culture that will release creative juices. The publishing human resource development (HRD) is not unlike a gardener tending to a field of lush marigolds. Pay attention to the environmental conditions, and – coupled with regular feeding and occasional pruning – the vibrant colours will explode in a cornucopia of hypnotic beauty.

Received wisdom ain’t so wise

Like so many of us, HR take comfort in tested solutions. But even the Rolling Stones on tour need to mix up their greatest hits with some new material. Teresa Exelby (Chief People Officer, Community Integrated Care) and Jay Muthu (Director of Organisation and People Capability, Entain) hailed from vastly different sectors – but each faces, in their own way, a challenge shared with the publishing sector: how the blazes do you attract, motivate and retain the best and brightest that Gen Z has to offer? The answer is to challenge shibboleths passed down through the generations. Why insist on a five-day week if compressed hours gives a better outcome? Why take two months to offer a position, if that allows other employers the window to swoop? Why force your new starters to spend their early days sat through interminable lectures about the pension plan when you could be inspiring them with tales of corporate derring-do? Why force them into a corporate hierarchy designed for a different era when you could shape your organisation to put people first?

Adaptability is greatness

Who would hire a computer engineer whose skills hadn’t progressed since they were fixing Olivetti mainframes in the 1950s? Making an impact in your career is no longer about acquiring skills in your 20s which you can still ply decades later. For both Peter Cheese (CEO, Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) and Surinder Simmons (Chief People Officer, Hearst Europe), the modern workforce should be a bubbling cauldron of people desperate to adapt to new opportunities, technologies, expectations. Did a single corporate risk register in 2019 foresee an era marked by pandemic, lockdown, ten per cent inflation or war in Europe? A publishing exec with a single tool in their kit will fizzle, flop, flounder, fold and fail during such turbulence. But those equipped with the mental agility and street-smarts to adapt will prosper. No one can confidently predict the size and shape of the publishing world in 2030. But we be certain of one thing – it will be vastly different from our industry in 2022. A dynamic workforce will be one that can keep pace with these changes. An even better one will pioneer them.

The workplace is not bricks and mortar

Neither is it your home. Panellists from Morna Dason-Barber (HR Director, Institution of Engineering and Technology) to Mike Gedye (Executive Director, CBRE) were critical of the simplistic binary notion that people should either work from the office or from home. We agree – how barren is the world in which those are the only options? The workplace is fundamentally about congregating, collaborating and people performing their best. If that’s in serviced offices, a coffee house, or the Fox and Hound then so much the better. There will always be some type of role for “the office”, but there’s no benefit forcing your teams to brave the early morning commute (that’s assuming it’s a ‘no-strike day’ on the trains), only to sit on zoom calls all day. HRDs must think imaginatively about how they can configure the workplace, so people see a positive value in being there. The panellists shared images of a selection of workplaces that have gloriously risen to the challenge.

Never be deterred by the faint embers of a flailing resistance

Jo Brandl (Group HR Director, Immediate Media) has worked miracles driving change within the workplace but the gains were not always easy. A more diverse and inclusive workplace is widely welcomed, but the enthusiasm is scarcely universal. How to deal with the forces of inertia? Is it through top-down authority or the power of persuasion? Few people in the land can speak with such direct experience of overcoming resistance as Maria Miller MP, the cabinet minister who took the same sex marriage legislation through parliament and onto the statute book. For her, building alliances was the essential to success. At the time, the change was highly controversial and hotly contested – months later, it was part of the mainstream. This should be welcome encouragement to anyone else rising from their haunches to promote the cause of equal opportunities. The obstacles might at first seem foreboding; rest assured, they are not impenetrable.

The People stage was an absolute blast. 12 incredible guests, the best stage manager and sound engineer in the land, and (most importantly!) a vocal and enthusiastic audience - which included regular a few recurring faces who stayed with us throughout the day, as well as newcomers for the later sessions who – we like to think – had picked up the strong word of mouth, and were mustard keen to find out more. Most importantly, a brim-full agenda with enough fascinating discussion points to last a Galapagos tortoise’s lifetime. Let’s all do it again next year!

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