Ian Cunningham – HR Questions?

This week I attended a talk by Ian Cunningham entitled “What’s it all about? What is our work in aid of? Addressing some big questions (for HR)” Hosted by the CIPD’s (the UKs training and HR professionals members organisation) local Sussex branch.

In a down-to-earth earth and humble fashion Ian Cunnigham asked big questions as to why we in training and HR do what we do, and shared with us some fascinating facts, perspectives and a wealth of experience from research and a life of work in the field.
Ian Cunningham suggested a “subjective list of of four big issues for HR”:

Comparing the “good life” with the “pleasant life”, discussing human depth needs underlying this (meaning, intimacy, truth, etc), work-life balance and questioning HR’s role in leading to employee ill-health and a greater chance of death through downsizing and wage/status differentials . For me “well-being” is too small a word for what he was talking about which encompassed reducing suffering, being fully human at work and personal growth.

Education and Learning

Ian Cunningham contrasted knowledge vs wisdom, questioned the governments emphasis on skills (the people who got us into the financial mess we’re in were after all “skilled” he pointed out) and talk of how children are educated to see cooperative behaviour as cheating. After a career working with adults in organisations Ian now works with young people.

Organisation Development

My main take-away here was Ian’s emphasis on how “difference beats best” stressing the importance of diversity in organizations to avoid group-think. Also that team buidling may not be all a god thing if it involved “bonding rather than bridging.” As I look to build my own associates team up, I was reminded of the importance of looking for folks NOT like the current team beyond our normal circles.


There is a strong case to be made that HR and training are not professional, as professions have a moral code and an established knowledge base (medicine for example). There is a possible role for HR as the moral (or if you prefer human) voice of organisations that is rarely embodied. Ian suggested that companies do not exist just to add share-holder value and echoed my piece on renaming “Human Resources.”
The day was great food for thought and an excellent compliment to the Servant Leadership seminar the next day (see post below). Thanks to Ian Cunningham and Sussex CIPD.

Ian’s paper on “The Warrior and The Sage” is also worth a look if you like this blog.

HR So What: You matter and can be so much bigger and more human.

Ian Cunningham currently chairs Strategic Developments International Ltd. and the not-for-profit Centre for Self Managed Learning. He is Visiting Professor in Organisational Capability at Middlesex University; a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Educational Innovation at the University of Sussex and he has recently served on the Adjunct Faculty of the Fielding Institute, California. He was Chief Executive of Roffey Park Management Institute from 1987 to 1993. Ian Cunnigham has also been a trainer, a manager and a research chemist, and he has served on the boards of companies in the travel and the insurance sectors. Organisations with whom he has worked include: – Avon, Axa, BAE Systems, Beiersdorf, Birmingham City Council, Coca Cola, Debenhams, Ericsson, Exxon, Fujitsu, Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Liverpool Victoria, Nestlé, NHS, Royal and Sun Alliance, Sainsbury’s, Shell, Virgin, Vodafone and Zurich.