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Conference diary

Phil Revell reports from Harrogate

* It's all in the bag

Teachers more used to in-service trainingdays held in draughty schools with the heating turned off might have appreciated last month's conference of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, an organisation that has a strong relationship with education. Not only is this the biggest management conference in Europe, there is also an abundance of three and four-star hotels in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where it meets every year. Delegates are provided with nifty little bags to carry hand-outs back to their hotel rooms.

Seminars are recorded, too, which allows the downright idle to wander around the shops then listen to the tapes on their way home. With free entertainment thrown in, the whole thing is a snip at pound;1 under pound;1,000 for the three days - excluding food and accommodation, naturally.

* A man to follow

Not surprisingly, there aren't many teachers in evidence, but there are some speakers from education. Michael Bichard, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, arrives to expound his ideas on leadership. He has the good fortune to follow Alan Hooper, the former commander of the Royal Marines, now at Exeter University's Centre for Leadership Studies. Hooper's talk is crammed with management speak, although he does have one particularly catchy phrase: "from transformational to transcendent". Whatever it means, the audience is by no means impressed.

Bichard's homilies on his personal leadership style are well received in comparison.

* My wife's a bomb

Question and answer sessions are often good entertainment. An RAF manager who talks about how "the wives" have an important role to play - an idea he over-complicates by saying that some women are "a social hand-grenade" - seems blissfully unaware of the hackles rising around him in the largely female audience.

And Allan Pease ought to produce the same kind of reaction. The Australian body language expert is a regular at this onference and can always be relied upon to produce some juicy headlines.

This year he reprises the conclusions of his bestselling 'Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps' with a claim that men have only 10 per cent of a woman's speaking ability and that mens brains are limited to doing one thing at a time. Pease argues that women are now forging ahead in the workplace because they have the verbal skills to do so.

Amazingly, Pease escapes a lynching after spouting this outrageously sexist nonsense. Perhaps because he says his claims are based on scientific research - or because he artfully illustrates his arguments with examples that emphasise men's shortcomings. You choose.

* Long hours of fun

In another seminar Gillian Langford, the deputy director of the South Greenwich education action zone, tells her audience about the 125 projects the zone has initiated over the past 18 months. It earns her a front-page headline in the conference daily newsletter - "Teachers hit project overload" - which reveals that even personnel managers know all about initiative inflation in education.

Nor can one forget the seminar on the work-life balance. Delegates were informed that "a good work-life balance reduces absenteeism and increases productivity". The irony of such a message at a conference where breakfast meetings began at 8am and seminars continue until 7.30pm is most likely lost on some delegates, but the stress expert Cary Cooper raises some knowing smiles when he begins discussing the growing long-hours-and-short-term-contract culture in Britain.

"I'm sure none of your companies do this," Mr Cooper says. "But, when they ask for loyalty and commitment, where is the loyalty and commitment from the other side?"

* A Brit too slow

No institute conference would be complete without the latest piece of management speak; after all, this is where downsizing, re-engineering, outsourcing and de-layering were first articulated - if that's not a contradiction in terms. Now it's time to add "iceing" to the management lexicon.

A British manager in the US heard the term and asked for an explanation. "It means an Involuntary Career Event," came the Armani-clad reply. The Brit still looked rather puzzled so the executive vice-president offered further explanation.

"We're letting the guy go."

Cogs whirred until eventually the light bulb was lit.

"Oh, you're firing him!" exclaimed the Brit to the shocked and startled audience.

"Hey!" said the suit. "We don't use words like that, okay?"

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