EAPM Congress 2019

#LoveHR conference April 4-5, 2019, Bled, Slovenia

When someone offers you the chance to spend a few days deep in the topics you love, in a part of Europe that swells your heart, you don’t let that opportunity pass. So it was for me at the #LoveHR conference in Slovenia in April 2019.

Slovenian flag

This was also a chance to put Slovenia on CultureConnector’s cultural map, so I got to spend a few days in the capital Ljubljana too, finalising an intercultural guide to Slovenia with business performance and leadership consultant Mojca Istenič. Check out Slovenian business culture by signing up at www.cultureconnector.com.

A rainbow hovers above a small Alpine town

Things seemed to be going well when a rainbow pointed the way to the conference location in the small town of Bled in the southern Alps.

Its perfect postcard-friendly castle, lake, churches and mountain providing an inspiring backdrop for two days of HR talks. I was there as a speaker, but mainly as a learner, because the conference programme promised insights on some topics which really matter in working life, and wider life.

Why you should care about what’s happening in HR

Lucas van Wees, President of the EAPM | Welcome session

Lukas van Wees speaking

Lucas van Wees got us immediately onto the right track with his opening words, connecting HR to the really big issues facing Europe and humanity: the juggernaut progress of computing power and its inevitable transformative impact on our lives, demographic change, climate, populist politics.

I felt in the right place. I had had to cut all that stuff out of my 30 mins talk because, well, there just wasn’t time to show the connectedness of intercultural competence to the success and wellbeing of our societies, so I was delighted that Lucas van Wees had said this right from the start. What HR people decide and do affects so many lives in so many ways. It could all go wrong, but the HR profession could help things go right.

And we’re off! This is going to be a good conference. Thanks Lucas and EAPM for driving this progressive message.

Using technology to make HR more human

Tom Haak, HR Trend Institute | The Future is now!

Tom Haak, speaking at conference. Photo by Planet GV.

We’d started well, but HR trend-watcher Tom Haak was able to switch the futurology up a gear. Doesn’t he have the coolest job? Yes, it’s a real job to observe the seeds of the future of work being planted today.

By using technology we can become more human

Tom Haak at the EAPM Congress 2019

Tom Haak presented cases of innovations using virtual job try-outs, gamification, sentiment analysis, wearable trackers, predictive analytics, micro-learning, data-driven office design, organisation network analysis for talent identification, facial recognition for measuring learning, optimisation of meetings, skill-correlation mapping. Sounds like the worst kind of buzzword bingo, but these were real-world cases that hint at how we’ll be working in years to come.

The trends he asked us to keep an eye on included

  • Personalisation of digital employee experience, for example in recruitment such that “technology fuels diversity
  • Trust
  • Ending paternalization of employment (where HR offers unattractive “employee journeys” and assumes an ideal standard everyone should follow)
  • Portability of HR data
  • Simplification of HR and employee interactions
  • Agility of small HR teams
  • Moving HR out of its managerial comfort zone

Tom Haak’s recommendations to HR: we’ve got to be data-savvy, use science, ensure we are able to design high-impact solutions, using technology for people, not against people and keep moving forwards.

David Urankar with the microphone ball at the EAPM congress

Our endlessly cheerful host David Urankar radiated warmth into the room and also had a big blue ball with a microphone in it for audience questions. I asked the first question. I had GDPR on my mind. When I threw the ball to the next person, it was the first time a woman had spoken. We were well into the morning programme.


Where are The Females?

Come on EAPM, you can show the way on diversity!

The conference made me realise how much progress towards equality women had made back home in Finland, because the EAPM women or the Slovenian HR people have some battles to fight which are already won in Finland.

The WTF button in my conference hotel room was the first sign that not everything was coming from the diversity textbook. A picture of a woman signifies “service”? Really? Really? No tray, or desk bell or room-service trolley? Simply a woman?

By the end of the conference, it was very clear that this year’s EAPM congress was reflecting the culture where it was happening. The speakers were mainly male, the audience were perhaps 90% female. As Milena Petek told me later, women in Slovenia are pushing for progress in a culture where:

Men talk, women listen

Conference participant Milena Petek on changing the culture of working life in Slovenia

The format for the second session was a panel of female HR experts chaired by a silver-haired man. Ouch! Who came up with this innovative way of sharing knowledge??

We don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do

Mojca Domiter, Laura Klančnik, Natal Dank, Tom Haak | Round Table: the Joy of Agile HR

Left to right: Tom Haak, Mojca Domiter, Laura Klančnik, Natal Dank

I would have liked to get a full session from the panellist Natal Dank who spoke passionately and with the voice of experience in favour of experimentation, discovery, and a science-based approach to HR.

It was refreshing to hear a consultant promoting a non-dogmatic philosophy around agile principles. It is more common to hear consultants promoting fixed cure-all models, with hourly charges attached. Natal Dank runs the Agile HR Community where knowledge is generated collectively supporting HR people to grow their skills.

She recommended we check out the Vistaprint case and consider the potential of multi-functional teams to deliver projects and HR services without the diluting effects and loss of value which comes when specialised teams and depts handover their deliverables to the next team.

Mojca Domiter challenged us to consider how much more we could achieve from our HR projects, sharing her experience running HR at Atlantic Group.

Perspectives from outside HR are always welcome, and especially when hard disciplines enter the soft-core world of HR. And so it was with Laura Klančnik and Aljoša Valentinčič in the following session who approached HR topics as an engineer and an economist, respectively. Laura Klančnik spoke in favour of empowering smart people to contribute their full knowledge and creativity to the organisation using agile project approaches.

Panel recommendations:

  • embrace an experimental mindset
  • change the things that you know are wrong
  • add your pebbles to the beach to see the transformation happen in small increments
  • don’t take things so seriously

Did he really just say that?

Aljoša Valentinčič | Good-looking people do better. Get over it!

Aljoša Valentinčič on the stage

Aljoša Valentinčič playfully took the audience on an ethical roller-coaster through the research-based topic of beauty and prejudice. The ride began in the capital markets looking at the stock-market performance of the most handsome and beautiful CEOs, then the ride rattled through the tunnel of organisations and teams and finally the roller-coaster car dipped into the tunnel of the minds of HR people who recruit, promote, discipline and reward pretty faced-employees differently from ugly ones.

For half of Aljoša Valentinčič’s talk we in audience were unsure if this was going in a very unethical direction. But then release came and Aljoša Valentinčič showed us how we can use our new awareness of bias to ensure that our organisations get the best out of everyone and not allow a culture of over-rewarding the pretty faces.

At first unsettling, then funny, then serious, Aljoša Valentinčič is an economist who brings a mathematical approach to the apparently softest of topics. However, when faces irrationally affect perception in a million different workplaces, we get hard statistics and real economic effects.

Awaken HR!

Lucija Mulej Mlakar | Conscious Leadership: Connecting Four Intelligences

Lucija Mulej Mlakar

For 45 minutes Lucija Mulej Mlakar took us to a higher level, floating above the conference hall like the castle in the clouds above the lake, connecting ideas at a sophistication far too high for my LQ (limited intelligence). I really tried to follow this impressive talk on the philosophy of work, but the content was well 1above my pay grade.

Possibly a state of Nirvana was reached at the point when Lucija Mulej Mlakar presented the definition of SQ (spiritual intelligence)

holistic underpinning of processes of bridging and linking classical fragmental thinking earmarked for dualistic and rational mindsets

Definition of SQ (spiritual intelligence), Lucija Mulej Mlakar

The conference delegate I was sitting next to for this talk was a psychotherapist and seemed satisfied with this journey through the four intelligences. The people in the conference hall who had succeeded in following the talk were able to collect a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Ljubljana on the way out.

The business case for culture

Richard Farkas | Intercultural competence

Richard Farkas, speaking at the EAPM 2019 conference
Richard Farkas speaking at the European Association of People Management congress 2019

Next up was my talk on intercultural competence (#i21e for short) and the measurement of impact. I wanted to start with some basics:

  • how do we recognise that something intercultural is affecting business operations?
  • what skills are needed to navigate cultural difference?

The audience interaction was great and I got the feeling that the HR people in the hall clearly had an appetite to learn about how to success in culturally diverse workplaces.

The many layers of culture in the tiny nation of Slovenia made it an ideal location for the talk. Thanks to Saša Fajmut and the Slovenian HR Association for putting this on the programme.

We’re one, but we’re not the same….

Emil Tedeschi | Culture x3: Organisation, Team, Individual

Emil TEdeschi speaking at the conference

Next up, Emil Tedeschi of Atlantic Group and a perspective on HR from a business leader. Emil Tedeschi had something important to say about respecting difference, he enjoyed this platform to say it, and he owned the stage.

He gave us a video collage of people around the world singing “Stand by Me” a vivid demonstration of how connected diverse people can be though music and common humanity.

Later we got a clip of Bono and Mary J Blige interpreting the song “One”.

If you’ve heard the Johnny Cash cover of One, it’s hard to switch to this Bono-Blige soul-rock version, but this was a moment for generous spirit, and there was emotion in the conference hall, as Emil Tedeschi sat cross-legged on the stage.

It was a remarkable moment. Emil Tedeschi proved that today’s business leaders are able to show humility and vulnerability and yet command the respect of a large workforce

His positivity and humour were infectious. During his presentation, Emil Tedeschi generated such warmth with his stories honouring human diversity that he could finish by delivering the punchline to his final story “you know son, everyone can **** in their own way” (censored for LinkedIn), without offending anyone in the conference hall. We’re one, but we’re not the same….

Charity Run around Bled Lake
Left to right: fastest woman, fastest man, and me

Winner of the fastest HR person on two legs was Ilija and the fastest woman was Alenka. The theme of the closing talk later in the day would be personal transformation, and it fitted Ilja’s story, as he told me. Ilija Kjiroski is Product Manager at EVN and a recent convert to running. He also told me about the history of his home Macedonia, right up to the country’s new name and its destiny as a NATO and EU member.

With generous sponsors and contributions from running and non-running conference delegates, the event raised thousands of Euros for a local children’s home. Next time I hope the organisers will have prizes for the fastest women.

Saving CEOs from the five-year sickness

Pierre Casse | Creative Leadership: Creativity, agility, big vision and collaboration

Pierre Casse speaking at a conference

Day Two got under with a call for the long-term mental fitness of CEOs. Pierre Casse from Bled Business School specialises in the malignant influence of power, and offered some suggestions for senior people to stay sane after 5 years at the top:

  • Empower instead of delegating
  • Learn to translate values into behaviour
  • Review and challenge every traditional assumption
  • Create a “mind extension” environment

As a final thought, Pierre Casse said we should give up the idea that communication is the process by which we understand each other. We don’t understand each other.

Communication is the process by which we invent each other.

Pierre Casse

Next came two presentations which were more traditional, well inside the HR comfort zone and directly useful for the delegates in the hall. If you came to Bled for practical takeaways, Wouter Van Linden from Belgium and Martin Klaub from Germany had much to offer.

The importance of connection during onboarding

Wouter van Linden | Onboarding faster

Wouter van Linden speaking on stage

Wouter van Linden took us element by element through a magnificent onboarding process which KPMG is rolling out in the EMEA region after proving its effectiveness in Belgium.

With onboarding there is a big risk of management by checklist, of designing processes which are convenient to run but ineffective and incapable of personalisation. Wouter van Linden had a fact-based approach with a built-in feedback loop which checks effectiveness by reviewing the performance of new-hires over the long-term.

KPMG impressed us with its willingness to close down ineffective elements of onboarding and install improvements and innovations in their place. Wouter van Linden presented the many different formats in the process, from automated emails through apps and analytics to real conversations, activities, feedback and live sessions. He summarised he whole operation as the “four Cs”:

  • Compliance
  • Clarification
  • Culture
  • Connection

Watson, IBM’s newest Talent Manager

Martin Klaub | HR can have a key role in business success

Martin Klaub gave us some live demos of how IBM are using artificial intelligence to create a data-driven, objective algorithmic self-service platform for recruitment and other HR processes.

IBM uses its Watson technology and “serious” gamification to nurture candidates and pass them through a series of assessments. The company is also using analytics to find links between career history and individual performance.

Martin Klaub presented IBM’s determination to boost objectivity and to trust in the data. We hope that the reliance on historical data does not cause replication of the bias of candidates’ previous organisations or the wider society.

Promoting women

Milena Dulanović | From CHRO to CEO: seeing both sides

In the afternoon of the second day we made the shocking discovery that women can do this too! Who knew?

Saša Fajmut of the Slovenian HR Association had an on-stage fireside chat with the recently-promoted general manager of the billion-euro Slovenian game-maker Ekipa2, subsidiary of Outfit7, producer of Talking Tom.

Milena Dulanović is a psychologist who runs the business in a people-centric way. Despite working with software developers (which has its advantages for Milena when a new HR application is needed quickly), she considers that Ekipa2 is not data-driven. Rather, the running of the business is data-supported.

One of the challenges Milena Dulanović is solving for Ekipa2 is attracting international talent to relocate to Slovenia, a headache she shares with other CEOs in central and eastern Europe, according to the latest CEOsurvey.pwc.

Going digital with TQ

Round table: Future HR competences

Left to right: Gregor Rajšp, Luca Villa, Luka Babič, Bob Morton, Lucas van Wees

The round table after lunch brought together five wise men to share their thoughts and take questions on HR competences for the future.

Luka Babič, Orgnostic, Bob Morton, CIPD, Luca Villa, Thyssenkrupp,
Lucas van Wees, president of the EAPM and Gregor Rajšp, president of
Slovenian HR Association brought out many themes. These included critical thinking, the importance of evidence, analytics, diagnostics. And as the borders of the organisation become increasingly unclear, networking skills.

This session featured a new Q for me. Included in the HR competences of the future was TQ, technical intelligence.

A highlight of the conference came with an observation from the audience comparing this session with the previous one: “I notice that it takes five men to do the job of two women” (cue lasting applause).

Are you willing to pay the fee?

John Amaechi and Mr Stewart from Stockport |
Forever young: What’s your second career? What’s your passion?

John Amaechi was next on, and also commented on the composition of the previous panel, looking all one way.

Certainly they didn’t look like John Amaechi.  He’s a giant and a former NBA pro. But his rise to success in his chosen sport was far from inevitable. He gave the conference’s closing talk.

The theme was personal transformation. If you needed inspiration to propel you home after a good conference, this did the job. John Amaechi is a skilled speaker, but he did not rely on fireworks, hyperbole or rhetorical tricks to bring the audience under his inspirational spell. He used the power of his own true story and simple ideas spoken with intelligence, self-awareness and commitment, not to mention some science.

John Amaechi (and his mum) told us that change is hard. It’s not like getting famous on reality TV.

You need compelling reasons to change because it will be difficult and without compelling reasons, you’ll run out of fuel before you get there.

John Amaech

Mr Stewart, John Amaechi’s physics teacher in his Stockport school, tried to discourage him from his improbable goals. But John Amaechi was willing to pay the fee to succeed, starting his journey by writing three thousand paper letters to institutions asking for a basketball scholarship.

John Amaechi showed us that every decision, no matter how big or how small, is either a step towards or a step away from your goal. He asked us to consider every decision as if it were the most momentous decision of our life – it could be. Many decisions, many days will be hard.

He left us with a question. ”Transformation could be yours. Are you willing to the pay the fee?”

In the lobby as my car to the airport was waiting, conference delegate Ivan Kuzma of hrprofil.eu told me his own inspiring story of personal transformation. John Amaechi had certainly connected with this audience. The Slovenian HR Association had done brilliant work to bring together people from across the region and Europe to share their love for HR and to inject purpose and meaning into our work. Hvala vam Slovenija!

Photos and conference organisation by


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