People professionals on the shelf

By Gary Cookson
24 November 2021

In November I took part in the first People Library at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester. A trial for a format the institute wants to do more of, CIPD invited me and many others (including fellow volunteers from CIPD Manchester Branch) to participate in this first.

What is a People Library?

The idea is well-established but not so much in the UK or indeed in our profession. In essence, it is real people telling real-life stories to whoever wishes to listen.

CIPD People Library

The concept mirrors that of a traditional library where you browse the shelves, find a book that looks interesting and flick through the pages to get a better feeling for its content before deciding if it’s something you want to read. The only difference with a People Library is that the books ‘on the shelves’ are human beings.

Located in the exhibition hall, the People Library was part of numerous free-to-enter bits of the event, which meant greater footfall and exposure (necessary to judge the trial’s success).

The People Library trial was something Andy Lancaster, CIPD’s Head of Learning wanted to do to make attending the conference and free exhibition slightly different. As this year’s conference was hybrid with lots of content available digitally, the People Library was one of several things only available to those who attended in-person, as a way of differentiating the offer for those who chose to attend in person.

My own story was a personal one —most people’s were.

Achieving work-life balance in a hybrid world

Drawing on personal anecdotes and learning to help you understand the key challenges inherent in achieving work-life balance whilst operating in a hybrid working environment.

I talked about my own experiences, good and bad, of hybrid working over a 20-year period, and how my health, wellbeing, and sense of work-life balance were inextricably linked to my ability to work in a hybrid way – or not, as the case may be. 

I also talked about how engagement, commitment and performance are strongly correlated with individuals having the opportunity to work in ways that suit them and the business, and the dangers if this isn’t allowed to happen – again using personal stories.

There were no slides but a few jokes, some swear words and a lot of honesty and emotion. That suited me perfectly, and those who’ve heard me speak before or have been in any live session with me will know that’s my style – so I was keen to take part for that reason, plus it helped raise the profile of CIPD Manchester Branch.

Hoarse but happy

Over the four one-hour sessions across the two days, I was ‘checked out’ by people 11 times. My voice hurt by the end, but I was pleased that so many people came to listen and learn from my story.

Feedback from others involved in designing and delivering the People Library suggested the trial had been successful and that the format could be used again, with some enhancements, to form a key part of future CIPD events.

Maybe next time you can tell your story?

About the author

Gary Cookson at the People Library at the CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition 2021 in Manchester
Gary Cookson

Gary is a father of four and husband of one who runs a successful business in his spare time. He’s an expert in workplace performance, with extensive experience leading and directing HR, OD and L&D functions across all sectors. His clients like working with him for his authenticity, honesty, knowledge, communicative and people-focused, with a broad and deep range of skills and experience – and a glance at his prolific social media output will verify this.

A leading expert in the design and delivery of online/virtual training programmes, Gary is also an inspiring and entertaining keynote speaker and trainer on a range of leadership and HR issues. 

In 2019, Gary was recognised in HR Most Influential: Movers and Shakers and is an HRD Connect thought leader. His book, HR for Hybrid Working, is due to be published on 3 June 2022 by Kogan Page. He’ll mention this as much as he can if you speak to him.

Follow Gary on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Cover image adapted from a photo by Andy Lancaster Head of Learning at CIPD

Location Manchester, England E-mail Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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