Day 1 Report from the 2014 World HR Congress

By Martha Frase Oct 16, 2014
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SANTIAGO, CHILE--The World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) kicked off its 15th World HR Congress here, on October 15.

Organized by the Circulo Ejecutivo de Recursos Humanos of Chile, this biannual international event has become a major draw for global HR leaders, including dozens of CEOs of national HR organizations, like the Society for Human Resource Management’s own Hank Jackson.

The HR Congress commenced with a unique workshop, in which the 1,500 conference attendees, at tables of eight to 10 each, broke into bags of Legos and began testing their creativity. The session, “Building an Identity,” was facilitated by Lego Serious Play consultants Robert Rasmussen and Lucio Margulis, who guided participants through several fun challenges.

The problem with meetings, said Rasmussen, is that people tend to be disengaged—“leaning back.” People are distracted; thinking about what to say or glancing at their phones. The result is lack of participation, insight and interest in the decision-making process.

Instead, the goal at meetings should be to get everyone “leaning forward,” 100 percent engaged and committed to the outcome.

At first, conference attendees were absorbed by building their own Lego towers, then they graduated to constructing free-form abstractions representing what companies would look like in the absence of HR. Finally, they were challenged to create a group model incorporating structures that had been built individually, thereby giving 3-D expression to what HR will look like in the future.

After the Lego project, Pieter Haen, president of the WFPMA board and Miguel Ropert, who leads Chile’s national HR association, opened the conference. The crowd was moved by a surprise message from Pope Francis, who honored the humanity of the work HR people do in their organizations and communities. This was followed by more movement—courtesy of the amazing performers of the Ballet Folclórico de Chile.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, newspaper editor and author Andres Oppenheimer also took the stage to talk about innovation. The Argentine-American’s new book, Create or Die (Vintage Espanol, 2014), explores what creativity and innovation will look like in the next five to 10 years.

“Mental work is taking over manual work,” he asserted, noting that more than 40 percent of the jobs today won’t exist in a few years. Think: 3-D printers. Self-driving cars. The Internet of Things. These and other innovations we haven’t even thought of yet are going to have a revolutionary impact on how we live and how we work, Oppenheimer said. Companies and countries that don’t embrace—and proactively pursue—the cutting edge are simply going to fail.

Oppenheimer spelled out the common denominators of countries and companies that will be successful in this brave new world: First, innovation flourishes in cultures that glorify inventors and entrepreneurs as they do athletes and rock stars. “Kids want to be the next Messi. But they should also want to be Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Sal Khan.”

Second, creativity and innovation grow in cultures that respect failure. “In Latin America, we crucify people who fail, but it is really just a step on the ladder of success,” he noted. All great innovators have failed many times before: Jobs was fired from Apple at age 30, but was soon meeting with venture capitalists and beginning anew, Oppenheimer said.

Finally, innovation flourishes where the creative people are. “Everything goes back to people and their talent,” Oppenheimer said. The best companies go out looking for creative people, even moving their physical operations to the cities where young, hungry talent is also likely to move. “In this new era, prosperity will mean inventing and reinventing constantly.”

More to come after Day 2 of the World HR Congress in Santiago!

Martha Frase is managing editor of WorldLink, the magazine of the World Federation of People Management Associations. She can be contacted at

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