HRINZ Student Ambassador Conference Highlights
Ben McHugh, HRINZ Student Ambassador, University of Otago
Arriving at Te Papa on Monday afternoon, I was both excited and nervous about the three days ahead of me. I was also feeling a little intimidated due to the abundance of experienced HR professionals that surrounded me. However, my nervousness immediately disappeared when the very charismatic Jeremy Corbett opened the conference with a few light-hearted jokes and anecdotes. Right from the beginning I was completely captivated by every single speaker who took the stage and I was greeted warmly by every HR professional that I met.
The first keynote speaker, Professor Ian Williamson, was one of the most engaging speakers I have ever had the privilege of listening to. He very eloquently used the sailing theme of the conference to demonstrate how HR can have a significant influence on an organisation’s competitive advantage within an industry. Professor Williamson explained that HR has an important role in mobilising an organisation’s resources for competitive aims. Furthermore, he also suggested that HR can offer organisations resources that are difficult for competitors to imitate. For example, talented Human Capital and coveted Social Capital are resources which are difficult to imitate.
On Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to listen to the man who has been dubbed the father of modern HR, Professor Dave Ulrich. Professor Ulrich outlined seven trends which he believes will be important for HR. Personally, I was absolutely fascinated by his theory of HR from the outside-in, which suggests that HR does not only have to have a strategic role in an organisation, but also needs to be aware of the external influences affecting an organisation.
For example, HR needs to be aware of the financial influences as well as more of a customer focus. I was also intrigued by Professor Ulrich’s suggestion that HR professionals are architects and can create value by establishing a work environment where there are talented people, leadership is highly valued, and organisational culture is important.
Lain Jager and Rowan Tonkin offered very wise insights into how HR can have a stronger influence within an organisation. Lain Jager emphasised the importance of effective communication and also suggested that HR professionals need to be able to look at issues from the CEO’s point of view, when dealing with the CEO. Rowan Tonkin explained that it is crucial to have a well-devised plan when pitching new HR procedures to a HR director or CEO. It was an extremely constructive experience to listen to both Lain Jager and Rowan Tonkin as they provided a very practical perspective of how HR can improve within an organisation.
Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity to meet and converse with experienced HR professionals during the networking events and the HR expo. The welcome reception was a perfect opportunity for me to introduce myself to various HR professionals and ask them about their careers and what advice they had for young HR practitioners. The HR expo was a very interesting experience in that it gave me the chance to talk to various HR consulting company representatives about how they got into consulting and what it involves. Last but not least, the conference dinner on Tuesday night was a very entertaining night with amazing food, creative costumes and great music.
Frances Turner, HRINZ Student Ambassador, Massey University
Reflecting back on the conference it is without a doubt that all the fantastic key note speakers emphasised the theme of Friction or Flow? Making the boat go faster. Professor Dave Ulrich’s session particularly stood out as adding flow to the boat through the seven trends of HR. One trend being HR outside-in; this trend was explored by looking at the current position of HR. He explained that at the moment HR is positioned to look at the internal conditions of an organisation and respond to internal stakeholders, whereas HR professionals have the ability to explore the organisation from an external perspective and thus deliver competitive advantage.
Professor Ulrich explained that the 720 degree appraisals, whereby HR professionals fully engage with external stakeholders and customers, can help secure an advantage. HR practices can be tailored to external clients through directly managing the HR needs of internal customers.
Aligning with the trend of making the boat go faster, Ian Williamson, like Professor Ulrich emphasised the importance of HR in the external environment. Ian captivated my attention when he talked about how meaningful organisational opportunities and failures are from the external environment, and how successful an organisation is depends on the leaders’ abilities to respond to external events.
This then leads on to the role of how HR creates a defence against the external environment. HR has the designated responsibility to increase the stock of specialised human capital in relative areas of the organisation. Employing excellent employees while creating excellent HR management allows organisations to increase its human capital. Thus, human capital becomes the organisation’s defence mechanism to external attacks, such as new product entry, poaching employees and legal attacks.
By attaining excellent human capital and managing it, organisations are able to not only defend attacks but initiate them. I'm sure this is a position most organisations want to find themselves in and one that Fisher & Paykel have created.
Recently Fisher & Paykel have announced that they will release the largest number of global new products at any one time in history. Why? Because they have invested heavily over the last four years into human capital in research and development centres. Going back to Ian's address, it is obvious that HR can increase flow by managing exceptional leaders who are able to navigate the external environment and gain its advantages.
Having the opportunity to participate in concurrent sessions was fantastic and allowed me to compare what I have learnt at the conference to reality. Listening to Peter Cullen and Sarah Cates of Cullen The Employment Law Firm, it became clear that even though we hope for plain sailing, things don't always go to plan. One particular topic that seemed to rock the boat for many delegates was the dreaded personal grievance letter. Peter's practical advice to respond was to consider the points raised and decide what can be fixed; don't allow the process to get derailed and most importantly, remember the duty of good faith and your commitment as the employer to help the employee improve performance.
Going back a step further and allowing the boat to go faster without turbulent waters means ensuring training and where need be, counselling. Also, when dismissing an employee, the obvious steps of providing a warning and a final warning letter cannot be overlooked. This simple advice was fantastic as I now have a practical understanding of what issues I may face in employment and how simple solutions can resolve issues that have the potential for legal action.
Ashlee Taylor, HRINZ Student Ambassador, Victoria University
The highlight of the conference for me was Jamie Fitzgerald, who took a more broad and real life approach, which connected with the audience. Jamie shared his moving stories of strength and determination, in his journey to the South Pole while on foot and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. His use of real life examples, applied to business and HR theory, creates engaging and inspiring discussion.
Shifting the focus to external business factors and access to the CEO were common themes that appeared throughout the conference. Professor Dave Ulrich was an outstanding speaker who addressed the future of HR trends and challenges. His advice for HR professionals is to align their work to the external environment and stakeholders, to create value from the outside in.
He addressed this through the seven factors he outlined. I found Dave Ulrich’s presentation particularly relevant to me, as he provided valuable advice about the environment that future graduates would be working in.
Rowan Tonkin urges HR practitioners not to be afraid to play the coach to the CEO, in his keynote address discussing HR in medium size enterprise, Turners and Growers. These practitioners are the only people, other than the CEO, that have the power to talk to anybody in the organisation. As a consequence, HR practitioners hold a large amount of influence and have the ability to become the de facto CEO by conduct.
The master classes provided an opportunity to engage and dialogue with fellow delegates in a smaller group setting. Focusing on HR linguistics, practitioners were criticised for using jargon, such as “worker pipeline,” which individuals outside the organisation will not always understand. The workshop encouraged delegates to communicate in a way that everyday New Zealanders can understand, to attempt to bring any lost credibility back into the profession. Mike Bennetts and Huma Faruqui from Z Energy shared this approach, by communicating their company values, “be bold” and “share everything,” in everyday New Zealand language.
Emma Hansen, HRINZ Student Ambassador, University of Canterbury
Professor Dave Ulrich gave an extremely thought-provoking presentation. He built on a key message from Ian Williamson’s presentation, and said Line Managers are the owners and HR Professionals are the architects. Ulrich discussed that the Line managers should focus on making the final decision, accept accountability and ensure a follow up, while maintaining strong accountability for the teamwork and leadership of the organisation. Meanwhile, HR Professionals should build strong foundations which are appropriate for the organisation. To achieve this, we need to coach, facilitate, design, deliver, and ensure consistency with the organisation’s expectations.
Ulrich noted that an HR trend is adding value to an organisation through talent, capability and leadership. Three questions we need to ask ourselves include: Do we have the right team-work? Do we have the right culture? And lastly, do we have the right leaders? We are the expert in all of these areas; therefore, we need to invest in HR to ensure the answer to all three questions is yes.
Another highlight was the CEO of Zespri; Lain Jager, who argued that as HR Professionals, we must understand the business competitively. To achieve this, it is fundamental that we understand both the industry we are working for and the key strategy of the organisation. As an HR Management student, I found it very rewarding to be able to relate and understand Jager’s theoretical components of his presentation. Various models such as the ‘Hedgehog concept’ and ‘Porter’s generic strategies,’ were included to show how an organisation can grow and build a competitive advantage once we understand the HR strategy.
The master class I attended was presented by Geoff Summers, who thoroughly addressed the 2013 National Conference theme of HR creating friction or flow. Summers presentation focused on HR’s role as being the accelerator and not the brake within an organisation. His perspective on the issue is that too few New Zealand HR practices are celebrated as being the accelerator by creating flow and helping the organisation to succeed. This is because HR managers are often seen as “employee sympathisers,” which does not create productivity and flow.
So, what should HR be doing to avoid this? Summers key solution focused on the ‘CEO 2 levers rule,’ which outlines that in order to achieve the organisation’s purpose, the CEO is constantly trying to balance the two levers of loss control and revenue. Instead, HR should build a machine of people, our staff. Each and every employee should use their labour and skills to add value, get rewarded for this effort and therefore, everyone is involved within a constant value exchange. We should give the CEO a machine that resembles nothing of these two levers.
Additionally, Summers believes that HR should be curious about the business, ask questions, look for the “end of the road” signs of the organisation and remember the six wise words of why, where, when, how, what and who. When this happens, flow is created in alignment with the organisations objectives.