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The Human Resources Institute of New Zealand

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) is the professional body for those involved in Human Resource Management and the development of people.

HRINZ represents the interests of 3,000+ individual members who make up around 45% of the known New Zealand HR market. Read More

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HRINZ Student Ambassador Conference Highlights

Hamish Whitworth, Manawatu Branch, Massey University

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘The Business Architect’, emphasising HR’s link in constructing the future success and growth of organisations. The speakers at the conference presented a range of topics that reinforced this theme, offering unique ideas into how the profession can adapt HR practice to the environment of modern business.

Gaynor Parkin’s presentation was a perfect example of this,  as she asked whether productivity and well-being can be balanced within modern business, where employees are expected to work long hours at high productivity levels.  From her psychology background, Gaynor proposed a new way of managing performance that linked productivity and well-being through the improvement of the neuroplasticity of employees. Brain neuroplasticity helps restore, repair and build resilience in the brain. She stressed that working for too long created impaired, reactional decision making that lacked a long term focus.  Gaynor suggests that combining neuroplasticity exercises at both the individual and group level of organisations will improve employee commitment, performance and absenteeism.

Paul Jacobs’ presentation questioned whether HR practices and architecture were keeping pace with the modern world. Paul proposed that HR can become more effective by taking inspiration from the influences and ideas of other professions. For example, Paul used the gaming industry, which enables its customers to learn and experiment through failure, to develop an alternative HR perspective on the meaning of poor performance. A new perspective, which views failure as a positive outcome which leads to both employee and organisational learning. By observing the urban planning industry and its desire to create open spaces that support communities, Paul suggested that HR should seek to create similar spaces that encourage ‘organisational communities’ to improve the lonely offices of many businesses.

Dave Winsborough questioned New Zealand’s leadership capabilities by linking New Zealand’s globally competitive ease of doing business, with the poor productivity of our nation. Dave stated that the ease of doing business in this country has not translated to our bottom line,
with our low levels of GDP operating at a similar level to India and Greece. To rectify this,
Dave believes that HR professionals have an important function to improve the capabilities of New Zealand leaders. He stated that HR needs to focus management attention on the hard practices of running effective organisations and by changing the number eight wire, self-satisfied and less competitive mind-set of New Zealand leaders. He also thinks that New Zealand businesses need to take greater advantage of our diverse demographics.

For me, the highlight of the conference was the innovative concepts that each speaker presented in comparison to traditional HR theory and practice. Each speaker discussed HR issues from a unique perspective, adding a layer of depth and broadness to the profession.
A sense of relevance and self-criticalness is important in HR, and I am sure that the attendees of the conference all left with new, innovative ideas to take back to their organisations to improve their HR practices.

I would highly recommend for all HR students and professionals to attend future NZ HR conferences. It is an unrivalled opportunity to network with fellow HR professionals, to develop new knowledge and to broaden your HR thinking before returning to your organisation, or launching into your HR career. 

Taylor Wheeler, Wild South Branch, University of Otago

As I sat in my hotel on the morning of the conference I read the agenda to get an idea of what was in store for me over the next three days. I noticed that the Master of Ceremonies was listed as Jeremy Corbett. My immediate thoughts were “being the star of 7days, what could he offer a conference on HRM?” Big surprise! I was so wrong. Not only was the TV personality present throughout the entire conference, he proved to be a great addition, engaging extremely well with all the delegates.

It is hard to choose my favourite session from day one. In the end I think Peter Docker’s, “Harness the Power of Why”, took out this title for me. Illustrating the theory of the Golden Circle, he proposed that all great leaders think, act and communicate in exactly the same way; the opposite way to everyone else. Instead of starting with What or How - it is about starting with Why - the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do will encourage others to act.

Day one finished with drinks and canapés at the Welcome Reception, followed by the President’s Dinner at Sofitel. The wine, foods and company were all amazing… and from a culinary perspective, I would highly recommend the smoked potato mash that featured in the main course!

I was skeptical that day two could surpass the first. It certainly did, indeed it strongly exceeded all my expectations. The day featured my favourite session for the whole conference - Dr. Paul Woods who presented on “What’s your mental prison”. Like most speakers, Paul started by talking about how he got to where he was today. His story, however, started very differently to those we had previously heard. His troubled childhood meant that by 18 years of age he was dependent on hard drugs. The events of one regretful day, led to him having taken another’s life, which meant he spent the next decade in New Zealand’s most notorious prison. What followed though can only be described as purely inspirational. Paul’s presentation focused on how people are imprisoned by their own self-limiting beliefs and counterproductive responses to adversity. Using the psychology of change, he illustrated the steps by which the architecture of our own mental prisons can be identified and dismantled. And by talking about how he overcame his own personal challenges, Paul managed to make it all the more real.

Day two drew to a close with another networking session, followed by the famous conference dinner. This was a night thoroughly enjoyed by all. Again, the food, wine and company were unparalleled, and this time my personal food highlight was the delectable Thai-infused prawn starter. Although the Wild South Branch failed miserably on the quiz,  we most definitely took out the award for last on the dance floor, making it back to our hotels in the small hours of the morning.

The third and final day provided another great learning opportunity. I was particularly engaged by Dr Ganesh Nana’s presentation on the current state of the New Zealand economy. Using examples from housing affordability, immigration, employment, debt and deficit, he illustrated that contrary to popular belief, as a nation we may have more to worry about than the media portrays. This provoked great thought and discussion, possibly spurred further by the advent of the upcoming election.

After an array of surprises, the biggest one for me was how applicable this conference was to all aspects of life. This was incongruent with my expectations, as I believed I would come out with a useful but narrow sphere of newly acquired HRM knowledge. I honestly believe, regardless of profession, that anyone could have gained a great deal out of the experience. Thank you HRINZ for the invaluable opportunity!

Natasha Sinclair-Taikato, Wellington Branch, Victoria University

Upon arriving at the conference on the second day the first session I attended was “Juggling productivity and well-being – are both possible?” This session broadly covered the effect stress can have on performance and how to address these issues. A range of side effects from stress was covered, many of which I was unaware; high cortisol levels causing tunnel vision, fatigue, poor sleep, low immune system, weight gain and anxiety. The solutions to address high stress levels were interesting; the power of positive emotions was emphasised as was mindfulness and flexible thinking. I found this session informative and applicable to my life, particularly with the impending exam stress!

The session “Bad leadership is destroying NZ’s productivity” was really interesting too. Winsborough discussed how New Zealand underperforms as a nation and needs a new type of leadership to address the issue. It was also discussed that New Zealand firms compete against one another rather than with global competitors and this is at the expense of the New Zealand economy. Winsborough set out missions for HR which included raising business competence, changing what you think a leader looks like, and eliminating bigots and racists from the workplace so that you can internationalise. A notable theme from this session was to “bring the world inside your firm”.

Two personal highlights were hearing Eric Murray and Hamish Bond speak, and the atmosphere at the conference. I found Murray and Bond’s story really motivating as they spoke about the determination it takes to achieve success. Outside of sessions the conference was really social and fun. There were interactive expo stands including one with a bike which you pedalled to blend up your own smoothie, and the venue on the Auckland Viaduct was awesome.


Olivia Creighton, Canterbury Branch, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

The first keynote speaker that really stood out for me was Dr Paul Wood who spoke on day two of the conference with his presentation “What’s Your Prison?” Paul took us through his journey of being in prison for eleven years and how he “broke free” when he gained his university qualifications while incarcerated. The key focus to his presentation was self-awareness and change.

Paul argued that most businesses under-perform because employees can be stuck in their own mental prisons and are limited by distorted beliefs that stop them from being high performers. He spoke about five steps towards how to change these types of thoughts - Born Free, Break Out, Make the Escape, Fight for Freedom and Living Free. One of the steps that stood out for me was “Break Out”. The key message was how employees need to identify and recognise what is holding them back in their roles in order to be able to move forward and set goals to break these barriers down.

Another highlight for me was when Sheryl Cornelius from GHD spoke about their graduate programme partnership with Fulton Hogan and Auckland Transport. Project New Grad is an innovative idea to introduce to any business and has many benefits including sustainability. It is designed to give graduate engineers an opportunity to gain exposure and experience in the three organisations over a three year period. Simon Dyne, Fulton Hogan’s Regional Manager also joined Sheryl. He spoke passionately about his commitment and interest in the infrastructure industry. His passion for his career was inspiring and motivating.

A great feature of the conference was being able to connect with other attendees by using the NZ HR Conference App. The app allowed attendees to post updates on the live feed via Twitter using the #NZHRCONF hashtag. The app also included features such as a live poll that we were able to participate in during the presentations.

Overall, the experience and knowledge gained was invaluable. I met some wonderful people during my time at the conference and I am proud to be able to represent HRINZ in Canterbury.

Tracey Spence, Auckland South Branch, Manukau Institute of Technology

Peter Docker’s view on leadership and Start with the Why culture was interesting as he explained five key principles 1. Start with Why 2. Right to left thinking 3. Adaptive Leadership  4. Being and doing 5. Relationship. These principles were significant to find the answer to why? – Why is about leadership, why is about inspiring others.

Dr Paul Wood was an inspiring and motivational speaker – the topic “Architecture of our Mental Prisons” was a reflection of his own personal journey. He talked about ‘mind-set’ – he described how mind-sets can create capability, growth, skills opportunity but also identified the adverse effects of a ‘fixed mind-set’ which imprisons your own self-limiting beliefs and counterproductive responses to adversity. Paul’s journey is unique and empowering, which gives you a better understanding of how you can turn your own adversities into an advantage. How you can build your own resilience, and have the power to make the absolute best of yourself in any situation.

Dr Roland B Smith spoke about the role of leaders in building the future. Senior executives are facing significant challenges as they navigate a volatile, uncertain and complex future. Those that are strategically agile, however, have the tools to successfully engineer processes and organisational cultures that unlock innovation and create optimum working conditions for their people; he went on to say that a flexible outlook is required to reduce future impact and to develop strengths with focus on vulnerability. He described the following as key causes for leadership derailment:

  1. Too narrow management experience
  2. Difficult in building and leading a team
  3. Difficult in changing and adapting
  4. Problems with interpersonal relationships
  5. Not meeting business objectives.

Yet at times small corrections can yield results, and to be successful we must learn from failure. Develop a culture of innovation – through risk taking and at times you must slow down to speed up and ensure team dynamics and leadership are about supporting each other to be successful.  It is important to grow yourself by growing others and to invest in your leaders with policies in place to engage and embrace new generation leaders.

The highlight of the conference was the opportunity to meet and converse with experienced HR professionals during the networking events and the HR expo. I enjoyed all the key note speakers and participated actively in the workshops. The conference exceeded my expectations and I highly recommend all HR practitioners to mark this event in their calendars for 2015.

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