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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.

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HRINZ Student Ambassador Conference Highlights


Makarita Tangitu-Joseph, Waikato Branch, University of Waikato

The following are my reflections on what I learnt from some of the keynote speakers at the NZ HR Conference.

Doctor Ian Williamson talked about “thriving during disruptions” and “what organisations can do to make themselves more effective in times of change”.

From this presentation I realised how developments in technology, customer preference, demographic changes, competitive actions and changes in regulations can be disruptive for many businesses. Organisations often fail to adapt to these changes because they struggle to respond effectively. As many organisations follow daily routine patterns and structures which only allow them to work within a limited framework, when changes occur they often respond by defaulting back to old habits and routines. This can cause us to become more rigid and make it harder to adapt to any changes that may occur.

I also learnt the importance of framing disruption correctly and how this can have an influence on our decision making and whether the organisation perceives the change and disruption as a loss or a gain. This means that instead of seeing a change in technology or customer preference as an opportunity to make positive changes in our organisations, we often perceive it in a negative manner because it disrupts our normal habits and routines.

Organisations need to create a culture and framework that “thrives on changes”. Where changes are perceived by all stakeholders within their organisations as positive challenges and opportunities, rather than barriers or disruptions. As Doctor Williamson said “if we change the practices we change the behaviours”. I think if we can prepare our employees with a mind-set that makes them more resilient to changes that are inevitably going to occur we will embrace them in a positive manner so our organisations will be successful and sustainable in the future.

Doctor Jason Fox talked about “motivation and the future of work”.

He spoke about goals and how they have to be relevant and meaningful. He also talked about how we need to have a clear sense of progress whilst also reducing the latency between the effort that we put in and our feedback that we receive.

In an organisational context I think that it is important to get to know your staff and what makes them tick. Their goals or what motivates each individual could be different. In order to help people reach their full potential and flourish I think it is vital to know what is meaningful for each of your staff members. As Doctor Fox said “get good at putting a spotlight on things that give us more meaning”. If we get good at doing this I think we will also see more progress.

I really enjoyed how he told us to all choose one word that could be used for the year that will motivate us and keep us on track. I thought this was a great idea and I have decided to use ‘family’ for my first year. As family are important to me I think this word will help with my motivation during the rest of the year.

Callum McKirdy’s topic was “talk worky to me”

He talked to us about making more time to go and speak with our people more often and how this can be a rich way of gathering information and fostering healthy relationships. As Callum said “time for more ‘H’ and a little less ‘R’”. He also spoke about how we do not utilise relationships effectively.

The least expensive investment yet the greatest competitive advantage available to business is having better conversations about work at work. We often depend on other sources such as technology. However, this can actually make things harder. For example when we send emails they can sometimes be misinterpreted. We need to recognise the value of having face to face conversations and spending time with our workers in order to understand what it is that they do, how they are feeling or any concerns or queries they might have. Callum also said “people are still the biggest disruption in your workplace”. I think by spending more time with our people we can create a positive space for healthy communication to occur.

He also talked about how conflict is often the reason why we do not have these conversations, and how we are more concerned about our own personal safety than how these conversations could bring positive change for the collective.

He talked about the importance of social capital and how HR’s role in culture is to enable the generation of social capital within our organisations.

Dr Louise Mahler talked to us about “Vocal intelligence and the missing ingredient of leadership”.

Dr Mahler was my favourite speaker at the Conference. She talked to us about the three qualities of voice. How the voice of leadership is traditionally low, slow and loud. I enjoyed how she showed us how our voice, body and mind depict how we are feeling and how we can use our voice and body language to influence and inspire others. I learnt about how you can gain trust just by the way that we stand and speak and how the tone and volume of our voice can send psychological messages to others. I learnt how to read body language and I laughed when she said how the voice of sexual excitement is low, long and breathy. I also learnt about how I need to be aware of my space and how standing front on is the power position. I learnt the correct way to shake hands and the importance of eye contact in order to build trust. I also learnt gestures that will help me with my presentations.

I believe leadership is about being able to inspire others. I enjoyed how she used her voice and body language to inspire me. When I reflect back on her presentation I think of how it is not necessarily just about what we say but also the power of how we say it.

The future of New Zealand Inc. featured panellists who talked about productivity and prosperity in New Zealand.

Although there were a few people on the panel, the person I enjoyed the most was Dr Ganesh Nana. When asked how he thought New Zealand was doing he said “if an economy cannot feed its children then we have got something wrong”. I thought this was an accurate and powerful comment to make and it made me think that we do not value our people and their families. When he was asked about what role he thought HR should have he said “turn the system around so that it values people. Pay them what they are worth and stop looking at people as a cost. Invest in your people which will create better productivity and then we can talk about prosperity”. I could also relate to this comment and how many people are working but not being valued. Even though he only spoke for five minutes I believe he brought us back to reality. There is a lot more we can do to not only make our organisations a better place, but also our country.

Sir John Kirwan talked to us about depression and how it is an illness not a weakness. It is just like a sports injury and the brain can also be healed just like other injury to the body. He also spoke about the stigma around mental illness and how we need to view it just like other illnesses. Sir John said one in five people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. This made me think about how organisations need to have a greater understanding of mental illness so they can prepare and help support their people. I liked how he said that there is “no life and job, but only a life”. I also agree with this and that people should feel okay to be themselves where ever they may be. They should not have to change when they are at home and then at work, we should create an environment where they can be themselves at work as well. From listening to Sir John Kirwan I also realised that anyone can get a mental illness. He was an All Black and had everything that would make most people assume that he would never get a mental illness. This just shows that it is not just the people who are living in poverty and have low social economic status that can obtain a mental illness but also at the other extreme, people who would be seen as having everything they could dream of. I also learnt about the power of a hug and a dance and plan to do it in one of our next meetings. I wonder how it will go?

I learnt so much from this conference and it was great to meet the HRINZ staff and network with other people who have an interest in the same industry.

Leah Barker, Manawatu Branch, Massey University, Palmerston North

Taking on the HRINZ student ambassador role for Massey University has been one of the most beneficial opportunities available to me this year. I have learnt skills such as event management, public speaking and networking. It has fuelled my motivation to become part of the HR profession and contribute everything I can. Bringing my study out of the lecture room and applying it in a practical sense, has helped with my professional development and the reality in business.

After studying countless papers in university, this experience has also helped recognise my area of interest in consulting and change management. I am now able to take the appropriate steps to become a part of the field. 

The NZ HR Conference without doubt has been the best experience I have had throughout my study. “Tomorrow’s World – The Future is Now” immediately set a futuristic theme with many references to Star Wars with amazing space decorations and layout, very fitting. The focus was on the development of HR and how the field is able to overcome disruption and help business adapt and thrive. The Conference successfully covered a range of areas such as motivation, strategic pay, leadership, diversity and many more.

Particular inspiration for me came from Dr Ian Williamson and Dr Louise Mahler. Dr  Ian Williamson held an interesting and extremely informative presentation on thriving from disruption.  He explained the possible detrimental impacts that the external environment can have on a business with the emphasis on the fact that “survival is not a given.” What were once considered successful and innovative businesses such as Kodak and Polaroid, were disrupted and challenged with the movements of technology, customer preferences and competition. They were unable to adapt and survive through these changes. Netflix however, exemplified how risk taking and ambition were able to move the business from DVD posting to international online streaming. They embraced the disruption and listened to what customers wanted and adapted their approach to survive and thrive. 

Dr Louise Mahler was similarly inspirational when introducing the idea of vocal intelligence from her background in opera singing. Her elaborate presentation was engaging and humorous and brought to light the idea of ‘air sharing’ between leader and follower, something I have never heard of before. This concept can help by relaxing the diaphragm and opening the body and throat to create a connection between individuals. After this presentation I was so inspired I immediately bought her book and got her signature. I am definitely looking forward to next year’s Conference!

This ambassador program has been so beneficial and has developed myself personally and professionally. I would recommend it to any student studying Human Resource Management. I have made many professional connections and enjoyed working with the Manawatu committee members. Meeting the other ambassadors who are kind, proactive and motivated young women, has also definitely been a highlight. Thank you HRINZ for providing such a great opportunity for students, it has been the best thing I’ve been a part of throughout university so far.

Laura Featherstone, Wellington Branch, Victoria University of Wellington

Packed with networking, seminars and Expo stands the NZ HR Conference is the "go to" event for any professional or aspiring HR practitioners. The Conference was two days of learning and developing new ideas and HR discussions with people across the industry.

The sessions during the Conference were fantastic. Who knew that you had to "give your air" to show you care? Or that you could turn a Jason DeRulo song into something HR related? The Conference opened with a welcome from 7 Days star, Ben Hurley followed by Dr Ian Williamson’s insight on Thriving During Disruption. Dr Williamson set the bar high with his session on the way in which major technological, demographic and social-political changes have impacted on various businesses such as postal services, technology and newspapers. Many businesses are not taking advantage of these changes and this may result in failure or decline in organisational performance. This session got everyone thinking about the future of different industries and potential changes to products and services we use today.

Each session stood out in different ways and offered different discussion and ideas around the profession. Still a student, I loved hearing new ideas and ways of thinking, which we often don't often hear in lecture halls or tutorials. I particularly enjoyed ‘Leading Change, Embracing Diversity’ session presented by Michael Stevens, Grant Frear and Carl Ferguson. They discussed the Rainbow Tick program and the implementation at ASB. The Rainbow Tick signifies a workplace that is safe and welcoming for employees from the Rainbow communities. The Rainbow Tick ensures employees feel safe to bring their whole selves to work and are free from jokes or discrimination. ASB is the first bank in New Zealand to implement it and has seen many operational advantages as a result. This discussion got me thinking about diversity at my workplace and the numerous benefits we would see if we implemented the Rainbow Tick too. 

Overall, what a fantastic two days. I have never had the opportunity to network with so many HR practitioners. I met some incredible people from across the industry that I intend to keep in contact with. I learnt a lot and am thrilled I had the chance to attend. I will definitely be getting a ticket for next year! This is a not to be missed event for any HR professional.


Harriet Riley, Wellington Branch, Victoria University of Wellington

This year’s NZ HR Conference theme was ‘Tomorrow’s World - The Future is Now’. This theme evolved from the military idea of VUCA which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This theme sought to inspire HR to be leaders in this unpredictable and changing world.

The pre-conference poll indicated that the biggest problem currently facing human resource professionals was too much work and not enough time. A problem I think many professions can relate to! Dr Ian Williamson of the Melbourne Business School gave an intellectually engaging keynote address about how businesses and HR professionals can thrive during disruption. One of the key points he made was that only 21 percent of the Fortune 500 companies from 1982 remained on that list in 2012. This shows that for even some of the most successful business, survival is not a given. Williamson challenged us to think about what our organisations will look like in thirty years from now, and how our human resource practices will need to change to thrive during the disruption that is to come. He used a great case example of Netflix who thrived under digital disruption by turning their business from what was essentially a ‘glorified shipping company’ into a content making business. Strategy, Williamson says, is giving up something good to get something great; which is exactly what Netflix did, and the challenge Williamson made to HR.

I really enjoyed hearing from ASB and their work achieving the Rainbow Tick Certification which demonstrates their active commitment to becoming a safe and discrimination free workplace for their staff who identify as LGBTTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, takatāpui and intersex). The statistics show that up to 70 percent of LGBTTI staff who are not ‘out’ at work are likely to move on within three years and also up to 60 percent of graduates who are ‘out’ go back ‘in’ when they start work. Staff who can bring their whole selves to work will be happier, safer and for HR’s purpose, more productive and likely to stay with the organisation. It was really inspirational to hear how ASB have dealt with any backlash on their path to becoming the first bank in New Zealand to be Rainbow Certified. The final thoughts of this session was that diversity is automatic in the workforce today, but inclusion isn’t. I think that HR is in a unique position to make a huge improvement in the workplace conditions and culture for diverse employees.

The final presentation of the Conference was given by Sir John Kirwan who spoke to us about his journey to discovering that depression is an illness, not a weakness. I think that this concept can be applied to all forms of mental illness. John informed us that one in five New Zealanders will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. As HR professionals we have an opportunity and to a large extent, an obligation to create workplace conversations around mental illness. I have a lot of time and respect for the work that Kirwan is putting in to help shift our Kiwi attitudes around mental illness. His talk was a great way to wrap up the Conference, and he even posed for a photo with me!

One of the things I enjoyed most about the Conference was the opportunity to meet and connect with so many HR professionals from around the country. Speaking with these experienced practitioners both at the networking events and at the Expo really made the two days an invaluable experience for me. I would highly recommend the NZ HR Conference to any student who wants to gain insights to the industry before beginning their career and I would like to thank HRINZ for making this opportunity possible for me!

Ayla Tranter, Canterbury Branch, University of Canterbury

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Tomorrow’s World – The Future is Now’ which allowed for a captivating, innovative and an enriching experience.

Thursday morning, eagerness and excitement electrified the air as we shuffled through into the TSB arena Expo lounge. The hustle and bustle of the Conference was well under way as people laughed, chatted and the screeches of the coffee machine fuelled the flow of conversation. Any nerves that I had held immediately dissipated, as I was warmly greeted by many HR professionals. We moved into the Conference room to the very charismatic Ben Hurley, who took the stage to kick the convention off with a few light hearted jokes, and set the tone for a magnificent Conference. There were countless highlights of the 2015 Conference, some of which are mentioned in the following discussion.

Dr Ian O. Williamson held a powerful presence that was truly captivating. His charisma, passion and extensive knowledge allowed for the deliverance of an uplifting seminar that fostered a strong sense of rapport with the audience. Professor Williamson discussed the fact that disruptions in recent decades has led to dramatic upheaval in many industries. Technological, demographic and social-political disruptions have severely challenged a number of organisations to the point that, “Only 21 percent of the 1982 Fortune 500 Companies were still listed in 2012”. Dr Williamson provided practical strategies that leaders should adopt in order to better prepare their organisations to deal with current and future disruptions in their environments. Williamson suggests that framing of information regarding change can have a great effect on the reactions of the people within the organisation. However, Professor Williamson’s seminar also challenged the audience to break through the barriers of traditional thinking through the applied example of the organisation Netflix. This example encouraged the audience to embrace the idea that “strategy is giving up something good to get something great”. Netflix’s strategy change highlighted the importance of embracing new ways of thinking particularly in terms of workforce implications within the company. The organisation adopted controversial people management practices, such as unlimited holidays and sick days, no formal travel or expense polices and generous severance packages. 

Dr Louise Mahler delivered a dynamic, inspirational presentation that was interactive and humorous. Her strong background in performance in association with her business knowledge brought standard communication to life. Our eyes darted back and forth mesmerized as we watched her gracefully dash about the stage. Dr Mahler discussed the importance of the mind, which in turn shapes your physiology and ultimate vocal delivery when communicating. Dr Mahler emphasised the importance of the connection between these three concepts which can increase influence and persuasion when communicating, termed ‘vocal intelligence’. Mahler suggested that this concept is particularly important for women in leadership to take advantage of when the voice of leadership is often associated with being, ‘low, slow and loud’. One point that particularly resonated with me was the importance of body language and how that communicates to others. Dr Mahler offered many practical solutions that can be practiced and used in every day communication.

The final speaker of the Conference, Sir John Kirwan took the audience on an emotional journey whereby his personal experience with depression accentuated the true gravity of the situation. One in five New Zealanders suffer from depression, Sir John Kirwan expressed the point that as HR professionals it is our duty to break the stigma and stereotypes of depression as a weakness. Through various techniques Kirwan argued that HR professionals should be proactive in normalising depression. The first step is awareness, as well as ensuring that employees do not discriminate against other workers who have this serious health issue. Workers who are depressed should be able to receive proper treatment without fear of repercussions. The second step is ensuring that the signs of depression are known to the entire workforce and an assistance program is offered by the organisation. Kirwan argues that taking such steps will drastically improve the quality of, or even save, lives.

There were a vast number of highlights at the 2015 Conference, some of which I have mentioned. I am proud to have had the chance to represent HRINZ in Canterbury and I am truly grateful to HRINZ for providing me with the invaluable opportunity to meet a number of brilliant, dynamic and passionate people, broaden my thinking and challenge the consideration of ever widening possibilities.

 Paige Allan, Wild South Branch, University of Otago

 If there is one word that I would use to describe the 2015 NZ HR Conference in Wellington it would be ‘inspiring’.  The theme for the conference was “Tomorrows World – The future is now” which left a lot to the imagination. It started with a scrumptious President’s Dinner where we could interact with others attending the conference, before going home to gear up for the next two days.

Day one of the Conference began with an early morning. As we headed to the venue I felt excited yet nervous, unsure about what the day ahead would entail. The introduction began with Ben Hurley being presented as the MC. Ben was a great choice as he was very approachable and entertained us the entire conference with his witty humour. The speakers asked to present at the conference all came prepared with great advice and discussion, however there were a few in particular who really inspired me. The first speaker was Ian Williamson who raised the bar as he discussed the idea of ‘thriving during disruption’ and had the most flowing and well rounded presentation which was very informative.

The speaker that followed gave, in my opinion, the best presentation of the conference. Jason Fox opened by impersonating typical motivational speakers which engaged the audience and prepared us for a motivational presentation on the concept of finding innovative ways to reshape and rethink the practices in a workplace. He introduced the idea of employees valuing progress. I felt inspired by this speech and especially by his enthusiasm for the topic with his humour adding to the appeal. This presentation was positive which is what I found motivating. He discussed the idea of creating a word for the year - his being “Pirate” - which could allude to searching for new horizons or simply just drinking a lot of rum. I still have yet to find my word but I know that this presentation got the audience thinking about a word to inspire them.

Lunch time soon rolled around. This was one aspect to the Conference which certainly did not disappoint. The catering included breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Every meal we had was delicious, with a variety of food to cater to everyone’s tastes and the endless coffee provided us with enough energy to get through the busy two days.  Break time also doubled as networking time with HR professionals, which was promoted with a competition. The competition encouraged us to visit each expo stall to complete a sticker challenge. My competitive side really came out and once I got on a roll there was no stopping me, I made sure by the end of the event I had all 52 stickers completed and my hard work won me a prize, not to mention allowed me to meet a massive amount of HR professionals.

Once the presentations resumed, another inspiring talk was given by ASB and Michael Stevens from Rainbow Tick. They discussed the issues of leading change and embracing diversity. This presentation opened my eyes to the issue of discrimination of the LGBTI community in the workplace. Michael stated statistics such as “87 percent of LGBTI employees may be ‘out’ in personal life, but only 59 percent being ‘out’ in the workplace.” These examples demonstrated the significance of the issue. This presentation provided a good example of a real organisation actually making a change to encourage diversity, with ASB creating initiatives to do so and demonstrating that as HR practitioners we really can make a positive change in the lives of workers and organisations.

After a stimulating day it ended on a great note with a beautiful dinner. The night was filled with dancing to a live band, taking photos in a photo booth decked out with props and plenty of conversation aided by a few drinks. It was a perfect end to the day.

Day two started very early with a delicious breakfast session. There were two speakers who really intrigued me on this day. The most hilarious and practical presentation was given by Dr Louise Mahler, who discussed the concept of verbal and non-verbal communication, which had the audience laughing constantly. Although this was hilarious, she presented in a way that made me eager to listen but also remember the information so I could put it to use in the future.

The final speaker who presented such as inspirational and engaging speech was Sir John Kirwan. The main theme of his speech was that “depression is an illness, not a weakness”. He filled the presentation with an array of stories of his time in the All Blacks and family anecdotes that were relatable and very moving. During this he carried out some exercises which included making the audience dance and hug random people. These initially made us feel silly but subsequently made us realise how happy it made us feel. Sir John Kirwan had such an amazing presence and we were very lucky to hear his story.

Leaving the conference was bitter-sweet. After such a long few days, I was ready to crash into bed but at the same time I was sad to be leaving the environment where I had learnt so much and met so many wonderful and interesting people. I am very grateful for the opportunity I was given to attend the Conference. One thing that I will take away from the Conference is that HR professionals can really make a difference in the workplace and looking forward we need to open our mind, look at the bigger picture, stay positive and embrace change.








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