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Conference Summary

by HRINZ National President, Ross Pearce MHRINZ

HRINZ Conferences keep getting better, and every year we ask ourselves “How can we surpass that?” – but Beverley Main and her team manage to do it, and Conference 2003 was no exception. The theme was “Organisational Wellbeing – the business conference for serious HR people”. Judging by the number of delegates who attended, a record 260, and the number of organisations wanting to be part of the Expo, we certainly had a winning formula again.

I spent Wednesday with a group of invited HR leaders and many of our guest speakers networking and discussing the issues of the day, on a well organised “big day out”. We were bussed to the Wairarapa to a stately old home called Longwood, where we were treated to some great hospitality from the hosts, while getting the opportunity to renew acquaintances, try our hand at a few innovative recreational pursuits, and just have some time out away from the daily grind. I did notice though, that many of us were occasionally captured by our mobiles – the “tyranny of the phone”, as one well known management writer once described it.

We were delivered back to Wellington in time to attend the Welcome Reception cocktails at the Boatshed. The rest of the evening was free for most delegates, although for one group of certificated members attending Conference, HRINZ had organised a dinner hosted by Alistair Mant. The feedback we had from people attending the dinner was really positive; it is something we will look at repeating for future Conferences.

The official Conference opening on Thursday morning was memorable, with Pinky Agnew, our MC, getting the audience to practice some very creative exercises (look on the website for photographic evidence!). We then had the opening keynote address from Dr Stephen Williams who talked about “Releasing Individual Potential Through Employee Wellbeing”. Stephen’s key message was how can we maximise peoples’ discretionary effort, (which is what they could do if they really wanted to), through reducing situations in the work environment which lead to harmful stress. He backed up his assertions by walking us through some case studies of organisations like Leeds City Council, Marks & Spencer and GlaxoSmithKline, where personal potential had been fully released by better managing the work environment.

The morning HR Interactions workshop I attended was titled “Creating a Bully Free Zone”. Hosted by Andrea Needham, Hadyn Olsen and Matthew Fitzsimons, their key message was that as HR practitioners, we need to champion the cause of stamping out bullying in organisational settings. Bullying comes in many forms, but it is one of the key reasons many of our staff are not as productive as they could be, and can create lasting psychological damage for all involved.

The Members’ Forum was well attended, at which we did 3 things:
• I presented an overview of HRINZ Strategic Directions to 2008
• Stewart Forsyth & Jim Pope presented the process for applying to be a certificated member, which is now all on-line
• Annemarie de Castro, the Immediate Past President of HRINZ, was presented with a certificate confirming her status as Fellow of the Institute

I then attended a Masterclass session in the afternoon, hosted by Bob Morton and Mick Lock, titled “Employer of Choice: Sustaining Peak Performance – The People Factor. This was a highly interactive session with a number of key learnings, the main one being that a group of people can collectively reduce their level of “stress” through relaxation techniques. The other takeaway from that session was that we need to be able to vary our leadership style in order to get the most out of people.

The final session for the day was a presentation by Kevin Wheeler, who always has a fresh perspective on future trends, and he didn’t disappoint. Whilst there was not a whole lot of really new information in Kevin’s presentation, the way he presented it was certainly food for thought. He was basically saying that the way organisations structure themselves is going to change to a much more federal model, with a group of “trusted partners” and then further out consultants or contractors providing services to a core group of staff. Another critical competency for organisations will be the ability to connect knowledge holders rather than capturing knowledge in a database, because most valuable knowledge is tacit.

The theme for the dinner & party was Mardi Gras – Latin American Passion, and many people had gone to a lot of trouble to get the right costume to reinforce the theme! It was an energetic evening with lots of great entertainment, dancing, food and wine and the opportunity to let our hair down. HR people certainly know how to party!

Friday morning’s key note speaker was David Arkless, the CEO of Empower, which is the international consulting arm of Manpower, the world’s biggest recruitment firm. David is a very entertaining speaker, and he regailed us with lots of interesting stories about his experiences in creating Empower. Some of the many key points he left with us were:
• There are no automatic synergies when you bring two organisations together
• Beware of consultants – hire them only for their deep knowledge
• Use the power of small wins – communicate widely
• Beware the “CEO Tsunami” – great little ideas can become bad big ones

I attended the mid morning session conducted by Bill Kimberley & Bronwyn Bayliss from Massey University, who talked about their recruitment system project which won the HRINZ 2002 HR Initiative of the Year Award. It demonstrated to me yet again, what huge talent lies within our organisations, which can be applied to those intractable problems when our backs are against the wall. They told us about a product that is so successful now, that it can be marketed to other organisations as an effective recruitment solution.

Brian Dive from DMA International talked about “Building a Healthy Organisation” from a structural, accountability and decision making perspective. He asked us the key question “When you restructure an organisation, how do you know when to stop cost cutting and why? Are you cutting fat or muscle?” Brian’s approach in determining the answers looks at a number of key elements to how positions are structured:
• The amount of change
• The nature of the work
• The problem solving required
• Resource complexity
• External interaction
• Time frame of decision making impact
• Natural work teams

At the end of the day, making an organisation work effectively comes down to creating an environment where there is clear decision making accountability, and individuals have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop.

The mid afternoon workshop I attended was hosted by Jenni Murphy-Scanlon & Christine Williams from the Inland Revenue Department, who shared with us their approach to succession planning, which is really all about career development, not just position filling. Their key messages in making what was a very decentralised and largely piece-meal approach to a much more effective process were to make sure you engage key managers through national linkages, if you are running development centres, ensure people understand the process and what the outputs will be, and take care to emphasise that people need to take responsibility for their own self development.

Professor Roger Collins was our closing key note speaker, and he talked about the need for us to reinvent the HR profession. His rationale for this contention is that current thinking and solutions aren’t necessarily working any more, the half life of HR knowledge is approximately 6-7 years, there are lots of new definitions of success both at an individual level and organisationally and new industries are constantly emerging which require totally different approaches. His answer to this is that the HR profession needs to look more to other disciplines like sociology, anthropology & history, in order to create a new “hybrid”. It is well known that hybrids demonstrate a vigour which is 15% stronger than either of the parents. Maybe then we need to be looking at having joint conferences of marketing, IT and HR professionals in order to create new competencies and capabilities. Interesting food for thought – in many NZ organisations, this is already happening!

So that brought us to the close of another stimulating and thought provoking conference. The challenge for us all was to take just 2 or 3 ideas, tools or techniques that we could apply back at work, which would add value and move our organisations forward. All of the feedback I received about the Conference was positive, with most delegates telling me it was one of the best they had attended.

It makes for a big challenge for Conference 2004, but with the theme of “Raising the Bar – Next HR Practice”, I’m sure HRINZ is up to it!

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