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HRINZ Conference 2004 Shifting the Thinking
HRINZ Conference 2004 Shifting the Thinking
next practice in people management

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concurrent workshops (HR Interactions)

D2 Developing Peoples Capability in NZ Organisations: what’s happening now and what’s next?

Prof Mary Mallon, Professor of HRM, Massey University and Jane Bryson, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington

The session will be a two way sharing of academic and practitioner experiences and thinking about the issue of developing people’s capability in the workplace - and making sure this capability is actually used.

The session will start with reporting on the findings so far of the case study phase of a government funded research grant, “Developing capability in New Zealand organisations”. It will also provide a brief, up to date review of national and international research on capability development as well as an assessment, using a range of information, of how well we are doing in New Zealand in developing our workforce.

Through interactive discussion sessions, we will provide opportunities to share best – and next practices in the participants’ workplaces. Individuals will also get together in small groups to review what is facilitating and constraining the development and use of employee capability in their own organisations.

In the final report back and discussion, we hope to explore together why, despite considerable evidence about the benefit of a well-trained work-force to organizational success, do we still need to challenge organisational attitudes and practices? We will ask what might “next practice” look like in the area of developing and using capability and whose thinking or attitudes or actions need to be shifted (and how) to get us there?

Session Indicator





Grunt Factor: 





Presentation 30%; group work 30%; forum 20%; reporting 20%




Underlying the research programme (Developing Human Capability: Employment Institutions, Organisations and Individual) on which the proposed session is based is the premise that much more can be done in New Zealand to better develop and use the talent already available, and to make New Zealand a work destination of choice for skilled migrants. Previous New Zealand studies have observed a tendency to opt for “low-road” approaches that are negatively correlated with growth and innovative behaviour. Differential access to learning and training opportunities, associated with ethnicity, gender, age, disability or employment in non-standard work threatens further social exclusion and reduces the potential of those people to realize skills and abilities at work.

The guiding principles of the research project are that

  • Improved human resource management practices, based on rigorously researched, detailed, and richly nuanced and New Zealand focused data (informed by international best practice) will improve New Zealand organisational performance, which can be measured through a range of relevant indicators.
  • ·optimal performance is based on practices that value people; quality of working life is a necessary condition for the successful development and deployment of the capacities of the diverse New Zealand workforce.

A starting point is to ensure that we identify and disseminate what is the current state of capability development in New Zealand; using our own empirical research, benchmarking through a range of international literature and understanding the wide range of statistical information already available about development in NZ.

Support for the importance of employee development comes from a growing body of empirical research pointing to the benefits of what is variously known as ‘high-involvement’, ‘high-commitment’, or ‘high-performance’ work practices- or more commonly as “best practice HRM”. While there is much here to stimulate discussion, we are keen to ensure that we do not attempt to slavishly follow ideas from elsewhere; we are quite capable of developing solutions which are New Zealand appropriate.

Thus, central to this research project, is partnerships with organisations to ensure that we explore together, not just what is best practice in terms of capability development, but what might be the template(s) for “next practice” in New Zealand.

At the same time, the project is committed to understanding this issue from the individual’s viewpoint. In this way, we can incorporate the perspective of the people whose capital is to be increased and we can explore the optimum conditions for the development of a positive attitude to learning and innovation alongside the provision of appropriate opportunities for all.

By September 2004 we will have completed a number of case studies of New Zealand organisations, interviewing managers and staff, as well as CEOs, HR Managers, EEO managers and trade union representatives as appropriate; looking in detail at organisational employee development processes and policies and associated HRM practices; identifying a range of indicators of success of employee development activities. We will also conduct interviews with associated industry bodies, professional associations, networks and other organisations on the supply chain to look at the learning/development terrain beyond the organisation.

In this way we will have developed some rich pictures of what is happening in capability development in some of our organisations. We will have some indicators of success and also of where opportunities are being lost. We will be clearer about what other HR practices and/or individual or organisational attitudes help or hinder.

The session will operate both as opportunity to share with participants this data along with our associated readings of international literature and NZ specific statistical data and to offer structured opportunities for them to reflect on its relevance for their own situation and what they can learn and apply from it. It is also an opportunity for us to hear the views of a wider range of NZ practitioners, which is of fundamental importance in ensuring that the research programme (the next phase is survey to be followed by action research case studies) remains relevant for the real – and changing needs of HRM in New Zealand.

Professor Mary Mallon is Professor of Human Resource Management at Massey University. Her background, before entering academia, was in Career Guidance and in HRM, particularly Training and Development. She worked in the UK for many years, first as a practitioner, then as a manager and finally as corporate training manager in a large Local Government organisation. She then established and ran her own company offering training courses and consultancy in Equal Employment Opportunities, staff development and career counselling.

Mary academic and professional qualifications were gained in the UK. Her first degree is in English Language and Literature. Later she studied and qualified as a Careers Advisor (gaining the Diploma in Career Guidance) and as a Personnel Manager (as a Graduate of the Institute of Personnel and Development). She went on to gain academic qualifications in HRM with her MSc (on the Career development of women managers) and her PhD (on the Transition from managerial careers to portfolio careers).

Her research has been broadly in the area of managing peoples’ careers. More recently she has been involved in projects on learning and well-being and on work-life balance. She is currently involved in a government funded research project that is exploring “Developing Human Capability: Employment Institutions, Organisations and Individuals”.

Dr Jane Bryson is an organisational psychologist who has extensive practical experience in HRM in the public and private sectors as a consultant and as an HR Manager. She is a senior lecturer in the Victoria Management School at Victoria University of Wellington and has taught in HRM and industrial relations, organisation development and public management over a number of years. Her research has included examining responses to ethical dilemmas of managers and professionals and the implications of this for human resource management. She has also looked at the management of HR risks in merger situations, and how HR contributes to organisational capability. Currently she is investigating the development of human capability in the workplace.

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