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Day One – Wednesday 14 September

11.00am to 12.30pm

F2 Corporate Values

Belinda Bell Sian Oliver    

Putting the Wheels Back on the Wagon

Belinda Bell and Sian Oliver, Toll NZ Consolidated Limited

A practical session on how Toll NZ's HR Team have moved the focus of the HR function from reactive and operational to a strategic business partner in an organisation that was on the brink of bankruptcy and where HR was not valued.

During this session, you will get to hear first hand the story of how Toll NZ's HR Team have survived and rejuvenated and are now putting the wheels back on the wagon.

Today, we can talk about Tranz Rail (as it was called) and Toll NZ (as we are called today) as two different businesses as, under Toll's direction, that is what they are. Tranz Rail was an environment with a history that stemmed back to the late 1800s. An ex–government department privatised in the early 1990s, was an organisation attempting to overcome effects resulting from a high degree of change to ownership, structure and leadership that lasted for more than a decade.

The leadership team prior to Toll, came in to the business in 2001 bringing a greater commercial focus to the business. Under this team, structural changes resulted in the establishment of distinct stand–alone businesses – the view was to get each operating successfully as a stand–alone business and then look to potentially sell off individually. Much emphasis during this period was on rationalisation of costs and resources resulting in a major reduction of investment back in to the business. This approach impacted significantly on our relationship with our customers, the culture of the organisation and the perception of the public to the point where Tranz Rail's doors were almost closed.

In this environment, the role of the HR team was considerably different to how we operate today. Below is a brief summary highlighting how the role of HR has moved from being operational and reactive to one that is aligned to and supports the business strategically.


Prior to 2001:

  • A place where you started and ended your career
  • Word on the street was "join rail and find a wife"
  • Family orientated
  • Government organisation
  • Seen as a cash cow that everyone can milk
  • People go to the union before their manager

Tranz Rail 2001 onwards:

  • Culture of entitlement where people believed that company property was theirs to take home
  • Staff had a lack of accountability within their roles which led to an introduction of a performance management system
  • Staff morale low due to the negative media attention and constant cost cutting
  • Movement of the head office from Wellington to Auckland to facilitate a cultural change
  • Family orientated
  • Your job was not guaranteed for life

Toll NZ

  • Culture of can do that needs to be disseminated to the masses (done through road shows, newsletters, video, cultural surveys, values project)
  • Focus on growth and opportunity (focus is on people being attracted to working for us)
  • Uptake of performance management and development at a higher level (ensuring we had a better understanding of the training needs of the business)
  • Measurement of culture in some areas of the business leading to the development of initiatives to change the culture
  • Break down the silos that exist across the different business units through projects, training (Front Line Management)
  • Family orientated environment still kept
  • A move to taking on more responsibility wanting to work with HR instead of against (especially with the introduction of the recruitment centre and more training and development)
  • People are now approaching their manager before going to the union

HR Approach

Prior to 2001

  • Very reactive and operationally focused
  • ·Heavy focus on employment relations
  • A lot of time spent with the unions

Tranz Rail 2001 onwards

  • Training halted as a consequence of no money with TRL
  • Reactive with a move to being more proactive – beginning of a focus on OD with 360's introduced and performance management system
  • Given the change in head office to Auckland from Wellington a new HR team was put together
  • New programmes developed in silo of each other

Toll NZ

  • HR had to prove that they should be in the business through education and delivery (major win at a time of crises for the HR team with the win of the MECCA issue)
  • Chronic shortage of train drivers due to lack of previous training resulting in increased training focus highlighting HR's role in the business
  • Education and acceptance gained for the need of retention strategies in the business (talent management, values project, succession planning)
  • Upskilling our managers and moving to a more strategic focus through presentations, road shows, networking and gaining feedback via video
  • New technology introduced
  • Recruitment Centre introduced – more cost effective approach plus drives quality and consistency of the recruitment process across the business
  • Focus on upskilling our workforce and ensuring that they have the tools and capability to perform in their role
  • Integration between the different parts of HR
  • HR placed in the business units

Belinda Bell, HR Manager – People Planning & Retention: I completed my undergraduate degree in Commercial Law and Management at Victoria University in Wellington. I am currently half–way through a post graduate diploma in business administration with a Human Resource endorsement through Massey University.

I am now in my 6th year as an HR professional. After completing my undergraduate studies, I commenced my HR career with Toll NZ (Tranz Rail) at the time in the capacity of HR Advisor, Generalist where I spent 14 months. I left here and spent 9 months on a fixed term with NZ Post as an HR Advisor specialising in International HR. Both of these roles were in Wellington. Returning to Toll NZ just over 3 years ago based in Auckland as an HR Advisor/Development Consultant I progressed my way through to where I am today as HR Manager, People Planning and Retention.

My expertise today encompasses extensive knowledge across a wide range of employment relations issues eventuating from a heavily industrialised work environment going through a major cultural shift. Lately, I have become more specialised focussing on strategies around attraction and retention.

Sian Oliver, HR Manager– Learning & Development: I have gained a Masters with first class honours in Social Sciences– Industrial Psychology. I am currently completing a course in Neuro Linguistic Course and am also a certified Business Excellence Evaluator.

I have been working in the Human Resource profession for five years. Eighteen months of those were spent at UnitedNetworks in the area of Organisational Development. I have spent the last three and a half years with Toll NZ (formally Tranz Rail). I have held two positions being an OD Specialist and more recently the Learning and Development Manager.

A key focus of my role is to define and create a performance culture whereby individual performance is measured and opportunities given for continuous learning. Furthermore, the focus is on building the capability of Toll NZ's workforce to deliver on the strategic direction of the organisation.

F2 Session Indicator    more info


Corporate Values


All levels

Grunt Factor:

Hard business




Presentation 30%; Q&A 20%; group work 20%; forum 10%; reporting 20%



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