HRINZ HR Conference 2012 Student Ambassador Highlights – Sarah Columbus
Right from day one at the HRINZ members clinic I was scrambling for my notebook, frantically trying to capture all of the valuable points made by the panel of CEOs and senior HR professionals on what HR professionals need to do today to position HR as a true business partner. Being a current HR student I am constantly immersed in class debates on various theories around this topic. However, I found being able to hear real life experiences from skilled practitioners on what challenges they face in the real world far more valuable. Particularly, hearing their views on what HR is doing that is right and what HR is doing that is unhelpful or should be stopped.
It was great to hear from Mike Bennetts that HR had a place in the top table at Z Energy and that he believes HR helps them win, delivers strategic outcomes and helps build competitive advantage over time. Bryan Dunne of the Earthquake Commission (EQC) added that he finds HR to be effective in producing building blocks for finding and retaining staff and helping manage EQC activity effectively. Constructive criticisms on HR were also valuable. Geoff Smith from ProCare Health found that HR lacked knowledge on the financials and Peter Merry of Talent Strategies added that HR needed to do less of the transactional activities and to be more strategic. The discussions that followed the opening panel comments were very engaging, as practitioners shared their own stories on how the panel’s views were relevant in their own businesses. I found the group discussion aspect hugely valuable by allowing me to take on board the practitioners’ shared experiences, hurdles and successes to aid me in making more informed decisions in my own career.
Every one of my following sessions was just as engaging and relevant in today’s diverse and ever-changing society. Three of these sessions particularly stood out for me by leaving lasting impressions and really changed my mindset and views. The first being, Riding the Wave: Addressing Our Unconscious Bias. This session focused on how organisations unknowingly act in an unbiased fashion when recruiting ethnic people. What was particularly shocking and awoke me to my own bias was when we were shown a video of a young Chinese man struggling to get a job due to his accent. He was just as qualified as any other applicant and I personally felt he was suitable for the role and that his accent was not an issue. However, when he suddenly changed accents to an English accent it really opened my eyes to how my view of his intelligence and ability to fit in a team significantly increased. I will now actively take this revelation on board to help overcome my own assumptions and biases in the workplace and in my personal life.
The second session that really grabbed my attention was Peter De Jager’s, Boiling Change Down to Seven Questions. His animated story on how he trained his manager to never answer the phone during meetings was greatly entertaining whilst also communicating to the audience that it is easy to change people but you just have to put in the right feedback systems. A second example that really stuck with me was Peter’s technique to make the problems that occur during changes into positive problems. Peter used the example of a past change situation where they introduced a new software program. Faults were going to occur with the software whether they liked it or not, therefore to make this positive they turned it into a game. IT technicians developed a competition between staff where they alerted a technician when they encountered a problem and received an arrow on their desk. The worker with the most arrows at the end of the activity won. This was a fantastic practical example which I could envisage using myself in future situations.
The final session that really spoke to me and I would also say moved me was the closing key note address by Mojo Mathers. Mojo’s strength from such a young age and determination to succeed regardless of the barriers before her was hugely moving and inspiring. Mojo was also greatly informative on the ease in implementing small practical workplace changes and modifications to enable the deaf and hearing impaired to be effective in their jobs. The challenges Mojo faces daily would deter most of us, yet instead she has pushed society’s boundaries and has became a voice for many. I am greatly motivated with what she has achieved thus far and look forward to watching her career progress with the Green Party.
I would lastly like to acknowledge the two key elements that really made the conference great for me. Firstly, the line between the speaker and attendee was constantly blurred. Every speaker was approachable and inviting which made for easy conversations and a warm atmosphere. Secondly, the people were an integral component to the success of the conference. In particular, the HRINZ team who were so supportive, my fellow ambassadors with their contagious enthusiasm for HR and drive to learn, and finally the diverse group of knowledgeable and respected practitioners who I am very lucky to have spent three days with, engaged in their shared stories and experiences. I feel so very privileged to have shared in their conference experience for 2012.
HRINZ Student Ambassador