Archive for September, 2006

“Groovy, baby!” – Insights from Days Two and Three at the HRINZ Conference 2006

Monday, September 25th, 2006


After an enjoyable first day of the conference attending a range of fringe sessions and listening to healthy debate and some cynicism about why Gen Ys should indeed be a special case, day two marked the official opening of the conference.  The next two days consisted of a series of key note addresses, panel discussions, and a dinner/party where delegates dressed in a style that epitomised their favourite decade.  (I went along as Austin Powers and had a shagadelic time – there were some great costumes spanning the decades.)  What appealed to me over the two days was how the different presenters provided a different perspective on the ‘intergenerational’ theme, whether this was from a cohort, demographic, EEO, older-worker, or HR perspective.

Though I gleaned pearls of wisdom from all presenters, a few stood out to me.

Peter Sheehan
First, Australian Peter Sheehan, a Gen Yer and Gen Y authority, had the audience giggling from the moment he stepped on stage.  Peter started his presentation at hurricane pace and though he spoke enthusiastically about Gen Y, I thought he also cleverly addressed many of the concerns coming from the cynics (hey healthy cyncism is a Gen X trait!), even going so as far to warn against stereotyping and generalising.  Peter said that it is a “disgrace” that 28% of tertiary-educated New Zealanders live and work overseas and that New Zealand has fallen short when it comes to recruiting and retaining Gen Yers in particular.  Peter has interviewed and worked with thousands of Gen Yers and he said that Gen Ys want ‘control’ – they want their employers to build their CVs and want to be able to customise their careers like they customise their lattes.  Peter said the key to keeping a Gen Yer is to harness and channel their energy and provide them with opportunities to move laterally.  This may involve forging alliances with other organisations which the Gen Yer can opt in and out of, rather than racing overseas never to return. 

Peter chaired a panel that included a Gen Yer, a Gen Xer, a Baby Boomer, and a Baby Boomer/Silent Generation cusp.  What struck me was how each panel member showed traits and preferences reminiscent of their generation.  Was this an example of what Seeby Woodhouse, from Orcon Internet, described at his Friday breakfast presentation as “collective consciousness”?  The audience busted into raucous laughter when the Gen Y panel member, who came across as extremely employable may I add, said that she expects a pay rise within the first year of a new role.  This is not an unusual expectation but it certainly reinforced some of the more self-interested thinking of Gen Yers.  Peter gave an example of one Gen Y candidate who said “I don’t do behavioural interview questions … is there anything else you would like to ask?”  When candidates are being presented with a range of employment opportunities, I guess they can afford to be demanding and selective.

Sue Polo –
Sue Polo, Engineering Staffing Manager at, described how the organisation has created an employment brand that ‘sizzles’ and reflects/promotes the corporate brand.  Sue outlined the range of benefits/perks for Google employees and discussed the innovative approaches used to attract and retain Gen Yers (eg childcare, pet-friendly policies, meals, mentorship, succession development, 20% time), that include ensuring an open and collegial/community-based culture.  I was hooked in by the Google recruitment video.  I only wish New Zealand organisations could look to the initiatives that organisations like Google are actually using to recruit and retain people.  I think Google really does think of its people as its “most valuable resource”.

Katrina Troughton – IBM
Sometimes the best things are worth waiting for.  In the very last session, Katrina Troughton, Managing Director of IBM New Zealand, presented a range of ‘diversity’ related policies and initiatives that IBM in New Zealand and Australia has implemented as part of a wider goal to become “an employer of choice and attract and retain the best talent”.  These initiatives include intergenerational diversity, people with disability, work-life flexibility, women in the workforce, and cultural awareness and acceptance.  IBM has really tried to understand its workforce and what motivates them.  By doing this it has been able to implement and embed into the work culture these diversity programmes, including some nifty stuff to attract and retain staff across the generations (predominantly Gen Yers and older employees).  The intergenerational diversity initiatives are supported through the launch of an intergenerational intranet site, manager training, an alumni programme, workshops, and mentoring etc.  IBM’s oldest employee is 80; they have retired twice and come back “re-engaged”.  IBM made an excellent case study for me of an organisation that is actually doing something in this area in a structured and systematic way.

Diana Crossan, Retirement Commissioner, and Judy McGregor, EEO Commissioner, touched on New Zealand’s “age-demic” – our aging workforce and pride of place as having the biggest baby boom in the world.  Like Katrina Troughton they reminded us that there is a very strong business case to retain older workers and not focus only at the Gen Y end.  They also strongly recommended that organisations conduct a demographic audit and identify their age profiles as a key starting point.

Tony DiRomualdo from Careeer Innovation presented the results of its global survey, which identified five key groups following a cluster analysis (ie traditionalists, careerists, fringers, flexers, and agile performers).  What was interesting to me is that people of all ages fit into these groups, suggesting that individual differences are stronger than generational differences.

Regardless of who you believe, or what study, theoretical model, or practitioner you accept, what I glean from the conference is that it is important to be cognisant of group and individual difference in a workplace – and to know your people, what attracts them and what motivates them.  I think marketing principles well and truly met HR at this conference.

I enjoyed meeting a range of diverse and interesting people at the conference from across New Zealand and overseas and I look forward to keeping in contact with them.

Paul Jacobs

Speed Dating and More – Insights from Day One at the HRINZ Conference 2006

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

I spent an enjoyable first day at the annual Human Resources Institute of New Zealand’s conference in Wellington.  This year’s theme is ‘intergenerational working styles of an emerging workforce’.    

The day started with an icebreaker that resembled a speed dating session.  The task involved seating us delegates in large rows closely facing each other.  We had a couple of minutes to introduce ourselves and find some points in common.  When the buzzer went we shifted seats and continued this process with the next lucky person.  

We then broke off separately into the first of five fringe workshop sessions spread throughout the rest of the day.  I tried to choose sessions that had a recruitment, technology, and/or grounded-in-research focus.  The first workshop by Sonar6 had a talent and technology bent.  Sonar6 has implemented a visually appealing system in the Trade Me organisation that helps managers create a talent inventory, enabling them to recognise the individual differences and potential of their people.  Michael Carden from Sonar6 said that he purposefully pitched the system as something that is useable by the business, visual, interactive, new, measurable, and “cool”.  Sam Morgan has become an investor in Sonar6.  

A couple of speakers questioned the validity of the construct of generational differences in a work context, even drawing on some research that minimises the notion of a sharp difference between Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers etc.  In her session, Kristin Lyon explored the values and beliefs of the different cohorts.  She highlighted that most studies are anecdotal with little scientific basis.  Her own Wellington-based research across four generational cohorts showed some distinct constructs that are not necessarily in agreement with the anecdotal literature.  One presenter felt that it is often implied that Gen Ys are somewhat more special and that this can lead to the risk of forgetting about other generations in a human resources context – possibly leading to prejudice in such areas as recruitment and promotional opportunities.  One presenter felt that there is a great variance in individual differences within the generations and it is better to understand your unique workforce, their skills, motivations, beliefs etc and communicate directly in a language that is appropriate to them.  Another presenter felt that any differences were purely environmental and had a lot to do with family upbringing and personal values.

I found this level of debate early on in the conference to be quite refreshing, especially on such a topical issue.  I’m sure this dialogue will continue tomorrow.

Paul Jacobs (Gen X)