“Groovy, baby!” – Insights from Days Two and Three at the HRINZ Conference 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 – Google.com
Sue Polo, Engineering Staffing Manager at Google.com, 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

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

  1. Melissa McColough Says:

    Belated comments from a Gen Xer from Oz: Experiencing the HRINZ conference was a breath of fresh air for this almost 20 years into career HR and Org Psych professional! Maybe it was the clean Wellington air wooshing into the smog-congested lungs of a born and bred Sydney-sider, but then again maybe it was the quality of presenters and content I experienced at the conference. One of the keys to this experience was how tightly the keynotes and panels stuck to the conference theme of “intergenerational working styles of an emerging workforce” - enabling me to leave the conference feeling that I had obtained thorough and well-rounded learning about the topic. Highlights for me were Susan Polo of Google who truly demonstrated how to live and develop an organisation’s culture through the “whole of lifework” experience of employees, and Paul Stewart of Branded Customer Service whose entertaining presentation drew together links between HR, Psychology and Marketing that have been playing on my mind for a while now!!!!! Really hope I can manage to make it to NZ again next year for the 2007 conference.

  2. Paul Jacobs - Engage Says:

    Responses to recent blog contributors:

    Melissa McColough – great to hear from you and I enjoyed meeting at the HRINZ conference. I too enjoyed Paul Stewart’s Branded Customer Service presentation and took onboard the importance of integrating the internal brand with the public brand and being really clear about the messages you need to demonstrate and present for both. I actually saw a lot of parallels between this session and the messages in Sue Polo’s presentation.

    Dellwyn Stuart – I have been in touch with Dellwyn directly about their organisation’s conference, suggesting that Peter Sheehan may be a good option to pursue.

    Stephen Billing – Hopefully Dellwyn has been in touch Stephen. If not, I’m happy to point you in the right direction.

    Richard – Thanks for sharing with us your organisation’s Employee Referral Programme. The referral fee certainly sounds generous but not excessive like some agency fees out there :-).  Please keep in touch and let us know when you make your first hire(s) – would love to hear how things pan out.

  3. Tina Nation Says:

    Hi Paul, It was great catching up with you after so many years at the 2006 HRINZ conference. I enjoyed the generational theme and as a reluctant gen x (I’m pulling away from getting older but the big 40 is decending upon me soon!!) I am completly in denial. A lot of the stuff we discussed at conference, particularly in Sheahan’s session, was taught to me as a child - “be appreciative of differences - be it ethnicity or age”. I’m not sure what the fuss is about but I can’t help thinking that mum and dad’s teachings set the environment going forward. Those struggling to understand this should email mum or nana and ask their advice. My recent experiences with recruitment in NZ is that the “recruiter” is unable to look past their own mirror image - clearly sheep dressed up in out dated wolf’s clothing. Catch up with you soon for a coffee. Happy xmas and new year. Tina

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