Skip to main content

Diane Edwards DistFHRNZ

What was your first role in HR?

My very first HR role was as a corporate trainer at the ANZ Bank back in the early 1990s.  I joined the bank as a teller and moved up through the ranks, gaining my accounting degree along the way.  One day they discovered that I was also a qualified teacher and asked if I would like to move into training. I soon got a bit of a reputation for telling managers to stop sending their staff on training courses because they were using it as a reward, or to fix motivational problems rather than enhancing their learning.  Eventually someone got the message and I got a chance to look performance management, thus moving more into the HR mainstream.  

What role do you currently have?

I am currently the Head of People and Capability for New Zealand Red Cross. We have approximately 540 staff and more than 10,000 thousand volunteers working in such diverse areas as migrant resettlement, meals-on-wheels, retail and emergency support both in New Zealand and internationally.  for example supporting the injured and displaced in Tonga and Ukraine.

What led you to a career in HR and the position that you are in currently?

For me it was less about choosing a career in HR and more about recognizing that people are so integral to the success of organisations.  After moving into HR, I realised that not all performance issues are people related; sometimes it is the processes, policies and technology that hamper the best of efforts of people. This led to some time out of HR as a business analyst, which took me to the US, UK and Australia, but my observation of how many change processes are undermined by poor people practices ultimately pulled me.  My passion for learning and undying belief in the power of people has served me well ever since.

What do you enjoy about working in HR?

I have the privilege to work with a diverse range of people every day, sharing their joys and their challenges, helping them succeed and watching them grow. I get to nurture, support, and watch others achieve great things.  I see how people can be the difference between success and failure in business and am proud that I can help build the environment they need to thrive both personally and professionally.

Are there any specific highlights of your career that you wish to share?

I am most proud of the time when I worked at Ports of Auckland (few years ago now).  I came in as their GM People and Processes at a time when the company had the lowest productivity of any port in Australasia, was not making cost of capital, its customers were sailing into the sunset, and it had the most toxic culture of any I had ever experienced, with management and unions at loggerheads (there was a strike when I arrived).  Four years later, it had the highest productivity of any port in the Asia Pacific region, was not only was making cost of capital but made a record profit and used this to invest in infrastructure for the first time in fourteen years. Most significantly, when we consulted with the unions about investing in technology they asked how they could support us.  This change was attributed by the CEO to the change in culture, which included major diversity initiatives, intense leadership training, zero tolerance of bullying, results driven accountability and a total review of reward and recognition, all driven out of HR.  Alongside this was the improvement in processes which were led by the OD team.  It was a such a rewarding time to see how good people practices can turn a business around.

What career advice would you give to someone early on in their career in HR?

I believe the strengths I have as an HR professional are not just complemented by, but are as result of, my diverse working background.  My time as a banker and business analyst taught me heaps about how businesses work.   I think every young HR professional should find a way to spend time working in the business in a line role so they can better appreciate the challenges of the people they support.

Please describe your journey towards becoming a Distinguished Fellow. How was the experience?

I am not really sure how to answer that.  I never thought I would ever be awarded the Distinguished Fellowship and is is not something I have ever chased.   My career has been varied and I have not really followed the traditional HR path. But perhaps some of my personality traits, the tendency to want to fix things that are broken, and nurture that which has potential, have led me here.  I was frustrated back in the 1990s when HR was failing to live up to its potential and that led to me originally joining the HRINZ (as it was called then) and standing for the branch committee. I have been involved in HRNZ ever since in a range of capacities, from leading a SIG, speaking at the conference, judging awards and joining the Board, including some time as Chair. 

Are there any goals or projects are you currently working towards/ working on, that you wish to share?

The future of work is one of my passions.  I’ve also been a member of the World Future Society for twelve years and am also a member of the Global Futures Advisory Council, the Board of a not-for-profit group based out of the Futures School, in Orlando, Florida.  This group is committed to democratising futures thinking.  I’ve been working with them to harness futures things from other cultures, including Te Ao.  The social, technological, economic, environmental and political influences in our world signal a future that is all about people and how they respond to change, and I want HR people to grab the opportunity to lead in this space.