Tackling change head-on

NZIM’s new Chief Executive has always been driven to find a better way of doing things.

She’s only had her feet under the desk since September, but already new NZIM Chief Executive Fiona Hewitt has big plans for the organisation.

Hewitt has gained experience in senior management and executive roles across a number of different market segments which has given her the expertise and skill-set to understand the key components of a successful business. 

What appealed about the NZIM position was that it gave her an opportunity to use her skills to indulge her passion for giving people the platform and tools to perform better.

“The goal is to reinvigorate who we are as an organisation and what we do. Leadership and management continually evolves in what is now a very competitive and fast-changing world,” Hewitt says. “So it’s important as an organisation we’re evolving the service and our delivery to meet that. Everything’s being reviewed and repositioned to ensure that what we offer is not only compelling but also relevant.”

Hewitt says change is not unique to NZIM. It’s something all businesses are facing.

“Every organisation is going through that, whether it’s NZ Post, Spark or NZME. All key organisations are going through massive disruption. You have to. I don’t think you can just change once and that’s it. Any organisation has to go through a constant evolutionary process in order to remain relevant.”

“That’s been the key thing for me from a management perspective in my business career. What we do in terms of being able to make a difference for people in organisations in New Zealand really appealed to me, but also the fact that it’s a place that needs to be refreshed or reinvigorated to make sure we remain relevant to individuals and organisations, so it’s a role I’m really enjoying on a number of levels.”

And the same good business principles apply to senior executive roles, no matter the industry, she says. “What I bring to the table is really experienced General Manager or
CEO capability.”

One of the first challenges for Hewitt to tackle will be managing the changes required for NZIM whilst acknowledging and respecting the institute’s history.

“We’re a membership incorporated society and change for us is unavoidable in order to remain relevant, but, we also need to respect and honour the organisation’s legacy. We’ve been around since 1946 and we’ve got members who’ve been associated with NZIM since the 60s and 70s. We need to respect and honour those members while ensuring we are perceived to be relevant in today’s marketplace, ” Hewitt says.

NZIM is planning a new brand re-launch at the end of the first quarter, which will be an opportunity to help New Zealand business people understand what sets NZIM apart. “My team and I are really excited about what’s to come this year.
We’re going to create a fresher voice, a clear understanding of how we play in the market and what we can do to help organisations and professionals.”

While there will be challenges, Hewitt says as long as NZIM communicates well with its members so they understand what it is trying to do, it can be done.

“There is some key planning and focus, and strategies that will need to be done in order to deliver that.”

NZIM stands out in the marketplace because of its focus on practical readily-applicable training, Hewitt says. Unlike some other training organisations, 98 percent of those who come to NZIM are already in the workplace.

She says: “We have a real focus on leadership and management as a skill and capability but we really make sure it’s practical. The way we see it is we give people the skills and confidence to step up, lift and hone their performance but do it in a way that they have the skills, tools and the understanding to go back into their workplace and use them straight away.”

For a lot of people, the key to being a good manager is understanding you don’t have to have the answer to everything just because you are in charge.

Hewitt says learning to lean on the skills of their team is something that is challenging for many people new to a leadership role.

“Part of it is understanding the skills you can deliver but, just as important, are the skills and capabilities the people around you can [deliver]. When I had my first management role at 24, I made a number of mistakes; it was a real baptism by fire. Now as a leader I know I don’t have to know every answer but I do have to know how to have a conversation in order to get a resolution or an action.”

Hewitt’s first stint in charge of a team was as an operational manager of a travel unit for House of Travel.

There, she picked up a strong focus on reviewing processes and refining business practices. “I think probably what carried on from that for me is always being open to assess, review, refine. What does good look like?  What could we do better? It’s not about judgement or highlighting if someone did a bad job but about ‘how can we do this better, how can we do this faster?’”

The drive to work out ways to do things better is something that has been with Hewitt for a long time.

“When I was five, I worked out that if I wore my school uniform to bed, including my shoes, I’d save myself 15 to 20 minutes in the morning,” she remembers. “I got away with this for three weeks until Mum came in and said ‘what are you doing?’ because she could see my school shoes poking out the bottom of my bedspread. But, I thought it was a great way because it meant I could just get up in the morning and go ‘ta daaa’. Even as a kid I had this relentless curiosity about how to find a better way do something  faster or get a better result.”

Looking at better ways of doing things is still engrained in Hewitt’s psyche, but now it’s more likely to be about improving skillsets, team performance and team fit. Hewitt realised that making the tough calls is a challenge for some people but reflects “at times throughout my career, making swift and necessary changes does make people uncomfortable. It’s not about ego however; it’s about making organisations perform better and beyond their capabilities”.

The mum of two boys, aged nine and seven, says a brush with cancer five years ago, coinciding with the end of her marriage, has made her a better leader and better able to empathise with others.

 “I think I’m more real with people. I have a better integrated approach… who I am at home is who I am in business. It’s made me more mindful of leading and managing the whole person. Everyone juggles lots of challenges and responsibilities, that’s just a fact of life, but that makes people more interesting and I think more dimensional as well.”

New Zealand needs to start investing more in its management and leadership skills to keep up with a changing marketplace, Hewitt says.

“Some of the skill sets of leadership and management capacity are under-invested in. If we want New Zealand to grow and perform, we need to invest in our people. That will help us step up and lead in a changing world. If we can grow talented people in New Zealand, what we can deliver as a country is significant.”

Fast-paced technological change will make personal connections more important for businesses over the coming years.

“It’s going to be a constant evolutionary process. As technology drives greater change at greater speed, all organisations will continually have to disrupt to remain relevant and credible. The ability to lead and manage people will become more important as the role of technology grows in organisations. That aspect is often lost,” she says.

Hewitt is excited to get stuck into a big year for NZIM. 

“I’ve often looked at what’s happening in other industries and markets, not necessarily the one I play in. That’s often a good indicator of what’s happening and also the speed of change. The ability to look out as well as look in is really key… from an NZIM perspective we’re about to go through an evolutionary process. We’re no different to Air New Zealand or Spark. In order to remain compelling, all businesses have to go through it as a process.” 

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