Thought Leaders Series: Peter Wilson, Chairman at AHRI

Peter Wilson AHRI

Peter Wilson chats to us about Google, the need for competitiveness in HR and how AHRI has embraced social media

This week’s thought leader is a big name in HR. As National President and Chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Peter Wilson is leading the way for over 20,000 Australian HR professionals. Although from Peter’s perspective, it’s these members that run the show.

Since Peter took the helm in 2006, AHRI has been owned by its members. Over this time engagement with the institute has skyrocketed – and AHRI is now making waves internationally as a HR thought leader.

Cementing Peter Wilson’s status as a thought leader is his inclusion in Peter Ulrich’s new book ‘The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders’.

So what makes Peter tick? Who does he look up to? And where does he see the biggest challenges in HR coming from? We asked Peter all this and more – as he rushed across Melbourne from one meeting to the next.

The interview:

Elizabeth Jones: Thanks for making time to speak with me Peter – it sounds like you have a crazy schedule! Let’s start with what the Australian Human Resources Institute does. What’s your elevator pitch?

Peter Wilson: Well, you can divide what we do into three camps. First, we provide a range of professional services on parts of the trade like change management. Second, we’re a training organisation. We run about 200 courses a year varying from half-a-day courses to professional diplomas.

The third thing we do is run events – big and small. I just finished one at lunchtime today at Telstra. We had a group of senior practitioners listening to David Rock – the CEO of NeuroLeadership Institute, they’re doing some wonderful things there.

“We’re getting recognition internationally for our thinking in the profession

We also run the biggest HR convention in the southern hemisphere. This year it’s in Melbourne and we’ve got some of the world’s thought leaders in HR coming. Dave Ulrich, Ram Charan from Harvard – who’s quite contrarian in his viewpoint on HR – and Julia Gillard. We’re getting recognition internationally for our thinking in the profession.

Elizabeth Jones: How would you describe your role at AHRI?

Peter Wilson: I have two names in my title. I’m National President and Chairman. The National President side is effectively the national leader of the volunteer network – and I’m chairman of the AHRI board. Although AHRI is a not-for-profit enterprise it has large commercial revenues and expenses. I’m also a spokesperson, a writer and a media commentator – we get around 150 major media mentions a year.

Elizabeth Jones: A hugely diverse job. As a media commentator, what are some of the topics you’ve spoken about recently?

Peter Wilson: I was on ABC Drive Time talking about whether the police should wear long sleeves if they’ve got tattoos. And on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW radio show I spoke about relationships in the workplace and about sick leave and its utilisation – all sorts of quirky issues in the workplace.

Elizabeth Jones: Tell me about your writing.

Peter Wilson: I write a lot of opinion pieces for our magazine (Read some of Peter’s recent articles on HRM Online). This morning I was pleased to see that Dave Ulrich has published his new book – which I wrote a chapter for.

The second edition of my book ‘Make Mentoring Work’ comes out in a month too.

Elizabeth Jones: Let’s talk about the future of work. How do you think human resources has changed since you first started in the industry?

Peter Wilson: Very much like leadership itself. We were taught in business schools to be ‘command and control’ leaders up until 1990. And that HR is the regulatory bureaucrat and policeman. With this new globalised, digital world we’ve seen a different form of leadership emerge and HR has changed as a result.

Google has a nice approach to HR – they see it as having three parts. One part is the traditional skills: performance reward, change management, contracting, recruitment etc.

The second part sees HR execs as marketing and communication experts. Organisations deliver a message through the HR system – but they also rely on that system to collate viewpoints from the people and data on engagement. So a third of what HR does now in the best-performing organisations is continually refine the organisation’s brand.

The third part is MBAs. Many HR departments have to go out to the business units and provide business cases as to what they want to do. So they have MBAs in their midst developing the businesses cases and providing the pitch to get resources. That’s where HR is headed.

Elizabeth Jones: Is that a direction you’re excited about?

Peter Wilson: Yes, I’m genuinely excited by the practices at the cutting edge. The Atlassians, the Wespacs, the Telstras – very inspired, innovative companies have HR as part of their leadership. Those are the companies people want to work for. That’s very exciting. And that’s pulling the rest of the profession forward – but of course not everybody wants to go!

“Inspired, innovative companies have HR as part of their leadership”

Elizabeth Jones: What would you say the key challenges are for human resources at the moment?

Peter Wilson: The challenge for human resources essentially is to reshape the organisation into an employer of choice. That’s the fundamental challenge. If you do that, then you’ll see success with all the main aspects of lifecycle and employment.

There has to be a competitiveness in HR to speak the language of the business and to develop people solutions that are very much aligned to the business strategy. There’s a need for very smart HR right now – smart negotiators and creators of systems that develop people in line with the organisation’s values.

Elizabeth Jones: You’re a thought leader in human resources who’s known around the world. How do you achieve such recognition?

Peter Wilson: I’ve just tried to be around smart people, smarter people than me. There’s an e-book that was released today called ‘The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Though Leaders’. I looked at the index and thought “There’s 72 thought leaders – and I’m the other guy!”

I don’t see myself as a thought leader but I certainly gravitate to them. I’m just inspired by creative insights, often contrarian insights, on the world of the workplace and the mindset of the modern worker. I’m just fascinated by that.

“I looked at the index and thought ‘There’s 72 thought leaders – and I’m the other guy!”

Elizabeth Jones: Can you give me some examples? Who are the thought leaders you learn from?

Peter Wilson: People like David Rock and Dave Ulrich, Fons Trompenaars and Wayne Cascio – people who are smarter than me in very particular ways. I’m someone that goes after people of leadership where I find them, and then reshape their material to be of value in my own community.

Elizabeth Jones: Apart from your events, how do you get the institute’s expertise out there? What channels do you use?

Peter Wilson: We’ve got our website which is being upgraded as we speak. We interviewed professionals about what they want from institutes, then restructured the website accordingly, that’s been huge.

We’re very, very active in social media. At the moment, when I write an article, it will go into our magazine – which is also available online. Then part of what I write will be cut into a blog and we’ll put it out through the various social media channels.

We’ve got HR management TV, so we’ve got regular TV updates to our members. We see our members once a year to ask them what they want.

We use every possible channel of communication we can to reach members.

Elizabeth Jones: Fantastic. Thank you so much for talking to me Peter.