People are the key to rural success

18 May 2016 / Published in Business

He Tangata, He Tangata , He Tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people.

We recently held our annual Rural Corporate Conference here at ASB North Wharf, with this year’s theme being human capital. This year’s speakers were of a high calibre and included Dame Therese Walsh, Sir Ralph Norris, Traci Houpapa, Giselle McLachlan and Gilbert Enoka, among others.

Human capital is a scarce resource in the rural sector so our challenge is to work out how to maximise its use and deliver the true value of people.  Unlocking this value is critical to driving New Zealand’s rural sector forward.

In order to achieve the Government’s growth agenda of doubling primary industry exports to $64b by 2025, we need around 50,000 new people to join the rural sector. These need to be skilled workers across an array of disciplines, such as farming, science, agritech and finance.

Traci Houpapa, professional company director, emphasised the impact of increasing urbanisation in New Zealand on human capital; fulfilling these roles is becoming more difficult. The rural community needs to focus on what value proposition it has to offer to potential workers.

Part of the answer lies in developing a strong and robust culture.  As Gilbert Enoka, All Blacks Manager - Leadership, stated at the conference “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  In other words, the best strategy is almost worthless without high quality people working together with business cultural alignment.  Your culture will not only attract people to you but it will retain people for you – so what is the culture in your business like?

Aside from culture, we learnt that developing human capital to its maximum required a focus on a few other standout areas: strong leadership, diversity, clear processes, governance support, continual training and a good balance between technology and people.

Strong leadership

Motivating your people to pull in the same direction is crucial for any business, and strong leaders are the key to this as they unlock the potential value in people. Ross Buckley, KPMG New Zealand Executive Chairman, stressed this when he outlined the contributing characteristics of a high-performance business; pivotal leaders, ambition and attitude, a strategic anchor, sound investment and resource allocation, capable people, customer intimacy, connection and collaboration, and deployment discipline.

Ross pointed out that as a leader, you need to employ people who you would be prepared to work for.

He also explained the importance of not only attracting people with the right IQ and EQ, but also CQ (cultural quotient).

An important attribute of an effective leader is providing simple, clear messaging, that focuses your team on your objectives. The importance of this was illustrated by Dame Therese Walsh, ASB Board Director, as she discussed her time leading the 2015 Cricket World Cup organising committee. She explained that she repeated the message “it’s going to be big” over and over so that everyone had the same vision in mind.


From a business perspective, diversity contributes to success and high performance as it introduces new ideas and perspectives. 

The starting point is developing your own self-awareness – know who you are as a person and understand your strengths and weaknesses so that you can surround yourself with people who have different skills and experience to complement your own. Embrace the benefit that this diversity brings.

Diversity is achieved in a number of ways – gender, ethnicity and age are a few examples.

One of our initiatives in supporting diversity is our partnership with Dairy Women’s Network. This organisation supports women in dairying businesses through education, development and networking.

We encourage young people to join the rural industry through our partnership with Mount Albert Grammar School.

Remember that you only know what you know – and diversity of people and thought helps to uncover many more of the possibilities that exist.


The success of your business is influenced by the structures you have in place particularly in the form of governance.

The increasing scale, complexity and risk that your business faces, requires a determination to surround yourself with capable people who can support decision making processes.  We learnt from Dame Therese Walsh that in high performance sport – where highs and lows are part of everyday life – the people who succeed are those who have created resilience to cope and a strong team of supporters. Ask yourself, who is in your support team?

A point that was raised is that good people cost money and we were challenged to not think of this as a cost but think of the value that is created by these people.

To this extent we have partnered with the Institute of Directors to help encourage and educate business owners – from all industries – to develop stronger governance plans.

Alongside your governance plan, it’s important to implement processes that allow your business to run successfully. Sir Ralph Norris, former CEO of ASB Bank, emphasised that having the right systems in place supports staff engagement and efficiency.

He also mentioned that if things aren’t running quite to plan then your staff need to be part of the solution – they understand the problems sometimes better than you.  Sir Ralph also said that people don’t care what you know; they just want to know that you care. So make your farm a good place to work.  Develop a culture of continuous improvement supported by quality training and development.

Technology and people

With the rapid advancement of technology, Chelsea Miller, owner of Grass Roots Media, spoke about there being no limit to what technology can do; the question for us is how we embrace it.  A very important point that she made is that technology does not have emotion or feelings, so striking the right balance with your people is pretty critical.

She also touched on the need to get more connected to the online world – to be part of the ongoing conversation around our industry.

Adopting new technology can be daunting, however we know that if used in the right way it will increase the chance of business success.

A great example of the difference technology can make to your business is with your finances. Using tools like Figured and Xero allows you to simplify processes, make better decisions with real-time data.

Our rural team is a people business, just like yours.  So the challenges you face day to day are ours as an industry to solve.  Together we need to develop strategies that will enhance and maintain the capability of the people currently working for us, as well as focus on attracting new talent to the sector.

Giselle McLachlan offered a final thought-provoking statement when she asked if we sometimes treat our farm animals better than our staff.  This is confronting given our need to focus on developing, retaining and extracting value from our people.


More articles from ASB