Liz Huckerby has had a varied career so far in the world of people management, including in Deloitte’s Human Capital team. Now, as Chief People Officer at the New Zealand Defence Force, she’s faced new challenges this year as the events of 2020 drastically changed her team’s work. We spoke to her about her experience, her memories of Deloitte and the unique challenges of HR in the Defence sector.
What was your role at Deloitte and when were you here?
I managed the Wellington Human Resources Consulting team. I started off in Auckland actually, and then moved down to Wellington after about a year.
Previously I was working as a HR manager for a Taranaki-based hospital and started doing some consulting work on my own. I ended up with too much work, which I couldn't find enough time for. Luckily, I had some Deloitte contacts and was brought on when they expanded the consulting team.
What are your fondest memories of the firm?
I think it's all about people, isn't it? Of course the work was interesting but for me, I really enjoyed working with my colleagues. I made some lifelong friends at Deloitte who have been really important to me.
And the other thing is whilst I was working for Deloitte, my father was taken sick and subsequently passed away. It was a pretty traumatic time – I had to go back to the UK very quickly and I didn’t know how long I would be there for, but my Deloitte partners at the time were so supportive and gave me the option of moving to the London office for a while once I went back to working. Just that flexibility - and this was in the days before we knew how to Zoom and use Teams - immediately meant my home and personal situation felt so much easier to manage.
it's really important that you get good support from your employers and Deloitte were amazing for me in that time. And I think actually it's a mark of an organisation - what they do when the chips are down.
What do you do at NZDF?
I'm the HR Director here at the New Zealand Defence Force. I oversee about 800 staff working for me, both military and uniformed.
The biggest team is our training team because NZDF is New Zealand's biggest training agency - we train for more than a hundred different trades. And not many people I think would think of us as that. We develop capable people who, 25 or 30 years later, can take on senior military roles. We're unusual in that we can only recruit from within, so our senior uniformed positions have to come from people who we identified as having talent.
We’ve got other areas in the People team, including reserves, youth development programmes, sports programmes and veterans’ affairs teams. It's a real privilege for me to lead - especially during this pandemic. It’s the agency that is ensuring the protection, safety and security of New Zealanders.
I can imagine with the impact of COVID-19, it’s been quite the year. How has it affected your work at NZDF?
Certainly once COVID-19 arrived in New Zealand and the country locked down, we were still working to provide support as an essential service. But since then, we're been accountable for running the managed isolation facilities and the quarantine facilities, or MIQFs. We're running about 32 of them around the country.
This requires around 1200 of our people supporting what we call ‘Operation Protect’, which is about protecting our community. Now people don't join the Defence Force to work in a hotel, so we’ve had to re-purpose and reposition, put training in place and be clear with our team about their important role in the safety and security of New Zealanders. It’s an operation that is completely different than anything we have done before.
One thing that we've paid particular attention to has been supporting our veterans. Many of them are older people and some are quite isolated. Particularly during lockdown, we started outbound calling to see what they needed and provide support. That was a key initiative and I'm really proud of my team members for their work on that.
You spent five years working as Chief of Integrated Talent Management for the United Nations Development Programme – can you tell us about your work there?
I was the HR Director at NZTA before then, and one of the things I was particularly interested in was whether I could scale up and work in an international environment. So I applied to the job based in New York. I never imagined I'd get it but I did.
The United Nations Development Programme and 22,000 staff has offices in 70 different countries where people have some of the greatest needs around the world, mobilising teams of people to provide support. I was in the role during the Ebola crisis, which was particularly challenging. We had to put together policy-setting before we could send people into those affected communities and figure out logistics – all really, really quickly. That was a hugely challenging.
There was also the fact that the UN works in six languages, so even just running a staff engagement survey becomes hugely complex. But I really loved it, it was fascinating.
What is it that motivates you to work in the work of people and talent?
I really like seeing people develop and succeed. If I think about some of the things I'm most proud of, it would be that I've had a number of people come to work for me and I've seen them go on to amazing jobs. I feel really pleased at my small part in their success.
What do you do for fun outside of work?
I like to make jewellery and I do oil painting. I've just about finished a landscape of the New York skyline from a photograph that I took while I was there. I'm also really looking forward to the summer holiday as I've got a week away with a friend of mine. We're going to go spend it painting and probably drinking wine, which will be lovely.
I'm a keen volunteer on the board for Oxfam New Zealand as well. We only meet once a quarter for a day so it's not a huge demand on my time, but that sense of being able to kind of give something back to the voluntary sector is very important to me.