Disruption in a time of disruption

12 months ago this week, Wellingtonian Belinda Sharp found herself at a loose end in Portland, Oregon as you do.  She found out that an event called DisruptHR was on, and so took herself along.  

Blown away by the night, a few weeks later Belinda had secured the licence to run a Disrupt event in Wellington. She enlisted the help of her then colleague Helen Parr to help her run New Zealand’s very first DisruptHR event. 

So what is DisruptHR?

Billed as the rebellious future of HR, these events started in the US a few years ago and are an information exchange designed to energise, inform and empower people in HR.  There are now 154 licensed cities across 34 countries where over 450 events have been held and over 5,000 talks have been given.  All the talks are filmed (like Ted talks on speed) and, after the event, are all loaded up to the global site

The brief for the speakers?  5 minutes each, 20 slides exactly and the slides rotate automatically every 15 seconds. “Teach us something, but make it quick.”

Which is where I came in.  I was aware of DisruptHR, had watched many of the talks over the years and always wanted to see it done here.  I had even enquired about getting a licence myself and when I heard someone was going to do it in Wellington I just had to get involved.  So at the start of the year I contacted Belinda (we didn’t know each other at this point) and offered to help. 

The three of us had no idea what was to come.  With speakers, sponsors, venue etc all secured we were due to take place on the night of 26 March.  But Covid-19 happened. And on 25 March New Zealand’s alert level 4 was declared and the team of 5 million went into a nationwide lockdown. 

So we postponed and re-set the date for 25 June. It will all be over by then we thought. By late May with the country still at level 2, and restrictions on social gatherings and events in place, we reluctantly took the tough decision to postpone again.  This time we set our date for 10 September thinking we’d be fine by then. After all, New Zealand was winning the Covid battle and restrictions had been lifted. But then Covid re-emerged in Auckland, and the country was moved back again to level 2 with Auckland at level 3. 

This time we decided to carry on with the event and crossed our fingers level 2 would become level 1 before the night.  It didn’t. The Wellington City Gallery auditorium holds 120 people and we had sold all the tickets!  As we all know, level 2 restricts social gatherings to 100 or less.  So we improvised, or pivoted, as us agile HR types like to say these days.

With auditorium capacity slashed to 64 to allow for social distancing, we quickly organised an overflow space in the main gallery for some people to watch the proceedings on a large screen, and also gave ticket holders the option of watching a livestream at home rather than attending in person.  Thankfully some took us up on the offer allowing us to sneak in under the 100 people mark (just). 

And what a great and special night it was!  Our speakers had all stuck with us through the postponements and were wonderful, eclectic and interesting. Some flew in from other cities just to be part of it. Our sponsors all stuck by us as well, and we can’t thank our volunteers and the City Gallery staff enough for all going the extra mile to make it happen.  And then of course all those people who bought tickets, most many months ago, who turned up on a filthy wet Wellington night to support us. 

Highlights were many and varied. My favourite slide of the night was Jussi Luukkonen’s depiction of HR as a clapped out, abandoned old car and Mat Kearney’s message to “get out of HR” to experience life on the other side and then bring that experience back to HR really resonated with me.

And me?  Well, I got to do one of the talks on why I think we need to disrupt HR which was a real thrill and a little ambition ticked off the bucket list. And I got to hear from many people I admire and respect.

But more importantly, I got to be part of something really nice – a chance for re-connection and human interaction amidst all these crazy, scary and unpredictable times.  Something that we in HR have come to know the importance of only too well over these dark months of 2020. As someone put it to me this week – “it was just what everyone needed.”

A big thanks to all of you from Belinda, Helen and myself.  The disruptors finally beat the disruption! 

Photo credits Kahlia Pye

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