Interchange on tour: AHRI National Convention and Exhibition 2019



At Interchange, we’re always looking for new things to learn and new experiences to try. That’s why we packed our bags and jumped on a flight to attend the recent Australian HR Institute (AHRI) national convention and exhibition up in sunny Brisbane.

Located in the vast surrounds of the Brisbane Conference and Exhibition Centre, the convention was titled ‘The Future is Human’. In line with this theme, there was a definite stream of contemporary consciousness flowing through the program with presentations, workshops and debates looking at new ideas, emerging technologies and what awaits us.

It’s not easy organising an event of this size and scale, so hats off to the organisers for pulling it off so successfully. We had an awesome time and came away with our heads jam-packed with new info, insights and ideas.

Here’s a little round-up of what we saw, heard and learnt.



Dr Susan David, Harvard Medical School: ‘Emotional agility’

First up on day one was Dr Susan David, a psychologist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She is also a co-founder of the Institute of Coaching (a Harvard Medical School / McLean affiliate) and the CEO of Evidence Based Psychology.

David developed the concept of emotional agility, which she describes as ‘a new way to enable us to make peace with our inner selves, achieve our most valued goals, make real change, and live life to the fullest.’ Sounds good to us!

Her research has focused on how people can thrive in an uncertain world by becoming more emotionally agile, as compared with emotionally rigid. Her presentation urged us to embrace this uncertainty stating that “discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life”.


David promotes four practical steps to foster emotional agility:

  1. Show up
    We need to face up to our thoughts, emotions and behaviours with curiosity and kindness
  2. Step out
    We should try to remain detached from our emotions and thoughts, rather than becoming hooked in
  3. Walk your why
    Our emotions and thoughts are not directives – we do not need to act on our emotions – but rather our emotions and thoughts are a signpost to our values in life
  4. Move on
    We need to focus on making small and deliberate tweaks to our mindset, motivation and habits to align them with our values


After David’s moving and thought-provoking talk, we were left feeling empowered to face into the wide gamut of emotions we experience on a day-to-day basis. As David said in her talk, ‘Courage is not an absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.’ Totally!


For more info on Dr David and emotional agility, check out the following:

TED Talk video:
The gift and power of emotional courage

Sydney Morning Herald article:
‘Psychologist Susan David believes the pursuit of happiness can be
a dead end’

Dr David’s book:
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change And Thrive In Work
And Life


Dom Price, Atlassian: ‘How to thrive, not just survive’

Next to take to the stage was Dom Price, Work Futurist at Australian tech giant Atlassian. An enthusiastic and entertaining character from the north of England, Price gets the energy levels topped up by blasting out some music over the sound system and getting the entire audience to stand up and start dancing.

After we’ve all calmed down a bit, Price starts to take us through a fast-paced but highly engaging presentation of which Atlassian’s own approach to people, culture and work, forms the bulk of the content.

Price has created his own theory based around his claim that ‘dysfunction is the gap between what you know and what you apply.’ He tells us we are all role models and therefore, all of us have the power to create change within our own environments. Some of the recommendations for change he put forward were presented through these five dichotomies:


  1. Growth ≠ scaling
    Don’t just get bigger for the sake of it he says, find out why you need to grow and act on that first.
  2. Transformation ≠ Evolution
    Most people going through a transformation have ‘been caught with their trousers down’ he says. Evolution stops you getting to the point where you need to transform because it means being open to changing every day.
  3. Tenure ≠ Initiative
    Price tell us that Atlassian look for input and ideas from the entire team – not just the ‘seniors’. He says this encourages ‘respectable dissent’ creating positive friction, curiosity and cognitive diversity.
  4. Disrupted ≠ Disruptor
    You are either one or the other, he says, before referencing everyone’s favourite ‘you just got disrupted story’ of Blockbuster vs Netflix.
  5. Outputs ≠ Outcomes
    Outputs are fine he says, but try and find a way of driving impact rather than instant gratification.


Finally, Price shared that every quarter he reflects on his approach and goals using a self-assessment model he credits to Sophie Wade that involves asking yourself the following:

Loved – what did you love about yourself

Longed for – what did you long for

Loathed – what did you loathe

Learnt – what did you learn

Price tells us he adjusts his future approach and priorities based on the results he sees. It has to be love because, as he says, ‘life is too short for likes.’




Dr Stewart Friedman, The Wharton School:’Total leadership’

Dr Stewart Friedman is the Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In a fascinating talk, Friedman discussed how a new way of thinking about leadership is needed given the radically changing global landscape.

Friedman coined the phrase ‘Total Leadership’, which reframes leadership to consider the whole person. To be successful leaders, we need to perform in all domains of our life – work, home, community and our private self (mind, body and spirit) – and create harmony among these domains of life. To drive home this message, the audience was invited to take part in a little test where we scored ourselves on how we are performing across these different domains. A revealing experiment if the noise in the room was anything to go by!

For Friedman, leaders should be encouraged to practice the following principles:

Be Real:
Act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important

Be Whole:
Act with integrity by respecting the whole person

Be Innovative:
Act with creativity by continually experimenting

Friedman’s call to action was to stop seeing leadership as just being about work, but appreciating that leadership is about life. We need to develop leaders by considering the whole person.


Further reading

Article: People + Strategy journal article by Friedman ‘Total Leadership: Improving performance in all parts of life’

Forbes article by Jeff Kauflin ‘Want to become a better leader at work? Try spending less time in the office’

Link to Friedman’s book ‘Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life’

Insync and AHRI:’5 hard Truths About Workplace Culture’

In this session, the findings from a study conducted by AHRI and Insync were presented.

The research examined the state of organisational culture in Australia. Using the insights gained from the responses of 967 respondents  – everyone from chief executives to team leaders – the talk focused on 5 truths about workplace culture:

  1. Culture problems are pervasive – they are not limited to financial services but evident in all industries
  2. Culture problems are often immense – 56% of respondents thought that either some cultural change or significant cultural change was required in their organisation
  3. Larger organisations have larger culture problems – the bigger the organisation, the bigger the problem
  4. CEOs have trouble seeing culture problems – employees see a greater need for cultural change than CEOs and executives
  5. Organisations need HR as a professional culture partner – organisations need competent HR partners to positively influence and guide cultural change

Obviously there’s more to consider than just these five, but it was refreshing to see such a report condensed into such concise statements. Not sure about you, but all of these ring true based on our experience.

Research report by Insync and AHRI



Scott Anthony, Innosight
‘The Myths and Realities of Building a Culture of Innovation

We love a good myth-busting session at Interchange, so we were looking forward to hearing from Scott Anthony, author and senior partner at Innosight, a growth strategy consulting firm headquartered in Boston.

Anthony pulled the rug out from under conventional thinking by sharing a number of myths about building a culture of innovation, before revealing the reality.

  1. Myth: innovation is all about generating new ideas
    Reality: innovation is something different that creates value
  2. Myth –  innovation is a mystery mastered by the rare few – people like Musk, Gates, Kanye even!
    Reality – innovation is a discipline that anyone can master.
  3. Myth – to create a culture of innovation you need to change what you see
    Reality – to create a culture of innovation you need to change what you do

We left Anthony’s session feeling confident that, despite the buzz, innovation was something simple, practical and much more attainable than you might think.

Stephen Scheeler, The Digital CEO:’Leadership in a Digital Age’

Closing out the conference’s main program, Scheeler’s presentation was built around one central question – ‘What do we need to do to build better leaders for the 21st century.’

Stephen Scheeler is the self-confessed ‘oldest guy at Facebook’. Well, he was at Facebook (as the CEO for ANZ no less) but he left the social media tech giant in 2017.

Unlike some of the other conference speakers we’d heard from, Scheeler saw the growth of AI as a positive. Rather than us becoming more and more absolute, his view was that, as companies and technologies become more important in our world, humans would become the ‘software’ – an essential part of the thinking, if not the doing, behind this new-look, tech-led future.

In a free-flowing and entertaining presentation, Scheeler covered a lot of content. He told of how the modern era’s most successful companies, don’t wait for technology to come to them, instead they go out and create what they need. When Google needed more server space, it created the cloud. When Amazon set up Amazon web services as a side business, who would have known how huge it would become.

He talked about how this kind of innovative approach has changed the game, with some stats that raised more than a few eyebrows in the crowd including how 55% of people would happily buy financial services from Facebook or Google and how 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last 2 years.

At the end of his talk, Scheeler took some questions from the audience, many of which shared concerns about whether voice technologies like Alexa, Siri and Google Home were listening in on our conversations. His response was hesitant. While he didn’t say they were, he didn’t deny that they are up to something! So, watch what you say folks!


And, that’s a wrap!

And with that, the event came to an end. An incredible couple of days of ideas, insights, thought and opinion from a diverse mix of thinkers and doers from around the world. Thank you AHRI – bring on next year!


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