Air Commodore Robert Rodgers FAHRI, director-general of personnel, Royal Australian Air Force, on challenges of an 18,000-strong workforce.
Q: You’ve enjoyed a long career with the air force. What let you down the HR path?
I recall walking into a defence recruiting centre in my mid-20s and being asked whether I liked people or boxes. Unbeknown to me, the choice being explored was a people specialist or logistician. I chose people as the natural preference and haven’t looked back since.
Q: With 18,000 personnel, what’s your advice for managing such a large and diverse workforce?
Eighteen thousand has meaning from an aggregation of labour point of view, but that also comprises 18,000 human beings, each with individual aspirations and capability.
My learning is to never forget that the individual is the base unit of capability for any organisation, and their development, aspirations and views are just as valid as your own. A self-motivated, empowered person, committed to an organisation’s goals, which in turn recognises and values them, is a remarkable asset.
Q: What are defence’s greatest HR challenges?
Like any other employer, we have to work for the talent that’s out there. We need to be very selective as we operate a ‘cradle to grave’ employment model whereby we can’t simply bring non-military people into senior roles via lateral recruitment modes, yet.
Q: What does the future entail for the air force’s labour make up?
The future does look different and we are now working on alternative employment models to redefine work and how it can be achieved through different employment modes.
In addition to the competition for labour, there’s an overlay of building a better organisation through greater team diversity. This includes gender diversity, among others, but the effect being sought is diversity of thinking.
Q: What would you consider your greatest career achievements?
I’m proud of all the people I have had the opportunity to work with, to shape and be shaped by. I have no doubt that the calibre of the people I get to work and interact with is the reason I’m still here.
I’m proud of my contribution to cultural change activities. Most people in the air force wouldn’t be aware it has occurred, just that personnel systems and processes have changed, there have been organisational messaging shifts and different things have become valued over time. There’s time for the ‘brass band’ approach and there’s time for subtle persistence.
I’m very confident that the air force we have today has been shaped by the efforts of the extraordinary team of people I’ve worked with over the years.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the February 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Meet… Robert Rodgers FAHRI’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.