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George Hickton: marketing the Employment Service 2009-99.1

18 September 2009



Major advertising and image-building campaigns, staff uniforms, and open plan offices to reduce the barriers between staff and clients were some of the innovations George Hickton brought from the car sales world to the New Zealand Employment Service (NZES). He was appointed to the General Manager’s role in 1988 from a job as a marketing manager for Honda Motors in New Zealand. Hickton had been brought in to fix an organisation in disrepair after NZES had been one of five distinct service units created in the restructure of the Department of Labour. Unemployment rates were high, and consequently so were the demands placed on NZES, and opinion polls consistently showed that it was a service the public loved to hate. But Hickton was surprised at the quality of the staff he had inherited. He moved to give them greater power to trust their own instinct and began to focus the service firmly on employers and generating job placements. To increase motivation he introduced performance awards, an annual national conference and a marketing campaign. The success of the agency was clear, but NZES and Hickton attracted criticism from those who felt he was bringing too much of the private sector into the public.

This short case describes how a manager from the private sector transformed a government agency dispirited following major restructuring, and provides a platform for discussion about charismatic leadership.

Authors: Dr Richard Norman, Anna Smith
Published Date: 18 September 2009
Author Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Content Length: 5
Product Type: One-part case, Primary resources