Moving away from rigid work practices a challenge for some managers.

If it's 4pm on a Tuesday, you won't find Competenz chief executive Fiona Kingsford in the office.

She'll be flying out the door, having wrapped up the weekly executive team meeting in order to be courtside at her daughter's netball game.

Chances are she'll be sharing the lift with general manager of industry training Jim MacBride-Stewart, who leaves at the same time to run a Scout group.

Flexible working isn't just a work/life balance afterthought at the industry training organisation.


"In our contracts we don't have hours of work. We have: this is the job and this is what we require you to do," says Kingsford, 42.

"In this organisation we really do think about the role that you need rather than the hours that you need to work."

Within the seven-member leadership team, four have some form of flexible work arrangement. Some 30 per cent of senior management and 10 per cent through the whole organisation alter the standard Monday-to-Friday working week to suit their circumstances.

Flexibility can take many forms, says Kingsford, with hours of work, days of work and additional leave requirements all up for discussion.

"There are any number of ways that you make it work depending on what's important to the individual.

"I think that's the other piece - it's a conversation that you can openly have."

The payback is attracting and retaining valuable people who might previously have walked away from the organisation because of the way their role was structured.

Kingsford's own introduction to flexible learning came with the arrival of her children just over a decade ago.


Her previous role in HR at the Millennium, Copthorne and Kingsgate hotel group took her on the road a lot, which didn't complement life with small children. Kingsford set up a consultancy business as a way to fit work around family.

With projects, the focus was on delivering a defined piece of work rather than being in the office for a set number of hours.

It was consulting that got her in the door at Competenz, which supports companies in offering training programmes.

Her three-month contract evolved into part-time work and she has since worked across many divisions of the business, before taking over as chief executive late last year after a six-month handover with the outgoing boss John Blakey.

It's not just about working mums, though, says Kingsford. Just recently, a senior staff member floated the idea of working from the Hamilton office.

Nearing retirement, he saw an opportunity to sell his high-priced Auckland home and move out of the city, but wanted to know if that was an option.

"Absolutely we consider that," says Kingsford.

"Is it a job that he can do from Hamilton? Absolutely."

Instead of time on the job, everyone has key performance indicators (KPIs) and is expected to deliver results against them, Kingsford says.

"I just think there is an opportunity for people to step away from thinking about the hours and think about the quality of the outcome, the quality of the work that you need, the capability that you need to bring into the work and then measure what gets done.

"So measure the outputs and it's actually not a hard concept for people to get their heads around."

She admits there are still certain people in the business who question why there is no one in the office at 4pm on a Friday.

"My response is always: so what?

"Are you concerned about their output?

"Are you concerned about their delivery and their outcomes?

"Reinforcing those conversations is something that does have to occur and we do have managers who slip back into that when seats are un-sat in."

Kingsford makes sure she models the behaviour she expects. Flexible working time is still carved out of her diary and she is careful to support those who have flexible arrangements by being mindful of their commitments across the working week.

Technology is key to ensuring flexible working is an option for those who want it, enabling staff to work at different hours of the day, from non-office locations.

But learning to manage staff working remotely has been the biggest barrier to flexible working for some managers, she says.

Kingsford says it's a case of talking to managers about managing through KPIs.

If people aren't hitting their KPIs, the discussion is around the quality of their output, not the number of hours they're putting in each week, she says.

"So again changing the conversation around what you're measuring is really important."

But what about businesses hampered in their efforts to offer flexibility by the expectations and demands of clients and customers?

Kingsford concedes offering flexibility in some industries will always be more difficult than others.

"I think the objective is to be open to having the discussion and to consider whether there are other ways to achieve the outcome you need.

"Flexibility is not a one size fits all approach.

"You need to work at it and to challenge people's norms and ingrained ways of working."