Giving radical candour – with Jodie Hansen

At only 31 years old, Jodie Hansen has achieved many things. She’s deadlifted 165kg in a professional powerlifting competition, she helped develop 58 rural lifestyle lots in Ngāruawāhia throughout Covid lockdowns, and she was chosen to lead a team of planners at Harrison Grierson. A puzzle-nut and escape-room-freak, Jodie talks to us about her parent’s support throughout her career, and how her ‘’hands-off’’ leadership approach gets the best out of her team.

Q.  How would you describe your leadership style and your approach to your roles?

Whenever I'm leading people, I focus on the person and on three important things: that they know what they're responsible for; that they know what they're accountable for; and that they're motivated to achieve the task at hand.

I like to make people feel they’re in control and owning what they're doing. I'm the opposite of micromanagement. I’m more ‘manage it yourself and come to me when you've got questions.’ If people really are responsible and accountable for their own projects, then they feel they’re serving a purpose and they’re empowered to achieve and to make the project their own. That doesn’t mean they struggle on without help when they hit speed bumps. I try to ensure that confidence levels remain high, especially with our graduates and interns.

My experience has shown that when things have gone positively for a team, it’s because they’ve had a really clear scope, they know what they’re trying to achieve, they know what their role is and how they contribute to a project.

And I love mentoring graduates, because they’re the next generation of planners, that I’m helping to mould and shape. It’s incredibly rewarding to see notable growth in people. I try hard to give them projects that don’t set them up for failure but provide enough challenges where there are some decent learning curves.

When it comes to my role as Location Lead, it’s all about the wellbeing of my team. We’ve just had “Wellbeing Month” where we split into teams (Marco and Polo) and did a bunch of activities like a trip for an ice cream and a curry lunch, and even an Amazing Race event. People are still talking about it now.

Q.  What’s your approach to clients?

I really pride myself on knowing my clients and knowing their business. For example, with our residential development clients, I like to meet with them. I like to understand exactly what they're trying to achieve. I feel like, as planners, we don't try and get into our client’s business enough.

A lot of the time, planners can think a client’s just trying to get as much as they can out of a piece of land. But when you meet with clients and ask about their business model and to see the numbers and why they’re doing this project and why are they doing it like that, you learn what’s necessary for projects to be viable. You need to establish a personal connection with your clients. I’m very proud that many of my clients have been with me for over six years as I’ve grown through the ranks. They've come with me on my journey and they're still sticking around because they know and trust the advice that I provide. I give them radical candour, the same as I give my team.

Q:  Is there a specific project or achievement of which you are most proud?

One project springs immediately to mind! It started during the Covid lockdown in 2020 when my client was looking at purchasing land in Ngaruawahia to develop into 58 rural lifestyle lots. In a nutshell, it was the most complex piece of land I've ever had to look at with every single kind of engineering, cultural, and archaeological challenge you could imagine from a planning perspective.  The site was a high-risk flood hazard, it had geotechnical challenges including liquefication, ecological and archaeological issues, and it required extensive consultation with iwi and hapu. It was a massive project, and it was exciting.

My manager at the time, Ben Inger, had absolute trust and faith that I could deliver that project and he let me run the whole thing even though I was only an intermediate planner. He just gave me the support that I needed along the way and that’s the model I've tried to achieve for my teams. He never set me up for failure and he jumped in when I needed him.

All up it took about 18 months. I did all the resource consents and managed all the communications, which was tricky during Covid. I had to consult with several iwi and hapu groups, as well as the local community and the Waikato Regional and District Council. It was a lot of phone calls, a lot of Teams meetings, and just a lot of trying our best to do as much face time as we could. Not being able to walk on the land was tricky and as soon as the levels lifted, we jumped at the chance to do this and to meet face to face.

Stages one, two, and three are now completed with the physical works done and people living in lovely new homes on Stage One.

Overall, the way that we consulted and the things that we were able to achieve with iwi and hapu in terms of protection and preservation of certain areas and enhancement of waterways and just different aspects of the project that we could make better on what was there, really sealed the deal for me. I am still very proud of this and how everyone came together at the end of the day and that there was such a positive outcome on a very challenging project.

Q. Why did you get into planning and now leadership

When I was at high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was never an ‘overachiever’ or a future-focused student. When I finished high school, I had the big question of ‘what next?’. I’ve always had a passion for how people interact with their environment, and their community, and what influences this. I started doing a bit of everything at university, history, anthropology, geography and so on. Then I was tapped on the shoulder by an environmental planning lecturer who recommended I take a planning paper. Once I started the planning paper, I fell in love with the study immediately – it spoke to all my interests I’ve just mentioned. From there, I changed my entire degree and graduated with a Bachelor of Environmental Planning – I’ve never looked back.

Leadership has always interested me, probably because it entwines how people are influenced and how they interact with their settings. Early in my career, I was lucky enough to contract for several agencies (both local and central) and private entities, which meant I had exposure to several leadership styles. I was put in some tough positions that taught me hard lessons, but I was also given guidance from some remarkable planners. This triggered my desire to lead and influence people to be their best, after learning what good leadership looks like and how it influenced my career so early.

Q. Do you have any mentors who you look up to?

This one will sound a bit cheesy, but definitely my parents. They raised me to be respectful and use manners, but to also have a backbone and stand by my morals. Whenever I have a problem, I know they’ll both give me great advice – and from different viewpoints which is great, it gets your thinking! They have both been incredibly supportive of my career and desire to push myself, set goals, and achieve them. I recall many times in my career when I am working late or pushing to meet a deadline, and ringing my mother who would give me that confidence boost I need to know ‘you’ve got this, there’s a reason why you’re working on this project’. I couldn’t ask for better life mentors.

Q. What advice would u give to young planners and people wanting to get into leadership?

Stick with your gut, voice your opinions, ask questions, and enjoy the journey! Because that’s what a career, and leadership, is – it’s not a race to be the best, you’ll make mistakes along the way, and sometimes things will just suck. But stick with it, find what drives you, use that, and push for it.

It’s a small industry, and we’re a small country, so let go of past errors or burdens, and move forward without prejudice on people in your industry. I recall as a young planner I formed a lot of opinions, which naturally changed throughout my career, so be flexible and willing to progress and move with your career.

Q. How do you think the current economic climate is affecting our industry and what are the opportunities?

You saved the hardest till last!

The current economic climate is challenging, we’re seeing rising build costs and higher land sales, which means that our developers or partners are having to push boundaries to see a return on their investment or charge more for the finished product. It's hard out there – for everyone. Local councils are struggling to manage their three waters infrastructure and central government changes to legislation and policy, provide uncertainty to the industry. People are nervous – and rightly so!

I listen to a podcast called Keep the Change, from a team from Next Advisory. I would highly recommend a listen. My latest key takeaway from one of their latest sessions is that New Zealand is resilient.

Connect with Jodie