Putting people first in Papua New Guinea business: the human resources challenge


Managing human resources is always one of the principle challenges in business. In Papua New Guinea, the approaches have to be specific to the local culture and expectations of workers. Business Advantage PNG looks at some of the different ways that the issue is tackled.

A Brian Bell longevity of service celebration Source: Brian Bell

A Brian Bell longevity of service celebration Source: Brian Bell

One of the emphases of the more established companies is to focus on employing locals. That is very much the approach of Michael Kingston, Chief Executive of Lae manufacturer KK Kingston.

Kingston says that his ‘aspiration’ is to have as many local workers as possible, and to minimize the number of expatriate workers. Employing locals is both cheaper and more stable. He argues that, by employing PNG nationals, he ensures longevity of tenure and reduces staff turnover.

‘The challenge, however, is to get locals into positions of senior management.’

Most expatriates in PNG, he says, save up money then move elsewhere. Locals, however, can stay for decades, a continuity which Kingston describes as ‘fantastic’.

The challenge, however, is to get locals into positions of senior management. That means training them in managerial best practice and putting in place a mentoring system.


Ian Clough, Executive Director of diversified retailer Brian Bell says the company is a ‘family business in essence’ and has tried to build on that philosophy.

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‘We have recently celebrated 17 members who have been with us for over 30 years,’ he says. ‘One is over 40 years.’

‘All of this builds sustainability.’

Michael Kingston Chief Executive of KK Kingston. Source: KK Kingston

Michael Kingston Chief Executive of KK Kingston. Source: KK Kingston

Like KK Kingston, the emphasis is on longevity. Clough says that a further 67 of the company’s 1300 employees have been part of our team for 20 years or more.

‘That adds up to thousands of years of collective service,’ he says. ‘Everyone is very close knit. The Chairman, who has been in the business for 50 odd years, still sees everyone as if they are family.

‘In PNG, having a culture built around that close-knit environment is a key.’

Clough points to the importance of succession planning, technical development for trades people and leadership development.

‘All of this builds sustainability. People see us as an employee of choice because they know that we are a reputable organization.’


Chief Executive of security company Black Swan International, Brian Kelly, focuses on two things in his human resources strategy: encouraging staff to be responsible for the big picture and creating incentives for attendance.

Kelly says employees are not just given defined roles and told to do them, they are given a clear understanding of how what they do fits into the overall activities of the firm. This encourages esprit de corp and collective responsibility.

Black Swan International operations Source: Black Swan International

Black Swan International operations Source: Black Swan International

Kelly’s other human resources emphasis is to give staff incentive to turn up by paying bonuses for good attendance. Pay increases are also based on attendance.


Globalised companies operating in PNG tend to have standardized human resources practices around the world which have to be adapted to the local conditions.

Global paint manufacturer AkzoNobel has established an ‘academy’ to provide staff with e-learning in a variety of areas, ranging from compliance to diet. This approach is taken because is the most cost-effective option, says Managing Director Mikael Ruben.

‘The emphasis is on empowerment.’

Ruben says the company measures the engagement and inclusion of staff, which helps with staff retention.

A similar systematic approach to collective staff attitudes is taken by insurer QBE Insurance. Matthew Kearns, Managing Director of QBE in PNG believes in sharing goals and commitments with his staff and making all employees collectively accountable for the results. The emphasis is on empowerment.


George Bopi, Lead Advisor to the National Government’s Medium Term Development Plan comments that there are gaps in PNG between what is taught and what the job market requires.

‘Managers need to coach individuals for performance and for personal development.’

‘I encourage workers and employers to invest in skills that they need now and anticipate what they will need in the future.’

Bopi believes that individual workers should take the time to assess their own goals and work out what satisfies them.  The next step is to seek help, coaching and guidance along the way.

In the final analysis, it is up to the individual, he says. ‘At the end of the day, they own their engagement.

‘Managers need to coach individuals for performance and for personal development. Executives need to foster a sense of community in the organization.’


  1. Apa Robert says

    Managing Human beings in every organization is a significant challenge in PNG as well as around the globe.
    Each employee comes from different cultural background and thus, every manager need to understand each employee and deal with them accordingly.

    It’s always a case when expatriates take up managerial roles in foreign countries and don’t know much about the various cultures of that country or society. This cause cultural shocks and often lead to poor employer-employee relations.
    Therefore, it’s better to invest heavily on local employees, tapping and developing their skills and post them on Senior management roles. This would be cheaper and in the long-term, stable.

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