Interview with Chris Lillie - Group HR Director, SHS Group

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 11 August 2017 Issues covered:

We recently interviewed the Group HR Director of SHS Group, Chris Lillie, to find out a little bit about his role, the challenges he faces, what winds him up in business and how he winds down.

 Chris Lillie

Position & Organisation: Group HR Director 

Number of Employees: 900

Time in Post: 5 months

Previous Job: HR Director, Coca-Cola Ireland & Northern Ireland 

Tell us about your business in a sentence or two

The SHS Group was founded in 1975 and operates in the fast moving consumer goods sector throughout the UK and Ireland and is now one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most profitable privately owned groups. The Group’s financial and shared services centre of excellence is based in Belfast and provides a strong financial base and central resources for 4 Divisions operating within brand ownership and sales & marketing.

Our impressive own brand portfolio includes WKD, Shloer, Bottlegreen and Merrydown Cider and we distribute premium brands through SHS Sales & Marketing including Jordans, Nivea, Finish and Mars Consumer Drinks. The Group is also the largest supplier of own label Herbs and Spices in Great Britain.

What was your first ever job?

My parents encouraged my brother, sister and I to get part time jobs while we were studying. My first job was working in the kitchen of the La Mon Hotel, when I was 16. I worked Saturday and Sunday from 7am, preparing all the vegetables for the day ahead - the mountain of soup vegetables were the worst, especially at Christmas! I believe it’s thanks to my parents that I have a strong work ethic instilled in me, and this has given me the drive to grow my career.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

There are a number of challenges that we are facing, which I think are probably common across our sector.  I think the whole area of engaging, developing and retaining the organisation's talent is a key priority as well as ensuring that we have the have a strategic approach to our workforce planning and that we are building capabilities for future success.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

I’m lucky that I am surrounded by so many positive, energetic people at SHS Group.  When times are tough, there is a real sense of camaraderie which helps me get through more trying days.  In addition, I personally like to plan ahead and prepare for all eventualities which reduces the number of times things get tough in the first place.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?

I would love to say male model or TV presenter, but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. I’m fortunate that I genuinely love what I do and can’t think of another job that I would enjoy as much as HR.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

This is quite simple- people who send a one line email, instead of picking up the phone and having a conversation.  In a previous role we started a new initiative of email free days and introduced meeting free days into the business, with targets set to reduce our emails and meetings by 25%.  Not only did it get people talking to each other, it freed time up for their employees to be more productive.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I try to spend as many weekends as possible up in Portstewart.  I prefer it in the winter, where a walk on the beach with our dog blows all the cobwebs away. Then in the evening we like to meet with friends for a good catch up and a drink or two.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

I think the basics are important here- someone who is committed and works hard. When I say work hard this doesn’t mean working long hours but delivering results. For me this is the foundation. Other important characteristics - include being results focused and action orientated, with the ability to adapt quickly.  Effective managers should have an ability to get best from their people through coaching and giving autonomy to their teams.

What skills are essential for a top career in HR and will these still be the same in 5 years’ time?

For me the essential skill for a top career in HR is firstly to have solid business acumen. Then the ability to effectively business partner, means that influencing and conflict management become core skills that support credibility in the organisation.  As more and more HR activities become automated and centralised, the need to have transformational capabilities such as project management skills are becoming prioritised skills for any HR professional. And finally the biggest emerging capability for anyone working in HR is the use of HR analytics to measure and track performance and make robust business decisions based on these insights.

How did you gain an understanding of a more strategic level of HR?

Firstly I would say it was down to experience.  I have worked in a range of different sectors including pharmaceutical, retail and FMCG - in a range of different roles - from a one man HR team, to larger and more complex matrix type HR structures.  I was also fortunate to gain experience of technical HR activity early in my career which I believe grew my confidence.  I think this broad experience helps developing HR Strategy. I also immerse myself in the business I work for, to position myself as a business leader and not just an HR Leader- it goes without saying you cannot develop HR strategy for a business you do not know.   Next I would say that I have had - and still have - inspiring mentors in my life, who have always encouraged me to continue to develop myself. I have a passion to learn and love to benchmark our people strategy against other organisations and see what we can be doing better. And finally I am incredibly fortunate to have fantastic colleagues in SHS Group. 

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I have been internally promoted a number of times in my career, which I think says a lot about someone.  Without doubt my biggest achievement is my first appointment as an HR Director. That gave me the confidence to continue to grow and be the best that I can be.


This article is correct at 11/08/2017

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