Interview with Heather Graham - Head of Human Resources, Titanic Belfast (TBL International)

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 2 August 2017 Issues covered:

Seasonality, as well as staff and skill shortages, are just some of the challenges Heather faces at one of the world's largest tourist attractions.  She explains some of the internal programmes being implemented to meet future business demands and her recent success at completing the TUPE process for over 100 crew members to bring their hospitality offering in-house.

Heather Graham - Head of HR, Titanic Belfast

Name: Heather Graham

Position & Organisation: Head of Human Resources, Titanic Belfast (TBL International)

Number of Employees: 350

Time in Post: 2 years

Previous Job: Group Administration and HR Manager at M-B Truck & Van NI Limited

Tell us about your business?
TBL International operates attractions and venues across the broad Tourism, Business and Leisure sectors. It initially started out operating the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction, Titanic Belfast, which is located on the exact spot where the RMS Titanic was built and launched. It encompasses a nine gallery interpretative visitor experience, a dedicated conference and banqueting facility, an exhibition gallery, education facilities and two dedicated themed eateries.

It has now grown and operates :

  • SS Nomadic, the largest Titanic artefact in the world, which is now used as an event venue as well as a tourist attraction
  • The 6,000 metre Titanic Exhibition Centre
  • and most recently the British Music Experience in Liverpool, which includes a dedicated conference, banqueting and performance facility, a learning area and a café

What was your first job?
I’ve only ever had two jobs.I originally started as a Personal Assistant in M-B Truck & Van NI Limited. As the business developed, so did I, progressing to Group Administration and HR Manager.

What are the key challenges in your role?
With increasing visitor numbers, interest in local produce, more catering and hospitality outlets and three additional venues with hospitality, we face the same challenges as the industry with staff and skill shortages. My constant challenge is to build and maintain our current team as well as scale up to meet these challenges. We have introduced in-house five-star training, ongoing coaching and mentoring and flexible working to ensure we meet the demand needed.

How do you unwind after a tough week?
Simply a book, a glass of wine and a long walk.

What are the key characteristics of your top employees?
It’s always the right attitude and passion for what they do. At TBL, we wouldn’t be where we are today without our team. It’s vital for us to have the right people in the right places.

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

Resilience, problem-solving, empathy and an ability to build relationships on all levels. I also believe there is an increasing need to have commercial awareness and this will only grow. There is no such thing as an isolated HR Manager anymore.

How did you gain an understanding of a more strategic level of HR?
From the outset, I’ve always worked closely with Directors and this gave me a real understanding of the business and strategic planning.

As Titanic Belfast grew into TBL International with four businesses, rather than just one, this understanding is vital to me.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given?
When you bring a problem to someone’s attention, always bring a solution. It may not be the correct solution but it will be a starting point to solve the problem.

Thinking of your experience to date in the world of HR, what changes would you say have affected your role most?
The experience of working in HR during the recession really changed my day to day role and overall strategy. I was dealing with necessary restructuring, redundancy, flexing pay structures, employee motivation and engagement, as well as the day to day job.

What has your biggest working challenge so far?
In our business, we have the challenge of seasonality, we have a peak high season for the leisure tourism and another for business tourism and hospitality across the businesses. Every year, it can be a challenge to recruit on a seasonal basis a large volume of Crew who embody our values at the same time.

In terms of an individual challenge, last year we brought our hospitality offering in-house, we had in excess of 100 crew involved in the transfer.  It was a challenge to ensure that we engaged with the Crew who were transferring as well as all the technical challenges which come with a TUPE process!

In your view what is the best thing an organisation can do to motivate staff and drive higher performance?
Deliver on promises. It’s important to be upfront, honest and where possible, transparent. As an organisation, if you can’t deliver on a promise, it’s important to say so and communicate why. 

This article is correct at 02/08/2017

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