Interview with Helen O'Doherty - Head of HR & People Development, The Macklin Group

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 14 July 2017 Issues covered:

Helen O'Doherty Head of HR & People Development, Macklin Group, talks about the impact of the Brexit vote within the HR department and the challenges it brings to the recruitment process.  She also touches on her biggest achievements to date including making it onto NI 40under40 list and the importance on reflecting on your achievements. 

Helen O'Doherty, The Macklin Group

 Name: Helen O’Doherty

Position & Organisation: Head of HR & People Development, The Macklin Group

Number of Employees: Approximately 600

Time in Post: 2 years

Previous Job: Senior Manager, HR Business Partner, Axiom



Tell us about your business in a sentence

The Macklin Group is an award winning family run business employing approximately 600 people in the Hospitality and Care sectors.

Give us an idea about your early life and career OR What was your first ever job?

I was brought up on my family farm which lies at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains.  As a child I spent as much time as possible outdoors helping out on the farm, playing sports and enjoying our hot summers – yes I do recall we previously had hot summers!  I knew at a very early stage that I wanted to work in business and that was the focus of my studies at secondary school which then led me to further education where I graduated from Ulster University with a BA Hons in Business Studies.  My first job in HR was with Botanic Inns hospitality chain where I worked as a HR Administrator supporting 11 outlets across Belfast.  During my time there I worked under Cathy Donnelly who was an inspiring mentor and helped me to recognise my passion for HR and people development.  That led me to undertake my CIPD qualification at QUB and I have further developed my career over the years working in manufacturing, legal & professional services and the healthcare sector.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

The main challenge is recruitment of qualified staff nurses in a period of global shortage coupled with the impact of the Brexit vote which has resulted in a 96% reduction in applications from EU candidates.  To respond to this challenge we have delivered a variety of people solutions which have included the development of an internal nursing academy and building a successful employer brand.  This has been integral to attracting, developing and retaining skilled and enthusiastic team members who share our vision and values to sustain the business and achieve future growth ambitions.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Firstly the support of my team and having the mindset that every challenge exists to be overcome by applying courage, positivity and resilience.  I’ve also realised the importance of reflecting on all that we have achieved and to recognise on a daily basis the wonderful work and dedication of our teams.

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

A Formula 1 race driver!

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I make sure I take time out to unwind by going walking or mountain climbing – it’s a great sense of achievement when you finally reach the top and you forget about how much pain you endured along the way!  Also spending time with family and friends, and if time permits I love getting away to Rathmullan in Donegal for a long weekend.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

Poor communication!

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

Firstly they are highly competent and skilled in their job role.  They take ownership for their performance and development.  They are a team player with strong communication skills and the ability to adapt to different situations.  They are self driven, focused, dedicated and most importantly passionate about their work.

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

I believe the key fundamentals are to be a strategic thinker combined with strong leadership skills and the ability to deliver innovative people solutions aligned with business goals.  Having a strong commercial acumen and credibility at Board level is important coupled with the ability to facilitate business transformation and change management initiatives enabling development and retention of the best talent.

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

I have been very fortunate in gaining HR generalist experience in a range of different business sectors throughout my career.  I feel this provided me with a strong foundation and as development opportunities presented themselves I got more exposure to HR at a strategic level.  I also have an amazing team who effectively manage the daily operations of the HR function enabling me to focus on more strategic aspects of the business.  I have also built up a strong HR network over the years which is particularly useful for sharing knowledge and best practice. 

What piece of advice would you give to a person trying to reach your position?

Surround yourself with positive people.

What would be the key piece of advice you would give to people considering a career in human resources?

My advice to anyone pursuing their desired career is to dare to dream, believe in yourself, and work hard to achieve. 

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

There’s a few that come to mind!  My proudest achievements include my internal promotion to Board level and overseeing the growth of the Macklin Group from 250 to over 600 employees with continued plans for growth in the future.  Also for making it onto Northern Ireland’s 40under40 list and for the Company being awarded the following accolades:

  • CIPD Award for Best Employee Engagement Strategy
  • CIPD Award for Best Talent Management Programme
  • Employer of the Year at the Northern Ireland Family Business Awards
  • Investment in Training Award at the Staff Nursing Care Awards
  • Finalist for Innovative Employer at the Irish News Awards
  • Finalist for Best Company to work for at the Belfast Business Awards

In your view what is the best thing an organisation can do to motivate staff and drive higher performance?

I think it’s important that staff feel valued through regular praise and recognition.  Also ensuring effective leadership and clarity of purpose so staff understand how each of their efforts impacts the larger goals of the organisation.  Transparency also helps to encourage an atmosphere of trust and a positive working environment.  I believe giving staff more autonomy, providing CPD opportunities, and encouraging teamwork are also key fundamentals in motivating staff and driving higher performance.

This article is correct at 18/07/2017

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