Interview with Austin O'Sullivan - Director of Resources, WALK

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 28 August 2017 Issues covered:

Austin moved into human resources having developed an interest in people management and organisation development throughout his career in taxation, finance and software engineering.  

Having recently achieved the 2017 CIPD Ireland award in the Organisation Development category for Creating a Values Based Culture Project, Austin shares his key challenges and offers tips and advice for anyone striving for a top career in human resources.

Name: Austin O’Sullivan

Position & Organisation: Director of Resources, WALK

Number of Employees: 203

Time in Post: 15 years

Previous Job: Programme Manager with Electronic Data Systems

Tell us about your business in a sentence

We support people with disabilities to live self-determined lives as equal citizens in their community.

What was your first ever job?

My Father was a self-employed painter and decorator. From the age of 12, I worked with him every school holiday. I learnt the value of money and not to be afraid of hard work.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

The key challenges we face are attracting and retaining talent in a competitive market, where due to funding cuts we struggle to meet market terms and conditions of employment.  Keeping those staff engaged in our vision.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

I have been involved in the organisation for 38 years, the first 23 years were as a volunteer, so I am passionate about our vision and mission.

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

What I’m doing now gives me the opportunity to have a positive impact on both staff and service users lives in my own community. I can’t think of a better job.

Who do you most admire in business locally and/or internationally? Why?

I’m a big admirer of Richard Branson. He has created an engaged workforce by focussing on the correct work life balance.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I coach a children’s soccer team so that keeps me grounded and helps put things into perspective. Children only live in the moment and that’s a great gift.

What’s your top bugbear?

I am so reliant on technology that when it doesn’t work properly it is very frustrating.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

  • Enthusiasm
  • High level of emotional intelligence
  • Common sense
  • Honesty

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

For a top career in HR, you need a high level of emotional intelligence and you must have the ability to see the bigger picture and bring people back to the vision and mission.

These skills will be relevant in 100 years time.

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

When I was given responsibility for HR in WALK my focus was purely operational. Over the years I realised that the same issues kept cropping up and so that prompted me to take a more strategic look at the role. 

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given? 

Find good people and then get out of their way and let them do the job.

What has been your biggest working challenge so far?

My biggest working challenge so far has been driving employee engagement in the light of a pay freeze since 2009.

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

For people considering a career in human resources, I would say that you have got to be a people person. The job is all about people.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

My proudest career achievement to date was winning the 2017 CIPD Ireland award in the Organisation Development/L&D category for Creating a Values Based Culture Project.

What benefits do staff value most in your organisation?

In WALK our staff value the benefit of flexible working.

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

Listen to them and be creative about meeting their needs. Make sure you focus on your high performers. They are the ones who will deliver on your vision and mission. When people see that high performance is acknowledged they are driven to perform.

This article is correct at 28/08/2017

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