Interview with Siobhan Howley - Director of HR Callanan Hotel Group & Founder of Howley HR & Mediation

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 13 July 2017 Issues covered:

Siobhan Howley tells us in this interview what prompted her to change career paths after 10 years practising as a Barrister, how she unwinds after a tough week as a HR director in the hospitality industry and what has been her biggest working challenge so far.

Siobhan Howley - Callanan Hotel Group

Name: Siobhan Howley

Position & Organisation:  Director of HR Callanan Hotel Group & Founder of Howley HR & Mediation

Number of Employees: 200

Time in Post: 12 years

Previous Job: Barrister

Tell us about your business in a sentence:

The Callanan Hotel Group has 2 hotels, The Skeffington Arms Hotel Galway and The Prince of Wales Hotel, Athlone. There are also 2 nightclubs in the group. I also founded a consultancy company that provides employment law advice and solutions to small/medium sized organisations that do not have a dedicated HR department within their business.

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

I studied Law and qualified as a Barrister.

I practised for about 10 years before I went into the HR/employment law role in the hotel group. This move happened at a time when there was a lot of change in my personal circumstances and an offer came my way that I thought would be a better fit and a good challenge. So this prompted me to change career paths. I love the law and knew that it would always be a part of my professional career in some form so as I was particularly interested in employment law it seemed a great way to use this knowledge and experience that I had gained as a practising Barrister. I have been HR Director with the Callanan group for the last 12 years.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

Recruiting the correct people for the roles that we have within the organisation. I always feel it is very important to recognise and develop the staff that you have at a lower level in the organisation and this can be a challenge, especially in the hospitality industry. People are the key to any business, they are at the front line and can make or break the experience that your customer has, so my challenge is to have the right people in the right role and to continue to develop and motivate a team.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

 I try to say to myself “How much will this matter next week/ next month/next year?” Put each situation into context. Try to do the best you can do and realise that a lot of it may well be out of your control. You can only do what you can do. I have a great MD of the Hotel Group, John Callanan, and he will quickly help me see the bigger picture and it helps to bounce things off him and get his opinion. Also my husband runs his own business and is very good at looking at things from a different perspective. I really value their opinions and experience and use it to help me assess situations that may become difficult. So all in all it is important not to deal with issues alone and to have good people around you that you can talk to.

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

Probably something in the hospitality industry. I was working in my dad’s pub from an early age and right through college I worked as a hotel receptionist, bar person & waitress. It’s a very fast moving exciting industry and if I wasn’t involved in the business in a HR capacity I would probably be involved in front of house meeting & greeting!

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

I admire fearless people! Those who take a chance, who go for it! I learnt a lot from my dad who was never afraid to try something new. I think that fear can hold so many people back from doing what they really want to do in life, not just in business.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I have 3 children so weekends are busy at various sporting activities! But I also love to entertain and love to have a house full of people enjoying good food & wine!

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

People who do not follow policies & procedures!! In the area of employment law it is vital that proper policies are followed to the letter and it baffles me every time when people fail to do so. If it is not written down and documented then it’s very hard to show that it happened!

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

The ability to communicate effectively with their team. To get the best from people. To understand that everyone is very different and what works well for one person may not work at all for another.

Someone who is a hard worker and takes pride in what they do at whatever level they are at in an organisation. This person will go far in their career because organisations are always looking for people who work hard and are willing to learn.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given? OR What piece of advice would you give to a person trying to reach your position?

I often return to the quote from Richard Branson

“ If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure that you can do it, say yes- then learn later how to do it”

Thinking of your experience to date in the world of HR, what changes would you say have affected your role most?

The amount of legislation that governs this area is vast.  It is an area that keeps changing and you really need to be on top of this to provide the best advice to your company. Also the area of technology has brought a lot of changes to the way HR is run within companies now

What has been your biggest working challenge so far?

I suppose the initial move from a practising barrister into the area of HR brought a number of challenges. I was very familiar with the employment law aspect of HR but there was so much more to learn and different skills required for the job in HR. I found the qualification in Mediation a very valuable tool in gaining new skills for my new role. I asked those who had more experience than me lots of questions! I sought out those that I could learn from and I went and attended as many different seminars and gained as much knowledge as I could. 

The move then to form my own company brought a whole new set of challenges that I would not have met before, e.g. trying to attract new business! But I feel it is very important to keep challenging yourself, you may not succeed but you will ALWAYS learn something new along the way!

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

In 2015 the Irish Hotel Federation launched the inaugural Quality Employers Awards and The Skeffington Arms Hotel won this in the small hotel category. This award was really important to me as it celebrates standards of excellence in HR management in the Hotel sector. It recognised the work done by the HR team in attracting, empowering and developing staff in the organisation. It is always nice to be told that you are doing a good job and moving your business forward in a positive direction!

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

Staff must feel that they are heard. If they feel that their opinion or voice counts for nothing then they will not remain with the company very long. If you have a member of staff who is ambitious and motivated it is imperative that this is recognised. If there is a culture in the company of promotion from within and a culture of listening to staff and valuing what they say then there will follow a higher performance in my experience. I have an open door policy and am happy to listen to and chat with an employee at any time. A little respect goes a long way in my opinion.

Looking back at my your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from practising as a Barrister to Director of HR for the Callanan Hotel Group?

Recognising the gaps that I had in this new career and doing something about them! I knew where my strengths were and I played to them but at the same time I took a good look at the areas that I needed to improve in. That meant going back to college and up skilling in certain areas. I also sought out more experienced people that I could bounce ideas off and seek advice from. I would say never be afraid to ask questions from those that have more knowledge or experience. Self awareness is very important in order to continually develop and improve. 

This article is correct at 13/07/2017

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