Interview with Sharon Scally - Global Head of Human Resources, eShopWorld

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 5 December 2018
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Sharon Scally


Name: Sharon Scally

Position & Organisation: Global Head of Human Resources, eShopWorld

Number of Employees: 200+

Time in Post: 2 years


 Tell us about your business in a sentence

We are an eCommerce company that provides a technology platform to brands and retailers that wish to sell online into global markets.

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

I have over 25 years’ experience in HR in a variety of sectors: professional services, education, legal, and accountancy. I have built HR functions in a number of rapidly growing organisations across the UK and Ireland. I studied Economics in University College Dublin and then completed a Masters in European Human Resource management at the University of Keele.

My first job was in London with Arthur Andersen as part of their graduate HR programme, I was the first graduate that they had recruited onto that programme from Ireland. It was a fantastic opportunity to work for such a large organisataion and to gain great experience from some excellent HR leaders and managers. They were very progressive in their approach to HR and a lot of what I do today is based on those first few years.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

Right now, we are operating in an extremely competitive recruitment and retention landscape and finding technology and other professionals is our biggest challenge, as they’re in high demand in Ireland. With the skills shortage in this area, we’ve had to look further afield to source talented candidates.

Once people have joined our team retention is key. Employee engagement and their wellbeing is critical to our company’s success. We have set up several working groups and they are developing a range of initiatives to drive engagement, looking at everything, from how we communicate with others to our recognition of excellence among our staff.

We focus on encouraging team leaders to build nimble, cross-functional teams, as well as developing a programme of learning and development to build and enhance our existing skills. Continuous learning is incredibly important with this industry as technology changes so quickly, so staying up to date with the latest technology trends is vital for us to provide the right level of support.

As we are growing rapidly, we have also worked over the last year with employees right across the company in all of our locations to firmly cement our company values and to ensure that they are lived by all.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

I have a great team around me and sometimes you just need to reflect on what’s going on and brainstorm solutions. We often get together as a group and hash out the problem, come up with some viable solutions and then see which one makes the most sense.

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

I’ve been very lucky in that I have always loved working in HR. No two days are the same and the variety is part of what I love about it. Giving back to the community is also very important to me and I am heavily involved with several local initiatives where I live in North Dublin. If I had to do any other job it would probably be a fusion between my current role and something in the voluntary sector where I can utilise the skills and knowledge I have acquired over the years.

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

I really admire our CEO Tommy Kelly. He has built a global organisation in North County Dublin, his foresight to see how eCommerce was developing for global brands is really what propelled eShopWorld and to win some significant global retail brands in the first few years is really impressive. He has a huge passion for what he does, and it is great that a company in Swords is operating on a global basis.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I am involved in a lot of activities in my local community from scouts to quilting to helping organise a local cultural festival “the Bleeding Pig”. I have recently taken up cycling and am enjoying exploring North County Dublin. I also have two teenage boys, so they keep me very busy!

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

I am sometimes frustrated when managers don’t take the time to really get to know their people and to understand their motivations. I think it is really important that we treat everyone with respect.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

Empowerment – takes ownership of the work and isn’t afraid to try new things even if they don’t always work

Ethical – demonstrates respect for their colleagues, peers and for our clients, ensuring they always uphold the good name of our company in everything that they do

Excellence – continuously strives to improve themselves and those around them, able to adapt quickly as priorities shift and change with the business

Entrepreneurial – uses their initiative to find better ways to do something, trying new things and continuously staying ahead of the curve

Enjoyment – demonstrates a love for what they do, continuously works to build relationships with their team and peers, creates a fun working environment

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

Relationship building is key in order to ensure you are considered a partner in the overall strategy of the organisation. This simple skill will never become obsolete. HR has become more about strategic partnership over the years and this will continue on into the future.

Understanding people’s motivations is incredibly important, especially when working in a company with people from varying backgrounds, cultures, education and lifestyles. It can never be a “one size fits all” approach and understanding people’s motivations means we can provide them with what they need to be successful in their careers.

Resilience is the third skill I think everyone in HR needs. There will be times when you are required to have difficult or unpleasant conversations, and where your support and expertise will be required. Building up resiliency is key to being able to perform your role as someone who can support everyone in the organisation no matter their role or level.

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

Luckily, I am part of the executive leadership group within the eShopWorld and having a voice at the table is very important when operating at a strategic level. I think you really need to understand the business, its challenges and opportunities and what it is striving to achieve.

What will be the key skills for leading HR practitioners in 5 years’ time?

Its hard to know as things are changing at such a pace, I think you need to be continually learning new skills. I believe some of the personal skills of empathy and understanding of people will continue to be important. There is a lot discussion of the value of AI and I think we need to consider the impact this will have on jobs and people’s value to society.

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 was told by one of my first managers that you are never going to be popular in HR, but you should always strive to be fair and balanced.

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from Arthur Andersen to eShopWorld?

I had the opportunity with a colleague to set up a consultancy practice during the early 2000’s, this really stretched me as I was now running my own business and had to be able to sell myself and experience, which is hard but a very rewarding experience. It was also a great opportunity to get to see how different organisations operated and comforting to see that the people challenges where in essence the same.

How should employers here deal with skills shortages in certain sectors, particularly IT?

Working with schools and Universities as an industry leader means we can encourage the conversations early with kids who show an interest or aptitude for STEM topics. It is from here that we as a country can plan for the skills that will be required in the future, and by supporting the curriculum design, companies like ours can ensure that the right kind of skills are being taught from an early age.

What has been your biggest working challenge so far?

When I had my children trying to balance a career and managing two small boys was tricky and tiring. It made me realise that sometimes taking some time out can be a positive. I had the opportunity to take some time out when we moved as a family to Germany for 3 years, it means that when you come back into the market you bring a different perspective.  I still believe there is a lot to do to make it easier for women to have a balance in their life.  

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

This career gives you great variety and no two days are the same as you are dealing with different people with different issues.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I think my current role has provided me with an opportunity to set up a HR function in a growing industry sector that is new to me. Looking back over what we have managed to achieve in the last two years has been significant particularly for a small team. We recently won the Excellence in Talent Development at the Software industry awards which is a great endorsement of the work the small team have done in such a short time.

What benefits do staff value most in your organisation?

Continuous education is a key benefit for our staff and our L&D function works directly with all employees to ensure that they are learning new skills and developing themselves in the areas they need most. This could be anything from short classroom sessions in-house to longer term diplomas or degrees through our Tuition Assistance policy.

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

One of the key things that came out of our employee engagement initiatives this year is that people want recognition for exceptional work. This recognition doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary and is more likely to simply be an acknowledgement of great work. This ties in the intrinsic needs of people to feel supported and to receive acknowledgement for great work. Organisations should focus on these intrinsic needs more than the extrinsic and monetary ones, as these are more sustainable for organisations as they grow and expand.

Clear objectives that are cascading down to teams in a meaningful way ensures that everyone is bought into the overall strategic goals of the company. Often companies keep the company objectives too high level, and this doesn’t resonate with the individual contributors who make up the majority of the workforce in a company. By ensuring that these objectives are translated into a meaningful way for each level of the organisation ensure that people are motivated to contribute to a tangible outcome they feel a part of.


Sharon has been shortlisted in the 'Leadership in HR' category for this year's Irish HR Awards on Thursday 6th December.

This article is correct at 05/12/2018

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