Interview with Neil Collins - Group HR Director,

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 10 July 2018
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Issues covered:

Name: Neil CollinsNeil Collins, Group HR Director,

Position & Organisation: Group HR Director, 

Number of Employees: 490

Time in Post: 12 years

Time in Organisation: 15 years

Previous Job: Recruitment Consultant at Elan IT Resource

Tell us about your business in a sentence headquartered in Dublin, runs online job portals (including, and across 12 countries on 3 continents, employing over 490 staff around the world -  Saongroup is wholly owned by StepStone, one of the world's leading e-recruitment businesses which is part of the Axel Springer Media Group, Europe’s leading digital publisher.

What was your first ever job?

My first role was as a Recruitment Consultant for Elan IT Resource in Temple Bar, Dublin, commencing in 2000. Having completed an Arts Degree in UCC and subsequently a Higher Diploma in Business Studies in the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD I knew that Human Resources was an area I was particularly interested in. I combined the recruitment role, which provided a good grounding in recruitment practices, with evening study in the National College of Ireland where I obtained a National Diploma in Personnel Management.

Within three years of joining where I worked as an Account Manager in Dublin, I was very fortunate to be asked to start up a HR department in 2006, in particular to meet the growing recruitment needs of the parent company, Saongroup which was now expanding both in Ireland and globally.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

With our 490 staff spread across 12 countries, this presents a complex challenge in effectively managing both people and projects across multiple time zones while also ensuring local HR laws and procedures are respected.

With those challenges in mind, we have established three regional HR teams in our main hubs, Ireland, South Africa and El Salvador.

This has been hugely beneficial to get the benefit of local HR expertise, while also coming together on video conference as a group on a weekly basis to exchange ideas and practices, as well as updates on KPIs and key projects.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Working in the business for such a long period has allowed me established deep connections with colleagues throughout the company. When you have worked through various pressurized projects and travelled long distances with people over such as a period of time a trust develops. Naturally when things get tough you can lean on their support and of course offer yours!

When difficult decisions arrive, I typically try to avoid making a rash choice, and look at all the influencing factors in as balanced and measured way possible. When you know you have done this to the best of your ability, then you have a clear head and confidence in what you are doing.

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

It has been exciting to watch the Saongroup business, despite many competitive and complex challenges, continue to grow in so many exciting directions via start-ups, acquisition and expansion over the period of time I have been here. I have great admiration as a result for the team of people here who have taken these risks and established such a successful global business.

Internationally I always admired Barack Obama. When he was President I admired his ability to present a reassuring, composed demeanour but then he also had the ability to demonstrate empathy and compassion when required. I also think he is a very polished and engaging communicator.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

We like to empower staff at all levels to make decisions and take responsibility. Employees careers tend to flourish here if they like autonomy and are driven and dedicated to achieving their goals. There is very little politics in the company and there is an openness and directness about interactions. A willingness to take on extra responsibility, and leading from the front is admired. Ability to build good relationships and influence at all levels is important as is being able to present, communicate in a concise and focused way. We like to promote from within where at all possible and all of these characteristics are desirable. It’s been great to see so many employees across all departments rise through the business to become accomplishments leaders and managers. They are then role models for their colleagues and advocates of the company culture.

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

Advice received - “It is what it is” – sometimes you can get caught agonizing over what went wrong, or how you found yourself in an unwanted scenario. Acknowledge that we cannot change what has already happened, that it exists, and we should focus our energy on what is required to move forward and fix the problem.

Advice to give – Important to spend sufficient time upskilling, consulting with, and encouraging Line Managers on people management issues. Try and create a workplace where you are assisting people managers to make good, sensible and balanced day to day decisions in relation to their teams.

It’s ok to make mistakes and fail. Being open and honest about mistakes actually can build a trust. What people look out for is how you have overcome the challenge.

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from Recruitment Consultant, Elan IT Resource to HR Director, Saongroup

Getting the HR qualification in the NCI was important. Even though I wasn’t yet in an in-house HR role, it gave me the comfort that I was on the right path. It positioned me as a realistic option when a HR position did become available.

The importance of listening -  both to continually build your commercial awareness, but also take on board the sound advice of those more experienced.

Equally important however is to speak up at the right times – fight off the urge to play it safe and stay silent when those around you speaking a topic you have meaningful insight on. People will appreciate your input.

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

There are lots of feel-good parts of being in HR - the joy of hiring great talent, seeing people progress, being involved in events or projects that have a positive impact on employees etc. That is, however, the easy part.

Be prepared to spend as much time dealing with people in their most vulnerable, nervous, agitated or aggrieved states. It is HR’s ability to help managers and employees overcome these types of situations and conflicts that will be most recognized by your peers.

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This article is correct at 10/07/2018

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