Interview with Rosarii Mannion- National HR Director, Health Service Executive

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 20 November 2018
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Rosarii Mannion


Name: Rosarii Mannion

Position & Organisation: National HR Director, Health Service Executive 

Number of Employees: 130,000

Time in Post: 3 years

Previous Job: HR Director RCSI Hospital Group

Tell us about your business in a sentence

The HSE provides the bulk public health and social care services to everyone living in Ireland. GP Services, Hospital, Community, Social Care etc It is the largest employer in the state with a staff of 130,000 and a budget of €15 billion.

Give us an idea about your early life and career?

Originally from county Leitrim, I had early exposure to HR in the former North Western Health Board during a co-operative education placement as part of my studies in the University of Limerick.  I was selected for the IBEC Graduate Programme on completion of University, and I started working in Beaumont hospital. I was quickly promoted and moved to the former Midland and then North Eastern Health Boards. I became a Regional Director of HR in 2006, a region with 22,000 employees. I have worked across all areas of HR, including selection training, talent development, succession planning staff engagement, employee relations and diversity and inclusion.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

It’s a constant challenge balancing the strategic with the operational elements of the job. I work very hard to keep a focus on the implementation of our People Strategy. I make it my business to maintain contact with our hospitals, community services, and other front-line areas of the “delivery system”  I am constantly meeting with staff at all levels.  In healthcare, the staff are the backbone of our services, and I work very hard to understand their needs and make sure that their views are taken into account in decision-making at national level. Understandably our patients are our priority and so it can be challenging to make the case for investment and development in our staff. However I see staff training and leadership development as an investment in patient services and safety.

One must remain curious and interested always trying to improve where things are and make things better. And importantly in a very large dispersed nationwide organisation identify local innovations and good practices that can be implemented nationally. We have many such examples of excellent local innovation which I try to ensure we identify, communicate and implement nationally. Our annual awards showcase local innovations and reward the staff involved in designing them. There is so much to be done there is no point spending time, resources and efforts to reinvent the wheel so to speak.

There is much discussion regarding some recent shortcomings that resulted in patients being harmed. The term “system failure” has come in for a lot of criticism.  I am of the view that the “system” does need to be redesigned but that in addition, the boundaries between system and individual accountability need to be much more clearly defined. Part of my role in HR is to examine the existing HR policy framework and to adjust or update these where necessary so as to ensure they are fit for purpose today. Some of our policies need to be revised to reflect more contemporary HR practice. I have been impressed by some good practice in the Civil Service and there are some excellent examples within the private sector as well. We are currently involved in a comprehensive review of all policies and procedures with a particular emphasis on our disciplinary code.  As professionals, we owe it to the public to ensure that we have proper systems of accountability in our health services. HR is part of the architecture of accountability in health.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Resilience is so key, so important to not take things personally. People will say, do and behave in all kinds of ways sometimes unpredictably which you simply cannot control, however my mottos is “to thine own self be true” and try to the best you can with what’s ahead, “win the moment”.  HR is a tough place to work you have to be resilient and have courage. It’s just not possible to please everyone all of the time. I think some of the most important things to sustain you at work are:.

  • Role model leadership coaching skills
  • Listening and being present.
  • Recognise the personal strengths of others at work
  • Enhance social capital through coaching
  • Ability to delegate
  • Take time to pause and reflect
  • Use goals effectively and flexibly
  • Use self-coaching at work

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

I’m lucky to be in my ideal job however I think I would be a great Minister for Finance, my husband might not agree….. 

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

I greatly admire Catriona Hallahan, Managing Director Microsoft Ireland.  She demonstrates grit, empathy and is a wonderful role model.  She is a passionate leader focused on transformation, diversity and inclusion and on growing business in Ireland.  She is authentic in her approach, always focuses on people.

Under her leadership climate change is a priority for Microsoft with the data centre one of the most environmentally friendly in the world. 

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Pizza and family time on a Friday night, conversations with friends, going to soccer matches with my favourite son.  I have a close circle of really good friends, once a month we put the world to right.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

Employees who feel “entitled” We have to bring heart to work to serve the public and make things better. There is no place for a culture of entitlement or negativity in the workplace.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

Agility, people management skills, communications skills, seeing the person in all situations.

On the people side of the equation the key characteristic of a leader is communication. Regular, honest, candid and consistent communication is key. The leader must be seen as a reliable source of information; even if it means admitting you don’t know all the answers. Equally important is listening and empathy. By understanding people’s concerns, we can more readily address them and share with them the information and insights that will help reduce misunderstandings and fight negative rumours. In tough times, it is critically important to try to create opportunities for positive emotion. While a sense of humour helps, it is also important to celebrate wins, find ways to have fun, and thank people. Emphasizing strengths wins, and good news helps redirect people’s attention. The Health Service Excellence Awards acknowledge the great work of many of our teams.

A constant barrage of stress, particularly over a long period of time, will take its toll on the best of people. A cornerstone of great leadership is taking care of ones staff. Of course, listening and empathy are important, but you also need to be attuned to signs of burnout. Because much is expected of people in health, they need to find ways to recharge the batteries. When it is possible framing the challenges people face as developmental opportunities can often help redefine their emotional experience.  Seeing current circumstances and challenges as being tested in the fire tends to make us more resilient.

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

Influencing, people management, communication and negotiation skills are key. There are many grey areas and often two or more opposing views, and the successful HR professional can mediate an acceptable middle ground and that’s not often easy to achieve.

Communications skills that show HR is convincing, caring, and believable.

HR professionals are the conscience of the organisation, whilst you serve the needs of  business or operational units, you also monitor their actions toward employees to ensure that policies and regulations are complied with. You need to be able to push back when they are not in order to uphold the organizations values.  Not an easy responsibility! Employees expect human resources professionals to advocate for their concerns, yet you must also enforce organisational policies. The HR professional who can pull off this delicate balancing act wins trust from all concerned.

There are times you must make decisions to protect the individual and other times when you protect the organization, its culture, and values. These decisions may be misunderstood by some, and you may be criticised because of it, but you know that explaining your choices might compromise both. It’s not an easy balance and can be misunderstood.

High productivity and good outcomes in health require people to work together; HR has to find ways to support that to happen, problem-solving ability is key as is supportive team working.

Most companies today are in a constant state of flux. Task forces, matrices, and teams spring into being, do their jobs, and disband as others form. Hierarchies have been squashed, and companies have four or five generations working side by side. A lot of people are challenged by what’s going on. HR has to help everyone cope with the constant changes and remain positive.

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

The key skills are vision, empathy, communication and innovation. Influencing and people skills will always be essential. None are as important for the future as coaching and mentoring. Creating an environment where employees can learn and use their abilities to the fullest is important not only for the current state of an organization, but also its future. Gone are the days when managers were just managers. More managers today are encouraged, even expected, to develop themselves and to be leaders and acquire coaching/mentoring skills to more effectively manage their teams. ... Many of the skills of the coach coincide with good leadership skills.

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

A former manager of mine whom I greatly admire always said “say as you do and do what you say” it’s great advice and always to ask why and be able to explain the why of decisions to all staff across the organisation.

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your career since you started working to your current role as National Director and HSE Board/Directorate member?

Always have an interest in what you do, work has to be more than a job, find a job you love and are passionate about and you’ll never work a day. I’ve been lucky to always really enjoy what I do and to have met great people along the way.

How should employers here deal with skills shortages?

With talent shortages in health only expected to grow, as indeed they are in so many sectors in Ireland private and public as the economy continues to grow. So we must be more proactive about planning and designing new talent strategies.  Undertaking comprehensive workforce planning, establishing a robust talent pipeline, focus on retaining current talent, and appealing to younger workers are key priorities.

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

HR offers tremendous opportunities to make a difference to the organisation and to the live of its people. It is so important to know and have a feel for your industry.  HR plays an essential role in any business/organisations long term strategy. You must be resourceful, balance a range of issues and personalities, Important to keep learning and always brushing up on knowledge and keeping current.  I attended a talk delivered by Paul O Connell where he recalled Joe Schmidt advising to “win the moment in front of your face” Everyone makes mistakes but the key is not to compound the error. It’s important to compartmentalise, to move on, to remain present to ask “What is the best possible thing I can do right now?”

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Sometimes on a site visit a staff member will have a quiet word about how things were improved for them or helped to make life easier by a contact they will have had with you.  Given the range if issues you might not remember it and these interactions are very rewarding. Also being awarded the ICF Executive Coach of the Year in 2017 was a great honour as I am passionate about potential of people and the power coaching has to allow staff to achieve what they want to at work and in every domain of their lives.

Working on implementing our People Strategy since 2015 and a recent organisational wide staff survey has shown improvements across all domains, it’s encouraging, we have to get it right for staff.

I am very proud of our People Strategy, our Change Framework and the fact that we have been recognised globally for our work on coaching, receiving the Prism Award.   

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

Have an open door policy when it comes to suggestions and ideas, employees have to feel their voice matters; it has to be about more than pay in the health service.  It’s amazing how a simple please and thank you fares with employees., Be open and transparent about what’s happening and how decisions are taken, it’s important that staff do not get surprises, that they are included and have input to decision making.  Our people must be committed to the vision and direction of the health services.  The key to performance is staff engagement, play to peoples strengths, identify talent and find ways to let people shine. Value diversity and avoid group think, be courageous, go for it.


Rosarii 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 20/11/2018

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