After an unplanned start to her career, Yvonne Murray made a conscious decision to explore a variety of HR roles across the public, private and third sectors. Two years ago, she took up the role of Head of HR for Cardiff Airport.
She attributes her love of variety and challenge as a key part of her success. One of her most recent challenges has been to oversee the Airport’s workforce grow from 45 to 250 in less than a year and she takes great pride in working for the national airport of Wales.
Tell us a bit about how you got into your current role?
My career has been a bit of journey. I fell into HR almost by accident when I was working as a Fresh Foods Manager at Tesco. I was really interested in the development and training of my teams, so when a store Training Manager opportunity came up, I went for it. I loved that role. It gave me an overview of the whole store, all the different functions and departments. I was responsible for all the training and worked closely with the HR department. It was then just a matter of time before I applied for a store HR Manager role. My time in retail provided a really good grounding for me in all aspects of people management.
After four years as an HR Manager at Tesco, I moved into the public sector, working in an NHS Trust as a Recruitment Manager. I then moved back into generalist HR, working for two Local Health Boards. Following that, I moved to a regional HR role in the Third Sector. This job carried responsibility for HR across Wales and the Midlands and, thus, involved a lot of travel. This was one of the most challenging jobs I have taken on and was probably the toughest sector I’ve worked in.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Working in HR provides me with constant challenges which keep me motivated as I get easily bored. No two days are the same. I have a very strong values base and working in HR allows me to make sure organisational values are promoted across the Airport. I firmly believe that HR should make a contribution to business objectives and not merely be a service add-on. Consequently, I enjoy working closely with all departments and managers across the Airport.
What has been the key to your success?
I’m a hard worker with oodles of passion for HR. I love working with people and I believe in continuous learning. Working in HR, you need to be able to keep up to date with best practice, employment legislation and the latest thoughts and ‘trends’. I, therefore, regularly use Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date professionally. I’m also proactive, preferring to pre-empt issues rather than ‘firefighting’ after the event.
Which achievement are you most proud of and why?
This job. When I started here, I set up the HR function from a zero base, and for the first 10 months I was on my own; it was a huge challenge. In that first 10 months, the Airport’s headcount grew by some 80%. I now lead a small, but perfectly formed, HR team. We all share the same pride and passion working for the national airport of Wales. In the past two years we’ve made huge progress on the HR agenda.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
The importance of listening and not just hearing. I think it’s really important, particularly as managers and leaders, that we listen really carefully to people and respond appropriately. It’s a really critical skill.
Which 3 qualities do you think are most important for aspiring HR leaders?
For both aspiring and experienced managers and leaders, I’d say integrity, consistency and fairness are critical qualities.
What advice would you give to those with ambitions to reach a management or leadership level in HR?
Study in the relevant field– vacancies generally require CIPD qualifications, so that’s got to be a prerequisite. But as well as being a human resources specialist, you’ve also got to be prepared to be an all-round manager. Stay close to the core of the business, understand the challenges that other managers are facing, and believe in the business you’re working for; it makes the job a lot easier. Finally, understand that leadership isn’t about rank or role; it’s about engaging and bringing people along with you.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for HR in the workplace?
There are several. One is the diminishing workforce due to the aging population. HR needs to focus on reskilling or upskilling people, providing increased flexible working and strengthening non-discriminatory practices. HR also needs to be proactive about the health and wellbeing of people in the workplace.
There is also the challenge of staying abreast of advancing technology. New products are continuously coming on to the market but it is important to remember that it’s people who define HR and that any technology should be compatible with the organisation’s culture and business model.
Which employees can benefit the most from mentoring?
New entrants to the workforce, underperformers, and those who are reskilling and going into a different role.
In your experience, what are the best ways to engage employees?
It’s a challenge. One important objective is to make employees stakeholders in the business. HR practitioners and leaders must recognise that it’s the work that frontline personnel do that makes an organisation run and that they deliver the customer experience. Getting people to understand the vision, mission and values is important, but it’s also vital that people have a sense of belonging and know that they are valued. Managers must be responsible and accountable for engagement; ensure that staff receive regular support and supervision sessions; equip their teams with the training and resources they need; and deal with difficulties sensitively and in a dignified way. Promoting diversity and inclusion will also help to build trust and a healthy working environment.
AI: hindrance or help for HR?
I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I have some reservations about AI in that algorithms can take away the human element of, for example, recruitment. It certainly has value, but only for part of the HR function. Understanding the needs of your organisation and choosing tried and tested methods rather than the ‘latest new thing’ is key.
What impact do you think GDPR will have on your role?
We already operate really tight data protection practices in HR, so I welcome GDPR and think it will enhance the protections we currently have in place. I think the biggest impact for organisations will inevitably be on marketing and recruitment.
When and how can a recruitment partner be of most help to an HR department?
The most useful agencies are those who invest time and effort in understanding the needs of the business, the role they’re recruiting for, the environment in which that role sits and then doing the legwork to find the right people. What adds the most value is if their screening process has that human element; that they’ve met candidates face to face and, therefore, I then know that the candidates I’m seeing are the best fit.
Recruitment is a key element in HR work and other managers depend on professional support from HR. If we don’t get recruitment right, the rest doesn’t follow.
I like the fact recruitment agencies are becoming more diverse and providing free training – CPD is important, so this aspect is really useful.
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My experience of working with Sitka was very professional from start to finish. In particular, I was impressed by the personal touch, being contacted before and after the interview process even if just to say ‘good luck’.
Sitka was the only recruitment agency I encountered during my job hunt that I didn’t find completely overbearing. Their integrity was clear throughout the process and not once did I feel pressured by their agents.
Throughout the process, they kept us informed and the whole process felt like a true partnership. Each candidate came to the interview with a great understanding of our business and had prepared thoroughly, particularly at the second stage interviews.
They were very easy to work with, chased us on all our deadlines, and found a great person who now has a permanent full-time position with us.
I didn’t have to look through endless CVs, but was presented with only three, all of which could have been successful in the role. The successful candidate is performing well.