‘Diversity is a priority because it’s important we reflect the clients we work with’

6 Apr 2021

Gillian O’Sullivan. Image: BearingPoint

BearingPoint’s Gillian O’Sullivan discusses the importance of diversity in a consulting business, the challenge of working with clients remotely, and her four key things to get the best out of a team.

Gillian O’Sullivan joined business and technology consulting company BearingPoint in 2004 as a software developer. She went on to hold various technology delivery and consulting positions, before becoming a partner in 2016.

At the start of this year, O’Sullivan took on the role of country leader for BearingPoint’s Irish practice. The Amsterdam-headquartered company has a growing base in Dublin.

‘It’s no secret that the pandemic has driven a major acceleration in digital transformation and that’s prompted our clients to review their plans’

Describe your role and what you do.

I have three main responsibilities. The first is to run and grow the business here in Ireland. We’ve been very successful in the last number of years, so maintaining that is key.

The second is to work with our clients, supporting them in running and transforming their organisations. Thirdly, and critically, is to lead our people. We have a great team of really smart, talented people in our team and focusing on giving them the right challenges to build their skills is vital in a consulting organisation like BearingPoint.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I’m a planner by nature so I tend to use my calendar and to-do lists to help me manage my time and make sure I have the right focus. With shared Outlook calendars it can be hard to manage the meeting count so, for me, blocking out headspace time so I can focus on the big picture is invaluable.

With everyone working remotely now, prioritising individual and team connections is vital and while they don’t replace those water-cooler moments, having regular informal check-ins is a great way to take the pulse of the team and highlight if I need to change priorities or provide more support.

I’ve always found it’s easier to organise my working life when I have balance between work and home. Setting boundaries for when it’s time to switch off along with having notifications on my phone automatically stop in the evening really helps me get that balance right.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

It’s hard to answer this question without mentioning Covid as it has had such a large impact across society as a whole. At its heart, consulting is a people business regardless of the service we deliver, be that a new technology system or support with an organisational strategy.

Working with our clients can be more of a challenge, particularly with new clients, when we’re remote. We’ve responded to this by adapting our ways of working with clients and introducing new tools that encourage more collaboration beyond the typical Teams or Zoom call. This really helps to keep people engaged, which is so critical especially during a new project kick-off.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

It’s no secret that the pandemic has driven a major acceleration in digital transformation and that’s prompted a number of our clients to review their plans to support new ways of working right across their businesses, whether that’s in the public or the private sector.

We have a long history of implementing digital solutions and so supporting our clients at this time is a key priority. While we place a strong emphasis on deep technical knowledge, with the upheaval taking place across many sectors right now, it’s vitally important that we consider the human aspect in any changes that our clients are looking to make so that people don’t get left behind.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My first job was as a graduate in PwC, which was a great first role for me as it gave me a solid grounding in consulting that complemented my technical background. I still remember the day I saw my first client using the software I had developed and knew then I was in the right career.

Since then, I’ve worked in various software companies, mostly in professional services roles.  After a short stint in Portugal, I joined BearingPoint in 2004 and have been here ever since.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think probably early on in my career I made the mistake of taking on too much and thinking that I either needed to do it all or I needed to have all the answers. It took a while to realise that not only does this cause huge pressure on yourself but in thinking that you’re helping the team you’re actually hindering their progress and development.

I learned – and, being honest, I’m still learning – that as the leader my role is about creating the environment to allow others to contribute and succeed, accepting that there will be mistakes along the way, which is a learning experience for everyone.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I’ve always thought there are four key things that help to get the best out of individuals and teams. The first is feeling like the work you’re doing makes a difference – having a sense of purpose allows people to keep going even when faced with challenges.

The second is to feel that you’re being challenged. I really embrace the notion that every day is a school day and, regardless of our experience level, I think we all need to be lifelong learners.

The third is to be recognised for the work you do. It’s so important for our managers and leaders to acknowledge the great work, big and small, that people do.

And finally, have fun! We all spend a lot of our lives in work so we need to be able to relax and enjoy our time along the way.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I think there have been improvements in this area over the last number of years but we still have more work to do.

It’s important for all of us to consider the perspectives of people from different backgrounds, cultures, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and to ensure that regardless of where people are coming from, they feel like they belong. Becoming more inclusive requires us to be more understanding and that means we really need to listen to our people and to hear what they need.

Diversity and inclusion is a key priority for us as a firm because it’s important that we reflect the clients we work with and the world we operate in. One of the main things we have done is to review every aspect of our employee life cycle, from recruitment right through to when someone leaves, to understand where there may be improvement areas. This includes the wording we use in job ads, the interviewers that candidates meet during recruitment, how we undertake performance reviews.

To support this, we’ve been rolling out unconscious bias training to make our team more aware of the impact this can have, and we have a number of affinity groups including Women@BearingPoint, Proud@BearingPoint and Ability@BearingPoint that are very active among all staff in helping us highlight and address issues.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I think Patrick Lencioni is the first author that really woke me up in terms of teams and leadership. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was a game changer for me when I first started leading teams and I’ve read every one of his books since.

I really enjoyed Radical Candor by Kim Scott too and thought it had a refreshing take on leadership. And, for similar reasons, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath is a worthwhile read.

We started a book club within BearingPoint last year and it’s been great reading and discussing books with the team. The first one was The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr, which is a real eye opener for teams working in IT delivery.

And for something a little lighter – The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is touching, funny and sad, all at the same time!

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

We’re big users of Microsoft 365 in BearingPoint, which has really helped the transition into remote working allowing us to stay in touch and collaborate when we’re not physically together. At the moment, most of my days are spent in Outlook or on Teams. It’s not the same as being in the office but it does come a close second!

Outside of work, it would be FaceTime for staying in touch with family throughout lockdown and also Marlay Park for getting out for a daily walk, which is great for clearing my head.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.