Deloitte HR head: ‘We are a people business’

9 Aug 2017

Orla Graham, chief human resources officer, Deloitte Ireland. Image: Deloitte

As part of our Leaders’ Insights series, we heard from Deloitte’s Orla Graham about the challenges and opportunities in the world of HR.

Orla Graham is the chief human resources officer for Deloitte Ireland.

With more than two decades of experience in the HR sector as well as a professional coaching background, Graham has worked for big brand names such as Marks & Spencer and Coca-Cola.

Earlier this year, she was named HR Leader at the Morgan McKinley HR Leadership and Management Awards 2017.

‘I recruit for attitude and believe you can train for aptitude’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am responsible for the talent and learning strategy for 2,500 people in Ireland. I lead a team of 40 talent professionals. Deloitte is the largest professional services firm in the world and in Ireland, we have won numerous awards for our innovative talent initiatives. We pride ourselves on providing a world-class environment where people flourish and grow and make an impact professionally and personally.

In addition to my Irish role, I have a global role with Deloitte and I am involved with leadership development and facilitation for our Deloitte University based in Brussels. Our Deloitte University is more than a physical location – it represents the global expansion of a different and better way of doing business, and getting people to meet and collaborate across locations.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I try to organise my diary as best as I can – however, in this role, the best-laid plans often change. I have a great PA who ensures there is time each day to deal with the important stuff. I travel about once a month and have ‘set meetings’ that are sacrosanct in the diary. I focus on the big picture and where we are going, and try not to get bogged down.

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

We are a people business. Our focus is to attract, retain and engage the best people, both graduates and experienced hires. We want to ensure that our people are motivated, engaged and enjoying their work. If people are playing to their strengths, they will do their best work and be happy at work. It’s as simple as that! Our challenge is to ensure that we are continuously upping our game by being innovative and allowing our people to develop themselves professionally and personally.

We are committed to developing leaders at all levels and have leadership programmes that support and enable our people to be their best selves. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach and our culture is one where we allow people to play to their strengths and not feel like they have to fit a predefined model. Culture is important and, as we grow in size and scale, we want to ensure that our people feel a sense of connection and belonging, and are able to make an impact on their work and society in general.

Our culture is one of the main reasons we were voted the most popular graduate recruiter in Ireland this year by more than 9,000 students. We offer challenging work and meaningful development opportunities, and empower our people to become leaders early on in their career.

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

Digital transformation is changing and challenging us to look at how we work ourselves and with our clients. Technology is impacting everything we do and is a key part of our consulting practice. Business today depends on technology and innovation as never before, to drive transformation, productivity and growth. There are exciting opportunities to advise clients and assist them in implementing changes to add value across a range of industries. A big part of our success and growth has stemmed from hiring different people with skill sets and analytical abilities to provide a unique point of view and perspective for our clients.

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

I am not a believer in focusing on mistakes. I tend to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. Early in my career, I took opportunities that were beyond my capability – however, I learned from them. One key lesson I learned early in my career while working with Marks & Spencer was to deal with issues quickly and not let them fester.

How do you get the best out of your team?

My team has always been a big part of my success over the years. I believe you get the team you deserve. I get a great sense of achievement from having people around me who are developing and have a strong sense of ambition and pride. I recruit for attitude and believe you can train for aptitude. Successful teams have good attitudes and great quality of execution. I think it is important to have an open mindset and create the conditions for the team to succeed.

One tip I have learned is to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to talk as sometimes, the extroverts can take over and the quieter introverts, who often have great ideas, can go unheard. Deloitte is a meritocracy – people are allowed to flourish in a supportive and fast-moving environment. There’s no limit to what can be achieved.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

I think this is changing and it is good to see both males and females encouraged to do STEM subjects early on in schools. There is still room for improvement and there can be unconscious bias early on, which can dictate somewhat the careers that people end up doing. Saying that, I have a science degree and I am now of course a ‘people scientist’.

Workplaces need to be inclusive and in Deloitte, we want to provide the environment that supports the diverse needs of our people. Having grown to be the largest professional services firm in the world, our strength lies in the fact that we recruit people who look at complex issues through a different lens. We work hard to make sure our talent pool is as diverse as today’s society and our people come from diverse backgrounds with different interests and skill sets. Without this mix, we could not do what we do.

Who is your business hero and why?

I don’t have one business hero. I have been very fortunate over my career to have worked for many great leaders who have inspired me and whom I have learned from. The leaders who have impressed me the most are leaders who have a vision, who are strong communicators and who are able to bring people with them.

What book have you read that you would recommend?

The book The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward by Kevin Cashman is a good read. We are all so busy ‘doing’ in a frantic world that we can forget that we need time to think and reflect. This book reminds us that creative pauses are important to be clearer and more effective leaders in today’s ‘always on’ workplace.

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

My team, laptop, iPad, iPhone, au pair, cleaner, gym, friends, and my long-suffering husband, three children and dog.

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