Eimear Harty is HR Director, Group Technology & Customer Solutions at Bank of Ireland. Historically the premier banking organisation in Ireland, the Bank occupies a unique position in Irish banking history. Bank of Ireland is the oldest bank in continuous operation in Ireland.
We asked Eimear to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and Bank of Ireland.
HRHQ: Tell us about your career journey and what originally attracted you to a career in HR?
Eimear Harty: I joined Bank of Ireland in 2020 as an HR Director during a period of major transformation for the bank and for the sector. I had most recently worked at Microsoft for 12 years and with the Bank growing its technology teams and going through this huge digital transformation, it felt like a very natural transition into financial services for me. During my studies I was fascinated by lectures in industrial and employee relations. This led me to pursue the IBEC graduate programme where I got a solid foundation in employment law. This has proved invaluable in every organisation I worked in.
HRHQ: What has been the most significant change in the HR world since you began your career?
EH: When I started working in HR, the role of the HR business partner was relatively new and there was still a huge level of resource dedicated to administration, operations and paperwork. Automation has created the opportunity for HR to focus on the areas that really matter – improving colleague experience through policy change and innovation that makes a real difference to their lives, and improving productivity and commercial outcomes for the business.
HRHQ: What is the most important HR challenge facing you currently?
EH: Competition for scarce skills in competitive market places. For example, today Bank of Ireland is as much a technology company as a we are a bank. So we compete for the best talent with tech companies across the world. That’s a constant challenge, but we can offer people a great environment where they can be make a real impact and have progressive careers.
HRHQ: From an employee’s perspective, what does a great HR service mean?
EH: Colleagues want to be able to do some of the more basic automated processes themselves, with personalised and human support when they need it. Companies need to get that balance right. A great HR service will automate those high volume repetitive interactions, and put more time into being there in person for colleagues for those sensitive issues or supporting them on their career progression.
Colleagues also want to see diversity in HR, a function that truly reflects the colleagues that it serves with inclusive people solutions. For example, we recently launched a menopause supports policy. This followed the launch of an enhanced paternity leave policy, a domestic abuse support policy as well as fertility leave and supports. Our role is to always explore new ways that we can improve the experience and wellbeing for colleagues.
HRHQ: How should HR professionals design their career and how much can you realistically career plan?
EH: Gaining experiences across the wide variety of disciplines in HR is key to building a broader understanding of the function. Diverse experiences, including outside of HR, enables greater experience and growth.
It is important to have goals but it is equally important to be flexible. Sometimes opportunities arise that weren’t in your career plan, don’t be afraid to grasp them.
Mentors can have a great influence and role in your career but remember you can also give back by mentoring someone else on their career journey.
HRHQ: What advice would you give a person at the start of their HR career?
EH: Spend time in as many disciplines within HR as possible. Breadth of experience enables greater contribution to the strategic direction of the HR function and is particularly important as you progress.
Bank of Ireland is headquartered here in Ireland with 9,000 colleagues. So we offer HR professionals a brilliant opportunity to experience all centres of expertise in HR as well as visibility of the entire business model. You get to play a critical and influential role in policy development and decision making, and you get great exposure to the entire business and strategy rollout.
HRHQ: What soft skills do you believe are key to progressing your career?
EH: For HR professionals it is critical that we are able to partner well with people, and influence when we need to. An agile and creative mindset are key as we are often navigators of complex issues. Empathy is very important, sometimes we are supporting people on sensitive issues or at important times of their career path.
HRHQ: What experiences should HR professionals try to get as they build up their CV?
EH: I sound like a broken record now, but spend time in as many disciplines within HR as possible. This will ensure you are making the best contribution to the strategic direction of your HR function.
Explore training or education opportunities that will help you in your role and fast-track your career. HR is always evolving, you need to ensure you are keeping up.
HRHQ: What are you most proud of in your career?
EH: Leading the introduction of the hybrid working model at Bank of Ireland is a highlight for me. We have embedded a truly flexible approach giving colleagues an opportunity to work in a blend of offices, our 11 remote working hubs and at home. In-person connection has remained central to the model – teams agree when they will meet in person to connect and collaborate and reflect these arrangements in team charters. Empowerment is at individual and team level and our colleagues tell us this level of flexibility is supporting balance and wellbeing.
HRHQ: What is best part of your job?
EH: Everything we do in Bank of Ireland is driven by our purpose to enable customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. With this as our north star, we get to drive progressive HR programs that make a real difference to our colleagues and our customers.
HRHQ: Do you have a work mantra?
EH: Always focus on the customer outcome. For example, we use customer batons in our meetings in Bank of Ireland. It means that the customer is represented in the room with us, any team member can physically raise the baton and bring the focus back to what the customer needs. It’s a useful symbolic tool, and it works!
HRHQ: What do you think the Future of Work is?
EH: The pandemic fast-tracked many organisations towards hybrid, flexible working and that is here to stay.
Organisations with policies and supports which enable better work-life balance and embrace diversity will attract the best talent in the future.
In my view, the future of work is dynamic, diverse and exciting.
HRHQ: Many thanks Eimear for taking part and we wish you and Bank of Ireland the very best for the future.