Q&A with Sinead Farrelly, Director of Human Resources at the Irish Management Institute

HRHQ_Q&A Sinead Farrelly

Sinead Farrelly is Director of Human Resources at the Irish Management Institute (IMI). The IMI is uniquely focused on improving the practice of management and is the only Irish business school to be ranked globally for the provision of Customised Executive Education for the tenth consecutive year in 2018. The IMI’s Executive Education and Management Development programmes address the skills needs of managers and leaders at every stage of their careers.

We asked Sinead to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and the IMI.


HRHQ: Tell us about your career journey and what originally attracted you to a career in HR?

Sinead Farrelly: I joined IMI as HR Director in July 2022 and prior to that I was with LeasePlan Digital for 2.5 years as Head of People and Performance and was subsequently appointment as Head of Learning, Development & Engagement in 2021 for LeasePlan Digital, across Dublin, Amsterdam and Eastern Europe. Before that, I held the position of Human Resources Director for 8 years with Apleona HSG Ltd, a global Engineering and Facilities Management organisation, leading a team of 1500 people with responsibility for Ireland, UK, Belgium and The Nordics and managing 8 direct reports. Before joining Apleona HSG Ltd, I held the position of Human Resources Manager with Mazda Motor Ireland, a leading Motor Retail Services organisation.

I also spent 6 years as Human Resources Manager for Designer Group, Engineering Services and held a number of marketing management roles in the hospitality industry early in my career. My qualifications include 4 Professional Diplomas with the IMI in Strategic Business Management, Executive Coaching, HR Strategic Managment and Organisational Development and Transformation. I also completed an MBS (Masters of Business Studies) in September 2022 through IMI and UCC. I am CIPD qualified and hold Diplomas in HRM and in Marketing and also a Lean Six Sigma Yellow belt. In my current role, I report directly to the CEO of IMI and engage with the entire business to ensure a culture of learning, development and engagement is fostered across the organisation, requiring excellent communication, change management and relationship-building skills at all strategic levels of the organisation.

HRHQ: What has been the most significant change in the HR world since you began your career?

SF: With over 20 years experience working at senior level in HR, I have seen the role of HR change dramatically.  A significant change was the move to HR operational excellence through digitalisation of HR processes and HR systems development in the early 2000s.  Even more significant has been the evolving role of HR as a strategic business partner and the critical importance of HR and OD agenda in driving and delivering organisational culture and strategy.  One of the key driving factors of my joining the IMI team was to be part of the purpose and vision of IMI – to equip leaders to build the future and to deliver premium, strategic learning partner solutions across domestic and International markets.

HRHQ: What is the most important HR challenge facing you currently?

SF:In the last number of years, employee attraction and retention has been a challenge.  This was particularly the case, during my time with LeasePlan Digital and the challenges of attracting and retaining skills across the global tech sector were particularly prevalent.  Developing Organisational Development (OD)  frameworks to increase employee value proposition has been a challenge in fast paced, up-sizing environments and one which has been to the fore in all HR strategy initiatives.  Organisation Development is fundamental to driving retention as career development and learning opportunities have become key drivers in employee commitment to any organisation. I have seen a shift from the focus of the well-being agenda to OD focus and HR becoming more of an Organisational Development and Learning business partner.

HRHQ: From an employee’s perspective, what does a great HR service mean?

SF:Ensuring that the employee journey and experience is at best practice standard is extremely important, with particular emphasis on the onboarding and induction phases and closely followed by competitive and transparent total rewards landscape and career development frameworks.  Working across the organisation to build an inclusive and diverse winning culture is also a large part of HR supporting employees and ensuring the best employee experience for all of people.

HRHQ: How should HR professionals design their career and how much can you realistically career plan? 

SF:While qualifications and CPD are important, experience is king and knowing the areas of HR that you wish to focus will also drive your career plan.  Specialising in particular sectors can also be helpful. My career history has been across a diverse range of sectors and I have enjoyed the challenges and learning that each sector presented.

HRHQ: What advice would you give a person at the start of their HR career?

SF:Understanding the strategic role that HR plays is important – but understanding the importance of looking after people is even more important.  By looking after your people you look after your business.

HRHQ: What soft skills do you believe are key to progressing your career? 

SF:Listening, kindness and empathy are some of the most valuable soft skills that a HR professional should possess. These bring more value to employees than so many other initiatives and bring daily rewards for all concerned.

HRHQ: What experiences should HR professionals try to get as they build up their CV?

SF:Experience across all pillars of HR is essential in order to understand the challenges and opportunities for adding value. With experience, comes wisdom – one of the greatest of all HR commodities.

HRHQ: What are you most proud of in your career?

SF:Completing my MBS with IMI/UCC and my appointment as HRD with IMI has brought me great pride and sense of achievement.

HRHQ: What is best part of your job?

SF:IMI has provided many opportunities for me to work closely with our interim CEO, Shane O’Sullivan, the senior management team, UCC and the Board and Council of IMI in developing our future strategy. The next five years promise to be even more exciting and successful for IMI employees and customers alike. I am privileged to work for such a wonderful organisation which has a great purpose and one which I personally identify with- to deliver the gift of learning and education at highest level and provide world-class and world ranked premium learning experiences.

HRHQ: Do you have a work mantra?

SF:My mantra has always been to work hard and even more so, to work ‘smart’. We can often become overwhelmed in our working lives and prioritising critical areas and adopting a focused approach has ensured that the entire HR team delivers and provides transparent value to the organisation. Trying to boil the ocean never works, merely resulting in burnout and ineffective and dysfunctional HR. Finally, communication is king… Celebrate success and inform your stakeholders of developments and achievements – often HR teams can forget to blow their own trumpets and brings much value to both HR to the entire organisation.

HRHQ: What do you think the Future of Work is?

SF:Who knows!!! We have all experienced so much change in our ways of working in the last 3 years…. Being agile and focused on critical wins will certainly ensure we are well equipped to deal with any future challenges.

HRHQ: Many thanks Sinead for taking part and we wish you and the IMI the very best for the future.