Q&A with Sandra Donohue, Chief People Officer, eir

HRHQ_Q&A Sandra Donohue, Chief People Officer, eir .

Sandra Donohue is Chief People Officer at eir, a leading provider of fibre broadband, TV and mobile services in Ireland with approximately 2 million customers.

We asked Sandra to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and eir.

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

Sandra Donohue: I have worked in HR for over 25 years, joining eir as Chief People Officer last year. My focus so far has been on shaping the people strategy to ensure our purpose of ‘Connecting for a Better Ireland’ comes to life in everything we do.

I lead a team of 30 and our collective responsibility is to deliver eir’s ambition through implementing a people and talent strategy that ensures that we attract, grow and develop the best talent and deliver a best in class employee experience for our colleagues across the business.

Prior to joining eir, I was the Human Resource Director with Diageo Ireland for 3 years.  Before that, I was Head of HR, Europe, and prior to that I held numerous Senior HR Business Partnering roles across a range of very different business units from Sales to Operations to Production and this has been a great foundation for career progression to my current role.

In my early career, I was keen to get as much experience as possible across as many different HR disciplines and I spent time in Change Management, Employee Relations, Reward and Benefits and HR Shared Services roles. I also led a number of major business transformation projects over the years. I hold an MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management, which I did as a part-time programme while working full time.

While I didn’t set out to pursue a career in HR initially, I feel very privileged to have found a career that offers me continuous growth and challenge in equal measure. I have always loved being in a role that enables me to contribute to business performance in such a dynamic way and I find it really rewarding to see the impact of my work translate into business results.

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

SD: The biggest shift that I have experienced over the course of my career was the evolution of HR to become a strategic business partnering function, with the introduction of Centres of Expertise and the move of the more operational functions to a shared service model. This was transformative in changing the nature of how we work in HR, liberating the HR business partnering team to be much more future-focussed, addressing the people and talent requirements that will ensure we can deliver on our future growth ambitions.

The next big transformation is happening right now. I’m excited by the role that generative AI will play in continuing to find more efficient and effective ways to support our people while freeing up capacity to focus on projects that drive business performance.

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

SD: The biggest challenge we face currently is that we are experiencing a shortage of diverse talent in many of our critical roles. We have great career opportunities to offer in eir, from early career apprenticeships and Graduate opportunities to professional roles across a range of business areas – the challenge is ensuring that we have a strong pipeline to continue to fill our business critical roles.

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

SD: Employees should expect brilliantly communicated and expertly tailored programmes that evolve to meet their changing needs as they progress in their career. Our aspiration is to anticipate the needs of our colleagues, whatever their role, location or life stage and ensure that we are providing them the right reward and benefits options and the most compelling personal and career development opportunities along the way.

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

SD: To achieve your greatest potential, it is important to always be clear on (a) what growth and learning you will achieve in your current role, (b) where you have gaps in your knowledge or experience, particularly external trends, and (c) you need to have a plan to address those gaps. Regardless of whether your aspiration is to remain at your current level or to progress to a more senior role, it is important to know that you are continuing to grow and develop so that your career continues to be as enriching and as fulfilling as it can be.

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

SD: I would encourage any HR professional to gain the broadest possible experience across all HR disciplines. Building a rich, diverse network ensures that any challenge you face can be viewed from as broad a range of perspectives as possible and it enables you to tap into the knowledge and experience of others to build the best possible solution.

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

SD: All leaders require great self-insight and strong emotional intelligence to be truly effective. I’d encourage any leader to seek feedback regularly to understand the strengths they have that they can harness to be at their most effective and also to be clear on the areas that have the potential to hold them back.

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

SD: Embrace opportunities to work on projects, particularly those with a commercial or operational lens and ideally as part of a cross-functional team. This will ensure a solid understanding of the business.  A great HR partner understands how the business works and that enables them to translate business strategy into actionable people and talent plans.

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

SD: I am most proud of the amazing team of talented professionals that I work with every day. Their passion and commitment inspires me to believe that we can achieve great things together.

HRHQ: What is the best part of your job?

SD: Supporting people to progress and flourish in their career is by far the best part of my role.

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