Niamh Graham is Senior Vice President, Global Human Experience, at Workhuman, who for the past 20 years, have helped companies harness the power of their most valuable assets – their people.
We asked Niamh to share her thoughts on HR, her career and the challenges facing her and Workhuman.
HRHQ: Tell us about your career journey and what originally attracted you to a career in HR?
Niamh Graham: I did not actually start in the HR field! I studied International Marketing & Innovation in Trinity, then had a few roles in Sales, Marketing, and Operations, and even in the music business, before finally finding my home in HR. I am passionate about people and culture, and so I found a great match personally and professionally in HR.
HRHQ: What has been the most significant change in the HR world since you began your career?
NG: Business leaders are putting the human back into HR and see it now as a major strategic business goal as a result of the last few years – burnout, stress, disconnection, turnover, and productivity have all impacted and influenced how we think about HR now. Good news for us in HR!
HRHQ: What is the most important HR challenge facing you currently?
NG: Employee engagement is changing as we embrace new ways of working, new technologies, and new expectations from a social and demographic perspective. It’s more complex – and equally more rewarding – now than before and to overcome those challenges, we are focusing on the 5 Cs – culture, connection, celebration, collaboration, and community.
HRHQ: From an employee’s perspective, what does a great HR service mean?
NG: Exceptional employee experience! At Workhuman, we made the strategic and intentional decision to rebrand from Human Resources to Human Experience (HX), as we wanted our function to connect and reflect how we operate and how we think about our employees. They are central to our HX strategy at every stage of their journey with us. HX is embedded in the fabric of our culture as opposed to a function that only becomes involved when something goes wrong.
HRHQ: How should HR professionals design their career and how much can you realistically career plan?
NG: There are new emerging roles in HX – as well as new titles and new opportunities – across culture, experience, employee voice, people analytics, and more. Look at all the HX trends and the challenges of HR – that should be the focus when thinking about career planning – and very much thinking ahead of what could be next. Ask yourself: how is the world of work changing, and how are expectations changing? What worked before may not work in the future.
HRHQ: What advice would you give a person at the start of their HR career?
NG: Firstly, I think you should be passionate about people and culture as that drives so much satisfaction from a self-fulfilling perspective and also a customer perspective – in other words, the employees that you support. You need to be adaptable to change and diversity and be super agile in how you work, lead, and collaborate internally within HR and obviously with your customers – your employees. Making connections with colleagues and building trust with employees is hugely important as it means that everyone will ultimately get the most from the HR experience.
HRHQ: What soft skills do you believe are key to progressing your career?
NG: Communication and leadership styles filled with respect are key. For example, think about the DISC (dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness) communication model as a tool. This involves a blend of being results-driven, influential, fair, and consistent – all valuable characteristics – as well as being available, listening, understanding different mindsets, and being proactive. Also, having the ability to see the unseen and hear the unsaid is critically important.
HRHQ: What experiences should HR professionals try to get as they build up their CV?
NG: Personally, and across my team, we are lucky to be across all functions of the business; decision-making, investment, and strategic focus. Having – and insisting upon – that exposure is so important in HR, as you must be able to have an acute understanding of the business and how that is going to impact the people relying on you for support.
HRHQ: What are you most proud of in your career?
NG: There have been lots of moments – from Workhuman being named among the Top 10 Best Workplaces in Ireland for 10 years and being a Best Workplace for Women multiple years in a row, to seeing the company I joined when it was a start-up becoming a tech unicorn. And then there are all of those little, but significant, human moments where I have made a difference to our employees – as a colleague, as a leader, and as a working mother.
HRHQ: What is the best part of your job?
NG: Our people: getting to spend all of my time with a diverse group of people. I am fascinated by culture and diversity and, of course, being fully inclusive and creating a belonging workplace for our employees.
HRHQ: What do you think the Future of Work is?
NG: An explosion of new technology and new roles – and hopefully more focus on humans in our workplaces. They are the heartbeat of your culture and should be nurtured and developed. AI technology, for example, has rapidly emerged across all industries, and I believe it will have a positive impact in the workplace. It has the potential to make humans more strategic, automating tasks and allowing employees the time and ability to think bigger. AI can’t work without human input after all!
HRHQ: Many thanks Niamh for taking part and we wish you and Workhuman the very best for the future.