Q&A with Oisin O’Gogain, People Director – Ireland, Nordic Region & Wealth, EMEA at Aon

HRHQ_Q&A_O O'G Aon 1

Like many HR Executives, Oisin O’Gogain’s role at Aon is comprised of several parts:

  • Chief People Officer for Aon in Ireland and the Nordic Countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland)
  • EMEA People Integration Lead (eg Anti-trust, M&A, integration activities across Europe)
  • Strategic Advisor to Executives in Global, Regional and Domestic Leadership teams, with specific focus on transformation and change.

He has served in several roles both nationally and internationally; delivering Aon’s expansive and diverse people agenda with particular emphasis on Culture & Change, Talent Management, Organisation Design and Integration. Oisin provides advice and guidance on people related business issues across a global matrix of solution lines and businesses, identifying strategies and solutions to assist Aon’s businesses in achieving their performance objectives. He leads a team of expert HR professionals who span multiple countries and specialisms who share a common objective of helping Aon’s colleagues help their clients to make better decisions.

Last year Aon celebrated 100 years of serving clients in Ireland. From their origins as a Dublin based insurance broker, MacDonagh & Boland Ltd, their company grew and transformed over the decades into a highly successful global professional services firm supporting a diverse range of businesses in Ireland and across the world.

We asked Oisin to share his thoughts on HR, his career and the challenges facing him and Aon.

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

Oisin O’Gogain: I am naturally quite extroverted and like being busy. That has certainly played a factor in my choice of career.

In secondary school I studied business and economics – leading me to study Business in Dublin City University – where I later specialised in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management. Across the wide range of subjects in the business course, it was very clear to me that my interest lay in the HR related subjects. Whilst helpful to know about strategy, finance etc. I only found their relevance in my later career.

My early HR career followed what at the time was a traditional career trajectory – HR administrator, to Generalist, to Business Partner leading to HR Directorship.

When I joined Aon (a global firm of 50,000) in 2012 things changed. I was presented with opportunities to take on multi country and global HR responsibilities which gave me with an entirely new perspective on the important role the HR function plays. I acquired new skills in roles that spanned all HR disciplines such as reward, culture and change, talent development, talent acquisition and employee relations– nurtured by incredibly generous and expert HR and business leaders. I have spent a significant amount of time working in other countries, notably the Nordic region and Chicago where I lived in 2018.

In recent years I have been fortunate to lead a team for the sub-region for Nordics and Ireland, along with our Wealth professionals across Europe. In addition, I have been an HR Lead for EMEA on what was to be the largest ever acquisition in our industry globally.

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

O O’G: The advancement of technology as an enabler to people and HR related activity has been remarkable. Employee self-service and manager self-service for transactional activities has become standardised in large organisations, enabling HR professionals to add value in ways that time did not previously always allow for.

Advancements in the sophistication of how we work have required our profession to be expert not only in the activation of people plans, but the creators, curators and leaders of them. That has resulted in HR professionals acquiring a new and broadened remit at the leadership table. Recognising that, at Aon we have evolved from HR to the People Organisation – a title I believe is far more fitting to the nature of our work.

Needless to say, the pandemic has presented us with many challenges, not least a realisation that we must find ways to bring work to people and not fixate with bringing people to workplaces.

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

O O’G: Inclusion and diversity is an intractable problem that spans generations. Designing for and delivering upon diversity goals is an ongoing challenge in the world of HR. As the working world has shifted in favour of employees being key stakeholders, who rightly expect us to deliver a diverse and inclusive place of work, this agenda is an important feature on my work slate. At Aon we do not count heads, we make heads count.

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

O O’G: Think about your career as a bucket of experiences, add to it as frequently as possible. In doing so, expose yourself to new situations, particularly opportunities to work with great leaders. They will help build your commercial acumen and challenge you to see situations from multiple perspectives which will enable you to bring HR skills to life.

As a method of tracking your personal development, I favour keeping a live cv; somewhere to document what you’ve learned and a place to set out what you want to achieve next.

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

O O’G: I think this can be summed up with the following quote; the more I train, the luckier I get!

In your early career it is important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Like I said above, add to the bucket and keep going.

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

O O’G: I don’t think about or classify skills in the context of soft or hard, in a role as generalist in nature as Human Resources, a blend of skills is necessary. I believe successful HR professionals are typified by more practical skills of communicating complexity in a fact-based manner, exercising objectivity, commercial acumen and importantly, always operating with integrity/fairness to the fore. As advocates for the human and people part of our business we must understand, represent and be human! People with high interpersonal skills are intuitively good communicators and efficient managers, and that type of person can thrive as an HR professional.

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

O O’G: I increasingly have found experiences in change, transformation and project management (of any scale) provides some of the best learning and growth opportunities.

Any experience that makes you see a situation, or challenge, from multiple perspectives is very helpful. Overlay this with the ability to be objective and to effectively apply core HR disciplines for a winning formula.

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

O O’G: Over my career I have worked with and learned from so many who have been generous with their time. I am most proud of the people I have around me, the team. It is fascinating to see how we collectively improve in our skills and support the business through helping each other. More recently, I have joined the board of a fantastic charity, Make-A-Wish Ireland, this has presented me with the opportunity to utilise my experience in another context which has been hugely rewarding.

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

O O’G: I would like to think the world of work will continue to trend towards being increasingly human centric in terms of how and where people work. Talent models are evolving and being redefined to reflect our increasingly distributed workforces, where output takes priority over where work is performed, and where workplace resilience underpins an organisations openness to providing flexibility.

Remote working has provided opportunities to ignite transformational change across organisations helping them to adapt for the future of work and fuel future growth. I expect we will see lots of more this in years to come.

Very noticeably, the S in ESG is hugely important to all current and prospective talent joining any firm and that too will refocus minds on the value of purpose led culture. All that in addition to the inevitable rise of automation, technology improvements and more reliable communication channels.

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