Executive Search Firm, Principal Connections announce Caroline Collins as HR Leader of the Month for September 2021


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Q. THE CAREER & THE PERSON Describe your career journey and tell us about Caroline Collins the person?

The Career
When I was a kid, the plan was to be a lawyer – maybe a forewarning about my interest in employment law, that or too much time spent with my grandad watching Perry Mason re-runs! In the end, I pursued a BSc in Psychology and a Doctorate in culture change – always with a focus on how to leverage these in business. My interest and passion has always been on how best to enable people fulfil the potential of their talent in support of strategic and commercial success.

When I started almost 20 years ago, “culture” wasn’t something top of mind in the HR world, neither was people experience or organisational design. I was hard to “place” in the profession at the start but I was lucky enough to work with some great multinational and blue-chip companies across the pharmaceutical, tech, medical devices, start-up and financial services sectors both in house and in consultancy roles. I was supported to bring the cultural perspective and “people strategy” to the table and over time, as HR 3.0 has evolved, it’s come into its own. What’s striking is that across these very different companies, the very best of the best have a strategic and commercially focused approach to HR – it’s right there as a partner at the table as strategy is developed and implemented.

The Person
I’ve lived and worked in a lot of different places, at one point making seven moves in five years – I was an absolute expert at packing and logistics! I now live by the sea in Glenageary and make the most of it – I’m one of the people who gets in through the winter and did the “Dry Robe thing” before it was a fashion statement! I’m passionate about what I do and, having felt the personal benefit of mentoring and coaching throughout my career, I’m dedicated to developing women in leadership and ensuing we retain key talent in the workforce.

I also volunteer with STEM with start-up businesses – particularly those with a focus on Gen Z as they look forward and plan their careers. Bringing expertise to bear in this way is something I’d like to do more of in a mentoring capacity or at Board level. In my downtime, I love Scandiwegian/noir writing and I’m a total coffee addict so post-pandemic I’m looking forward to being able to hang out with a good book and strong coffee in a nice café again!

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current organisation?

Nanosonics works at the cutting edge of infection prevention. On any given day, globally, some 90,000 patients are safer and have an improved outcome because of the high-level decontamination process our device and approach provides. We are headquartered in Sydney, Australia and operate across N America, APAC and EMEA. Our mission is informed by the fact that preventable infections are exactly that – preventable.

Despite that, the healthcare system is often forced to spend time and resources dealing with outbreaks of preventable infections which diminish a patient’s quality of care and undermine a healthcare professional’s capacity to provide the highest possible standard of care. For this reason, Nanosonics constantly pursues breakthrough innovations with the potential to transform infection prevention. Our vision is to provide fail-safe infection prevention solutions that protect not only an institution’s quality of care, but more importantly the lives of those they treat. We pioneer ground-breaking technologies to prevent life-altering infections and set new standards that redefine best practice.

Q. THE CHALLENGES What do you see as the most important challenges facing HR Leaders today?

Pre-pandemic strategic HR was already facing the challenge of moving into the HR 3.0 space where we could really focus on delivering agile consultancy to business, innovate and problem-solve as a key part of an organisation and be the “home” of meaningful data insights that inform people strategy. Culture always had a place in that but even more so post-pandemic. For me, culture will be make or break post-Covid, and a design-thinking approach to how we bring organisational cultures to life in an impactful way is vital.

I feel that we’ve heard so much about the “future of work” over the last number of years but in so many ways it’s been theoretical. Now, as we look towards planning future hybrid working models; face increasing challenges around attracting and retaining the very best talent; and ensuring we really deliver diverse workplaces (along with the considerable commercial benefits that brings) we have a massive opportunity to radically transform the world of work. My concern – and the biggest challenge – is that so much of the focus and narrative has already shifted back to the “old. normal” and getting people back into offices that we risk losing the significant potential benefits Covid taught us about what work and productivity mean in 2021.

I’m lucky in that I lead EMEA HR for a progressive organisation and have accountability for how we develop our culture. But more widely, I think the challenge is how we make sure HR continues to build future-fit leadership capabilities that serve in this new world of work. Emotional intelligence, flexibility in approach, real authenticity and a passion for employee experience is something we must continue to cultivate across all levels of the organisations we work in.

Q. THE ADVANCES What do you believe the biggest advances in human resources will be over the next five years?

Adaptability will be our greatest advance. Ensuring that we, as a profession, continue to evolve to add value and be present in strategic planning and commercial delivery is a huge area of opportunity. Our ability to reimagine every aspect of work, build in resilience and adaptable problem-solving, and act as a commercially savvy advisor to business is where we can really deliver. The role I have now – with a focus on People & Culture, rather than “HR” – didn’t exist three or five years ago. That cycle is increasing pace. The roles we will all have in another three years will look radically different again, and I believe and that’s no bad thing.

Millennials are now in middle management, the promise of AI and automation are beginning to be realised, and the need to work locally but within increasingly global / networked structures all mean we need to continue to evolve strategically and in our thinking and mindsets. We need to be as adaptable as the organisations we work for and sometimes, need to be the drives of that growth and change. I think this is a very exciting time to work in HR. Can you tell I love what I do?

Q. THE ADVICE What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

“Get as much learning as you can and don’t stop” said my grandad, who was a very wise man! I don’t believe any of us are ever “fully baked” as professionals. That sense of being constantly curious, of wanting to critically evaluate and be creative is – to me – the modern-day professional equivalent of a pension. Learning whether through education or experience (and ideally both) is “money in the bank” in terms of personal fulfilment and employability.

Q. THE MOTIVATION What keeps you motivated day to day?

I try to regularly ask myself the questions ‘if I left my job tomorrow, what have I left behind me?’. What programs, initiatives and progressive achievements remain after I have left? What artefacts or evidence exists that I ever worked here?’. Regularly asking myself those questions ensures I never get too comfortable.

Q. THE ACHIEVEMENT What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

I’m incredibly competitive and ambitious – I take it personally that a business I work with succeeds. I show up every day and want to be part of the commercial side with the leadership team and see the enablement of the business towards those achievements as a key responsibility. I’m very lucky with my current senior leadership team – we have open debate; we challenge each other and have a real focus on how to solve problems and improve the quality of patient care. That’s very special to be part of so it’s a great team in a business that does good. That gets me over any hump that three timezones and pandemic working might bring!

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I’m inspired by the trailblazers, women who have gone before me and as senior leaders created a path towards seniority for women and ensured we got to that “seat at the table” and could realise our potential. Brid Horan, Michelle Cullen, Dearbhail McDonald, Anne Heraty, Margot Slattery, Anita Sands and so many more have not only inspired me, but many have gone on to become good friends and sounding-boards. It’s only by seeing role models in action that possibilities become tangible go-afters.  

Q. THE PANDEMIC Describe how you have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic personally and professionally?

The pandemic and lockdown in particular was a strange time – for everyone indeed. The year prior to Covid saw me lose my partner in a very sudden accident so in a short space of time life went from being my version of “normal” to an entirely different reality. His death brought a very new kind of perspective on life, work and the importance of ensuring that what you give time and energy to really is the important stuff, has meaning and makes a positive impact. That’s the perspective I brought with me into lockdown and which served me well.

Working through the various lockdowns brought its own challenges and opportunities and on reflection, I’d say more good than bad will come from it. What stands out from the first lockdown that we went through at Nanosonics was the massively positive energy in making sure everyone got up and running and was enabled from home. Whether it was giving flat-pack advice or being the informal “IT hotline” here was a real team spirit which was great to be part of – I couldn’t have been prouder of my team.

Q. THE STAYING CURRENT How do you stay up to date?

I read a lot especially around the latest research and best practice in HR. I also love networking. I don’t mean the old-school (often awkward) exchange of business cards but having quality conversations with peers and experts. Getting to know people, understanding what makes them tick and learning about different ways of doing things – there’s unique value in that.

I’m part of a number of online networking groups and find LinkedIn a really useful platform. CIPD continues to be a good resource especially looking at EMEA-wide working. I’m looking forward to getting back to some in-person events as soon as that’s possible again.

Q. THE DOWNTIME Tell us about your interests and how you relax?

Anywhere West of the Shannon improves life exponentially so I’m the one you’ll see making a break for Galway or Mayo to get back to those roots and get some time with big skies, the Atlantic and some mountains to hike which allows me to re-group and refresh!

CLOSING COMMENT:

Congratulations to Caroline Collins on being named Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month’ for September 2021.

ABOUT NANOSONICS

Nanosonics is an Australian infection prevention company that has successfully developed and commercialised a unique automated disinfection technology, trophon®, representing the first major innovation in high level disinfection for ultrasound probes in more than 20 years. trophon is fast becoming the global standard of care for ultrasound probe disinfection.

ABOUT PRINCIPAL CONNECTIONS

Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading executive search firm and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group. We offer five interrelated senior resourcing and advisory services to private, public and not-for-profit organisations across Ireland which include:

  • Executive Search
  • Board Search
  • Advertised Selection
  • Interim Management
  • Leadership Consulting & Assessment

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Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading Executive Search Firm and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide LLC.

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