John McPhillips, Group HR Director, Bon Secours Health System is Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for November 2018.

Following a very impressive academic career, John has held some of the most significant HR roles within the Irish Health System over the past 30 years. John’s early career was spent working in the Health Service Executive. He then went on to assume the post of HR Director with Inland Fisheries Ireland and subsequently the post of HR Director with St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group. Today John is the Group HR Director for the Bons Secours Health System.

This month we spoke with John, read what he had to say. 

Q. Tell us a little bit about John McPhilips the person, and of course, the professional?

While a native of the ‘Farney County’, I moved to Dublin at an early age for College and Professional Opportunities. I studied HR and Industrial Relations at the NCI, before pursuing an MBA at Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow. In more recent years, I became an accredited Workplace Mediator through the MII, which gave me an enhanced perspective on Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Prior to joining the Bons two years ago, I was HR Director for St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and before that, I held Senior HR/IR roles in the Semi-State sector and in the Health Service.

Throughout my career, I have lead the development of highly professional HR functions, providing a Strategic and ‘Value Added’ service to its customers. I have thoroughly enjoyed leading and delivering Organisational Change and Development Programmes, which have contributed to a High Performance Culture being embedded and sustained.

On a personal level, family time of course is precious. When the opportunity presents, I enjoy ‘experimenting in the culinary department’, with the odd glass of red or white!

Q. Describe your company?

As Ireland’s largest independent hospital group, Bon Secours Health System is renowned for the quality of its service provision coupled with a rich tradition in healthcare. Bon Secours Health System is a not for profit organisation and its mission is centred on providing compassionate, world-class medical treatment to all those it serves.

Bon Secours Health System incorporates five modern acute hospitals in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Tralee together with a Care Village in Cork and a Cavan Outreach Consultants Clinic. With over 3,000 staff, 926 beds, 450 leading consultants, the Hospital Group treats approximately 280,000 patients a year.

The Bon Secours Health System is internationally accredited by the Joint Commission International Accreditation Standards for Hospitals (JCI), the leading organisation in the International Accreditation of Hospitals for quality of care and patient safety. The Group is currently investing €150m in capital development in all its hospitals, as part of its ambitious 2020 Plan in an effort to enhance Advanced Medicine Exceptional Care across all its hospital sites in Ireland.

Q. What do you see as the key challenges facing Human Resources Directors today?

I believe one of the key challenges for HR, particularly in today’s competitive market, is to be an Employer of choice, which can attract, develop, engage, recognise and retain the best talent.

In recognition of this key challenge and to differentiate ourselves, the Bon Secours launched its People Strategy, “Strength through People” 2017-2020, as part of our Corporate Strategy – “The 2020 Plan”. This People Strategy was the culmination of a long process of self-assessment, engagement and reflection. Our ambitious 2020 Plan and the feedback from our staff survey provided a launching point for developing our People Strategy. What we’ve created is a commitment to do better for our people and a roadmap for how we can become a healthcare provider and employer of choice.

One of the things that makes our approach unique is that we are an organisation driven strongly by our Mission Vision and Values. Caring for patients, families and communities is an integral part of our identity and our People Strategy was developed with a view to preserving and further developing this part of our identity. Our tagline is Advanced Medicine Exceptional Care. We have over 3,000 exceptional staff who deliver exceptional care to our patients daily.

Q. What in your opinion are the key characteristics of the top performing people you have worked with?

Such key characteristics for me include Vision, Passion, Determination and a Belief in the Power of People to make a real difference.

At Bon Secours, we continuously seek enthusiastic, self-motivated employees, with a passion to make a difference. Our employees embody the Bons values of respect, justice, integrity, stewardship, innovation, compassion and quality and are what make our ‘outstanding people’.

Such values empower us all to achieve our very best for the patients we serve. Whether you are looking to start, build, or change your career in the BSHS, you can expect to work with teams of talented and passionate individuals in a modern, professional and friendly working environment.

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

Company Culture will become even more significant, with drivers like the Generation Gap and how a particular Organisation responds to this. Different factors and offerings have relevance across the different Generations X,Y,Z etc. In relation to compensation & benefits, lifestyle incentives such as working from home and flexible working hours will become more important. In some instances a shift from individual to team to company performance bonuses will require focus. Digitilisation will be a very important driver for cultural change. Agility and the ability for employees to embrace change will be key.

HR will become fully digital, not only in terms of applications and technology, but in the way big data is used to understand the workforce, provide staff with the technology solutions and business models for them to succeed in better performing their jobs. HR will need to build an understanding and vision of what people analytics should look like and how to prepare for it. HR will collaborate to a greater extent with external providers both for hiring talent and outsourcing transactional activities, meaning HR’s role as an Excellence Centre will strengthen significantly.

With this in mind, HR will have a Strategic role to play in the learning agenda, specifically bridging the soft skills gap for different generations, embracing technology appropriately as opposed to it dictating and emotional intelligent leadership. All key in the war to attract and retain the top talent. Exciting times ahead, where HR willl be centre stage.

Q. How important are health and well-being initiatives to employment strategy in your opinion?

They are important in any modern organisation and in my view, they have a particular importance for those working in a Healthcare setting, given the emotional and demanding aspects of the job.

We have done a considerable amount of work to date to ensure we look after the health and wellbeing of our staff and are committed to caring for them through our Occupational Health facilities, Health Screening, Employee Assistance Programmes, Stress Management Support – Mindfulness training, Wellbeing Promotions e.g. staff Mindfulness, Pilates and yoga programmes.

Part of our People Strategy commits us to developing a Group wide Wellness Strategy, which is currently a work in progress, and for completion this year. One of the key areas being considered in the strategy, is the pursuit of the KeepWell Mark accreditation, being rolled out by IBEC. Roll on!

Q. In your opinion what is required to have a top career as a Human Resources Director?

In my opinion, Vision and Leadership are key requirements to ensure that a HRD can provide strategic value to the business and there is full alignment to the Corporate Direction of Travel. Experience across all aspects of HR is also key, so one has credibility and a track record as a well-rounded professional who can lead HR into the future. Strong personal qualities such as trust, integrity, empathy and a ‘special attitude’ determined to make a difference for People are also paramount.

Ultimately the HR Director must be in true touch with the People of the organisation, what’s really going on and what is best to balance the needs of both the organisation and its workforce, so that it succeeds in the current competitive environment.

Q. What keeps you motivated day to day?

The fact that I’m making a real difference! The people around me and the HR Team I work with, inspire me to do better.

Our tag line in the Bons is to “Deliver Advanced Medicine Exceptional Care”. This can only be delivered by Outstanding People. A Strategic approach to People Management which is interconnected to Line Management Practices creates enhanced employee satisfaction, motivation and commitment and in turn leads to a high performance culture. Ultimately we are all here to deliver better outcomes for our patients.

        Q. What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I implemented a new HR Delivery Model during my time spent at St Vincent’s University Hospital, which provided a new service offering to the entire Workforce as part of a new HR Strategy. This was subsequently redefined and reconfigured in our Second HR Strategy, to align with a new Clinical Directorate Model and the HR Directorate was evident in leading this internal change to be more strategically and operationally responsive and aligned to the emerging business and clinical needs.

Since joining the Bon Secours in November 2016, the development of a new People Strategy and the commencement of the implementation journey has been hugely exciting and rewarding. It reflects both HR ‘best practice’ and our specific organisational needs and will definitively improve our employee lifecycle, encourage regular meaningful engagement, facilitate our employees in growing to their full potential. The HR Function is being redefined and refocused to facilitate the delivery of the Strategy, which has its benefits and its challenges, but represents a key ingredient in this change management initiative. I am looking forward to what lies ahead in delivering real and tangible benefits for our staff.

Q. Who inspires you professionally?

I joined the Bons because I knew the Vision, Passion and Determination of my Current Group CEO, Bill Maher, who had joined the Bon Secours at the end of 2015 and shaped the new 2020 Plan, with a key focus on its Outstanding People to drive its success. His Leadership, Track Record for Delivery and Value of People impressed and attracted me.

In a wider context, Richard Branson is a business magnate who recognises the true value of people in a successful business. He has an inspirational and practical approach to Business and People. Richard has many Books and famous quotes, but this one always comes out on top for me…..”Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to” Don’t we know it.

The late Stephen Covey was an educator, author and businessman who had great wisdom and common sense. His 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are testament to that. “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human Journey”. I also enjoy the follow up stuff by his son Stephen Covey Junior, who is also very charismatic and focused on current drivers, relevant to us all, when he focuses on the “The Speed of Trust” – Brilliant!

Q. How do you stay current?

I stay current by reading current professional journals, articles and attending networking events organised by CIPD, IBEC, MII etc. and Conferences, where possible with agendas relevant to the current challenges and opportunities in the People Management Business. I follow a number of academics and leading HR Practitioners on LinkedIn which provide very interesting and some new perspectives.

It’s great to talk to People in the Business who are happy to share their experiences and talk to you about the learning and its applicability in another organisation. “It’s a school day, everyday we go to work”…. Is my attitude. The day we stop learning is the day we are going backwards!

Closing Comment:

Thank you to John McPhillips for participating in our HR Leaders Series 2018.


About Principal Connections 

Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading global headhunting firms with office locations in Dublin and Galway.

Principal Connections partners with Large Multinational Corporations, Small to Medium Enterprises, Start-up and Family Owned Businesses, Not-For-Profit, Semi-State and Public-Sector Bodies in the identification, assessment, evaluation, and recruitment of key Management, Executive and Specialist leadership talent.

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