Noelle Burke, Director of Human Resources for RSA Insurance and, is Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for August.

Over her term, Noelle has worked across a number of sectors including Insurance and Technology. On her path to become Director of Human Resources at RSA Insurance and, Noelle has held human resources leadership positions with high profile companies including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Dawn Farm Foods and Golden Pages.

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

I’m originally from Dublin, from a small close-knit family. Married to my child-hood sweetheart Keith. My passions include learning, developing others and teamwork. I enjoy live gigs, travel and spending time with family and friends.

From a young age, our house was always filled with lots of different nationalities as my mum hosted students from all across the world. Ireland in the 1980’s wasn’t very diverse, so this gave me a unique window into different cultures, and a lot of learning into cultural differences, before I set off travelling the world after school.

I’ve always been surrounded strong by entrepreneurial role-models – my mum was hugely influential in my life, she instilled a strong work ethic and the importance of integrity as a core value. From a professional perspective, I was keen to start earning at a young age, so I set off to work at the age of 13. That’s when my commercial acumen kicked in – I enjoy working in the world of business and thrive on new challenges.

Throughout my life I’d credit my successes and learnings from the incredible mentors I’ve been fortunate to have – I really enjoy coaching others, and find huge joy in seeing others reach their potential. It’s such a privilege to be a people leader – having the opportunity to see others grow and develop, and tap into their strengths is hugely fulfilling to me. I’ve benefitted from having others believe in me – I’ve never been afraid to ask for help when I need it or to take a risk – both have paid dividends for me professionally and personally.

This is a really exciting time to work in HR – senior leaders are relying on HR professionals to help them build the right culture, with people at the very core of their strategy to create greater customer experiences.

One of my core beliefs is to treat others how you want to be treated. I truly believe in paying it forward, my work on the board with the incredible Multiple Sclerosis Ireland team is another opportunity for me to do this.

Q. Describe RSA Ireland?

I am proud to work for RSA Insurance, which is a multinational general insurance company headquartered in London. Today we employ around 23,000 employees serving 17million customers in over 140 countries. In Ireland, we are located in Dundrum, Galway and Belfast. We have circa 800 employees working in our three locations.

RSA has been on a cultural transformation journey for the past three years. Within that time the Executive Team have created a compelling strategy to be the best in class insurer by 2021. People and Customers are at the heart of that strategy.

Our values of boundless ambition, love simplicity, better every day and do the right, are core to how we operate, how we serve our customers and how we work together as a team with a common purpose.

Q. What do you see as the key challenges you face in your current role?

Like every other company talent attraction and retention are core. I see it as an opportunity for us to leverage our strong succession planning and offer great learning and development opportunities in an industry that is on the cusp of major disruption.

Q. What in your opinion are the key characteristics of your top performing people?

In my experience, top performing people consistently demonstrate three core characteristics:

1. The right attitude, 2. Being a team player and 3. The ability to embrace change, learn from their mistakes and move forward. For me, the right attitude trumps smarts every time. You can build skills and competencies in people but changing attitude is not always possible, and it’s not easy.

A great team player will collaborate and work with others to unlock potential and create collective brilliance.
When I was at Microsoft, I learned how impactful taking risks and adapting growth mind-set can be. As Ginny Rometty once said “growth and comfort cannot co-exist”.

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

My research suggests we will being seeing:

  • a major shift from employee engagement to employee experience
  • a continued evolution of digital HR, data and people analytics
  • a prevalence of short term and free-lance work with employees working with more than one employer at any given time.

These trends will radically change the way HR teams operate today.

Q. How important are health and wellbeing initiatives to employment strategy in your opinion?

Very Important! I truly believe that companies have a responsibility to look after employee health and wellbeing thereby creating an environment where there is genuine commitment from leaders across the business to champion positive employee wellbeing.

We encourage leaders at all levels to get themselves and their teams involved in our employee wellbeing initiatives which cater for greater physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The fantastic thing about our wellbeing programs is that it is being led by our own employees, whether that’s some of our qualified personal trainers, our yoga master, or our guided meditation champion. Our employee wellbeing program is going from strength to strength.

At this time of year, I strongly encourage managers to role model fully switching off from work while on summer leave. They need this to fully switch off and recharge their batteries, lead by example and allow others the chance to step up in their absence. Actually, most of our leaders have been doing really well disconnecting while on leave, strong succession has allowed this to happen.

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

Commercial acumen, customer focus, courage and a willingness to stick your neck on the line when others won’t be brave enough to do so.

Q. What keeps you motivated day to day?

I am a very positive person, I realise how fortunate I am to have a great HR team around me, a wide support network and some terrific mentors.   I am healthy and happy so what I do rarely feels like hard work because I love what I do.

Q. What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Being shortlisted for the Image Businesswoman of the Year in 2017 was a huge honour for me, but more so because it truly demonstrated the collaborative team efforts of the incredible teams I have worked with over the years.  It gave us a chance to go all out and celebrate our collective success.

Q. Who inspires you professionally?

I really admire people who challenge the status quo and who show courage to step outside of group thinking and take calculated risks. People who are lifelong learners, are resilient, show humility and empathy in how they engage with others and who aren’t looking for something in return.

I recently had the privilege to see Sinead Burke at an Enactus event in Dublin – I really admire how Sinead is challenging the fashion industry to think differently and to be more inclusive – she’s doing it with commercial savvy, educating the industry and she’s doing it with such passion; I absolutely love that. Sinead she is one of Ireland’s trailblazers, for anyone looking for inspiration, I’d recommend taking a look at one of her videos!

Q. How do you stay current?

I have an insatiable appetite to keep learning. I enjoy short, sharp bursts of learnings so TedTalks, LinkedIn articles and podcasts are ideal for me. I love learning from others whether attending a networking event, conference or hosting a panel discussion, I always come away having learned something new.

I find that if you keep asking questions, you will keep getting answers 🙂

Closing Comment:

Thank you to Noelle Burke for participating in our HR Leaders Series 2018.

About Principal Connections 

Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading retained executive search agency.

With offices Dublin and Galway, Ireland, 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.

Principal Connections is the Irish Arm of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, one the world’s largest and foremost Global Executive Search Organisations. Together with our colleagues across 55 Offices in 30 Countries, each year we complete in excess of 1300 Assignments within most Major Industries and Functional Areas.

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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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