Insight banner


A little bit about myself:

I grew up in Kilkenny the oldest of 5 so my leadership development started early!! I studied Law but realised leadership was more my scene and so progressed a career in HR from there. I have worked in a number of industry sectors including Retail, FMCG and Financial Services. Most recently I was the Chief People Officer for AIB. During my time at AIB, I was part of the Leadership team that led the transformational change across the business and returned the bank to profit, delivered the single biggest increase in employee engagement over a 2-year period of any Gallup client based in Europe.

Prior to that role, I was Group HR and Customer Director for RSA. In this role, I was responsible for the People Agenda across 30 countries worldwide. I was part of the Executive team that delivered consistent profits; 8% average annual growth in tough economic conditions. I built a strong, global, talented; highly engaged HR leadership team and achieved world-class employee engagement within 3 years as measured by Gallup. Under my leadership, RSA achieved 6th place in The Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to Work for in 2012 in the first year of entry.

Outside of work I am kept busy raising three young children and dog by the sea in Killiney. I attempt to keep myself grounded by pounding the pavements as a keen running enthusiast.

My tips on building a strong quality culture within this industry…

Culture starts with leadership in my view. It’s the tone that’s set from the top and the quality of the leaders at all levels in the business. Trust is a good indicator of how healthy the culture is in a business. According to a recent HBR article The Neuroscience of Trust by Paul J. Zak, studies have shown that compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfied with their lives, 40% less burnout.

There are many ways that leaders can build trust but the 3 most impactful ways are 1) recognize excellence. Catch people doing great work rather than dwell on what’s not working. Recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s specific, unexpected, personal, and public.

A second big tip is to share information broadly. Only 40% of employees report that they are well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics according to Gallup. When there is a void individuals and leaders fill it but often not with what the organization would want to have to circulate!

The third area is treating people as human beings, it sounds really obvious but somehow at work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends! Whereas the opposite is true a recent Google study found that managers who “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being” outperform others in the quality and quantity of their work.

My secret to driving change through challenging times…

I am one of those odd people who loves change! Having worked in roles that are about change for the last 20 years I have learnt not everybody likes change and I think how change is handled badly so often plays a large part in why. It’s critical to recognize where people are in relation to the change so any communication or development intervention connects with their reality. Then to build a compelling picture of where the organization is going that connects emotionally and inspires people to move in this new direction and create a clear sense of “what’s in it for me” – finally a sense of hope that the future is going to be better than the present and the past.

My secret to becoming a true partner to our clients…

It’s always about getting to know each other as human beings first and then having established relationships, it’s supporting and challenging them whether it’s as their HR Director or now as a consultant. Establishing a trusting relationship where they can see that I want is to help them to be successful. To do that I will be their biggest cheerleader but also voice those uncomfortable truths or offer feedback that others will often shy away from sharing.

The biggest challenge facing my industry today…

I think we are living in really interesting times and all sectors are facing huge changes as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

My particular passion for this revolution is helping organizations prepare for this very different future of work. I set up my consultancy business called Human Leadership because I believe that as we enter and embrace the digitally networked age, the need for human connection becomes more not less important. At Human Leadership, we help organisations with our award-winning engagement and communications expertise, to bring people through change in a world where deference is now dead. We help leaders figure out the best response to their challenges or changing market conditions. We help to build cracking HR teams, as they are so critical to building a high-performance culture and supporting transformational change.

The greatest opportunity available to our industry today is…

Our biggest opportunity is to get curious, embrace the changes that are coming and get ourselves ready for them. I think a quality we need to cultivate is learnability. In a world where the life cycle of skills will be shorter than ever before the more, we can keep our brains active and busy learning new things the better our chances of adapting to those changes. In the 2018 Manpower Report — Robots Need Not Apply: Human Solutions in the Skills Revolution —a very compelling argument is made that success of individuals in the future won’t be determined by what they know but by their capacity to learn. So, the big question to organisations is are you creating a culture of ‘We know it all’ or a culture of ‘We learn it all’?

My view on key concerns to look out for moving into 2019…

There is enormous macroeconomic uncertainty with Brexit and Trump etc. It’s very easy to get distracted by this and to focus purely on the short term. The short-term matters of course but we also must not allow it to distract us from imagining and building the organisations of the future. We have the opportunity to create organisations with multi-generations working side by side in workplaces that are agile, dynamic and where technology allows humans to make an even more meaningful impact in what they do. If you would like to learn more about what I do and why I do it, here is a link to my website and my latest blog about culture change in the digital age.

Articles by Lorraine Bolger