Everyone is a leader in different domains, whether it be work, family or community

With an avid interest in the work of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), following her own parents steadfast commitment to donating blood, a tradition that is now in its third generation in her family, Mary Cummins sat down with IBTS Human Resource Director, Idelle Hawkins for Leaders Insights
Everyone is a leader in different domains, whether it be work, family or community

Blood Transfusion Service HR Director Idelle Hawkins: Having a strategic and operational impact on our
service, and the development of our organisation, is what drives me.

Describing it as a great organisation to work in with “amazingly talented people”, Idelle has worked with the organisation for almost sixteen years. The statutory body, responsible for collecting, processing, testing, and distributing blood, and blood products in Ireland, the IBTS relies completely on the generosity of voluntary, non-remunerated donors, to ensure a consistent supply of blood and blood components for patients.

“Having a strategic and operational impact on our service, and the development of our organisation, is what drives me” said Ms Hawkins, a native of Tasmania, Australia. “The fact that we improve patients' lives provides me with a strong sense of purpose while supporting others to develop and thrive.” A qualified teacher, following the completion of her degree in Education, Idelle began travelling the world, a rite of passage for many Australians after university she said. 

Having held various roles in education, learning and development, hospitality, and travel, Ms Hawkins later moved to Ireland with her husband. Her first job was with the IBTS, and she has remained with them ever since, also completing a degree in Psychology and a Higher Diploma in Strategic Human Resource Management during this time. A mother of four children, Idelle was successful in being offered the position of HR Director in 2019.

A non-commercial, semi-state body, employing six hundred staff, and funded via the products and services issued to hospitals, Idelle describes one of the key successes of the organisation, as “sustaining the blood supply, which is at our core, and successfully navigating the challenges that Covid-19 presented our service with.” “We demonstrated a strong ability to be agile when faced with the challenges brought about by the pandemic. 

Our entire operating model was redesigned, as we needed to maintain our service, with changes being implemented at record speed. Our people adapted and demonstrated their commitment to our service and our donors.” “We are also very proud of our other IBTS activities, such as the Irish Unrelated Bone Marrow Registry (IUBMR), the Tissue Bank, and the re-establishment of the Irish Eye Bank, said Ms Hawkins. Establishing a Research & Development function and driving an innovative research agenda has also been hugely satisfying”, she added.

Idelle is also proud of their gender balanced Board, and Executive management team.

On querying the key challenges for the organisation, Ms Hawkins responded: “Navigating the return to the workplace through a hybrid model was indeed challenging.” She also refers to ‘The Great Resignation’, and reported that talent retention is now at the top of their people and culture agenda.

Reflecting on the changes to the role of the HR Leader in recent years, Ms Hawkins said: “HR has moved from a traditionally process driven approach to a strategic partner, and enabler of organisation development. Even the language itself has shifted from HR to People and Culture.

"Now, HR leaders enable the co-creation of HR policies and procedures in a more agile way, allowing for experimentation and continuous improvement, rather than a one size fits all approach. Employee wellbeing is at the forefront as we transition to a post pandemic way of working. Empathetic leadership is key, with open, transparent communication being a critical success factor for any HR/people and Culture Leader.

 “Technology has allowed HR to move beyond process driven, operational/transactional HR, to driving value within an organisation. Automation of processes has freed up the human resource and paved the way for human resources to add and create value, and partner with the service to enable really positive change.” 

Mary Cummins: Career and executive coach, trainer, facilitator and proprietor of Careerchanger.ie.
Mary Cummins: Career and executive coach, trainer, facilitator and proprietor of Careerchanger.ie.

Discussing the critical skills in today's world of work, Ms Hawkins stresses the importance of Emotional intelligence and a growth mindset. Collaboration, innovation, and agility are also essential, she added.

Referring to recent legislation such as the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect, Ms Hawkins stated: “The world of work has changed profoundly over recent years. Technological advances mean that we are always contactable and accessible. Where, when, and how we work continues to change at an accelerating pace.

"Employers and employees are experiencing both challenges and benefits arising from new ways of working including remote and flexible working arrangements, which encapsulates how long, where, and at what times employees work as well as the location of where work gets done.” 

On concluding the interview and asking Ms Hawkins what attributes have contributed to her success, she credits much of it to the support of sponsors and mentors, continuous learning, and the support of family.

“Motivation and a passion for people and organisations to develop. Collaboration and co-creation. Leaders do not operate in isolation. For me, it’s the strength of the team that I work with that enables success.

“Everyone is a leader in different domains, work, family, and community. If you are motivated, committed, willing to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone, anything is possible”, she concluded.

Mary Cummins is a Career and Executive Coach, Trainer and Facilitator and Proprietor of Careerchanger.ie. She can be contacted via her website or by e-mail: Info@careerchanger.ie

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