“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we are chatting with Paul O’Beirne, CEO of Orca HR Solutions, a firm that helps companies build great teams and leaders. He shares his secrets (still used by leaders like Satya Nadella) on how empathy drives success.
Why Orca HR Solutions?
We’re passionate about improving organization productivity, especially when the business landscape is changing dramatically, whether it’s due to organic growth or drastic changes due to the impact of COVID. We support organizations to fully appreciate their individual team members as whole persons, including their work and home lives. Our research-backed methodology deepens our clients’ understanding of human behavior and its impact on workplace culture and performance. Improving empathy is critical to effective and impactful leadership because employees need to feel that their employers care. To learn empathy, you first have to be open to learning about yourself. By giving teams a better self-awareness of areas, including emotional intelligence, we help them communicate more effectively and grow more successfully.
Our team comprises former leaders from Microsoft, Amazon, Space Between and Trover (acquired by Expedia). We’ve gone through the same types of challenges as our customers and bring best-of-breed practices surrounding behavioural insight to hundreds of leaders and team members. These empathic insights have improved productivity to thousands of people within their organizations. We pride ourselves on driving acuity, actualization and awesomeness for our clients.
My 25-year Microsoft career started in Ireland during its startup phase as the HR Manager, which I grew from 11 people to 1600. I later transferred to the US to support Microsoft’s senior leaders, including Satya Nadella (then GM of Business Solutions Development), Bob Herbold (former Chief Operating Officer), Craig Mundie (former Chief Technology Officer), Orlando Ayala (former President of Sales), initially with global accountability for 5000 people across 16 different divisions. I realized many people and organizations often don’t know what they don’t know, such as how demonstrable caring can positively and hugely impact employee engagement. Simply raising awareness of possibilities that could lay ahead for them could help them be more effective than they ever thought possible. Exposure to these experiences motivated and prepared me for the work we do today.
Wouldn’t a long-running career at Microsoft be considered a reasonably elite endeavor, not accessible or applicable to most firms?
Perhaps, but I didn’t start there. I’ve worked in a pretty humbling variety of roles, including hospitality, retail, farming, and industrial. I can remember as a child of 7 the excitement and pride of spending my weekends delivering milk and bread across the community. Throughout high school and college, I supported myself by picking grapes in the vineyards of France, washing dishes on a cruise ship in Germany and cleaning hospitals in Chicago.
These experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life; they made me realize how important every role is to the success of an organization. It honed my skills of building relationships, developing a strong work ethic and empathy for others that serve our clients well.
What is the most common mistake most companies make when it comes to HR?
Selecting the right talent. Honestly, selection starts well before the interview. In our global knowledge economy, the only real source of competitive advantage lies in recruiting and developing the best talent. As the famous management author Jim Collins notes, “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who’. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.“
We help our clients get people in the “right seats.” The first step is to align the key stakeholders on the roles, key competencies, motivators, responsibilities and expected outcomes of the job. Only then do we evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role and company culture. This approach reduces the cost for the company by reducing the amount of time to hire and decreasing the cost of turnover due to poor role fit. Using the assessments as part of the on-boarding process also can help leaders have a great empathic understanding of a new team member’s strengths, opportunities and preferred behaviors.
What lessons have you since learned in HR that you wish you had learned sooner in your career?
1. Create the conditions for people to discover and own the solution (rather than telling people what to do). It’s better to teach people how to fish than fishing for them; this can be done through empathetic listening, powerful questions, creating a shared reality and alignment on accountability.
2. Be more mindful. Just a few easy tweaks can help your team stay focused on objectives, execute better and celebrate notable achievements, not to mention breed positivity. For example, I like to recap each Friday by reflecting on what my “key wins” were for that week and what my main priorities are for the coming week. Before each meeting, our team participates in a short 1-2 minute mindfulness breathing exercise. After the meeting, we do a gratitude check-out.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Vulnerability is the root of authentic social connection. Many of us who are high achievers are reluctant to ask for help and can see it as a weakness if we do. Recognizing your weaknesses and bringing in complementary skills will help accelerate your business. Once identified, it’s easier to determine the next milestone in your continuing development.
Who are your biggest fans?
Our clients. We’ve had the privilege of supporting the folks at Nordstrom, Avalara, Aptio, Premera, and even larger firms like Microsoft and Micron Technologies. Most of our growth has come from organic referrals and partners. Because of the impact of our engagements and assessments on the effectiveness of leadership and increased productivity of teams, we’ve received numerous referrals from both internal and external clients.
How do you give back to the community?
NE brings brain-based teaching into schools, and I currently serve on their Board of Directors, helping them build their business. NE is about using a neural lens to positively affect our education deficiencies. We accomplish this by giving teachers tools and practices that align with how the brain works according to scientific research which affects how children learn.
When the founder, Kieran O’Mahony, and I met, we immediately found a common passion. Kieran and his entire life’s work have been developing these brain-based educational programs. NE is focused on preparing teachers to bring these empathic principles into the classroom. We have been holding many workshops in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. We’ve impacted 40,000 teachers and 1 million students across the US. The plan is to take the initiative globally. Recently, we’ve started working with schools in Africa and India.
ACS initiatives are dear to my heart. I lost my mother to cancer and have many friends who are survivors. A colleague had asked if I would serve as a Pink Ambassador and I couldn’t have been more delighted or honored to help. I dressed in pink for a whole month to raise awareness. We were able to collect $4000 and a few laughs. The members of ACS are an incredibly caring group who have great empathy for people and their families who have been impacted by Cancer.
When all is said and done, what do you hope to accomplish with Orca HR Solutions?
We want to enable everyone to create their most desirable, impactful future.
Orca HR Solutions is a preferred partner on Beaze.