In 2006, Senior Business Analyst, Carol Butler joined Abtran as part of our HR and Quality team. Over the past twelve years, she has played a central role in driving some of the company’s most transformative change programmes. In this inspiring account of her career journey so far, Carol reveals how achieving success is often about taking the initiative and simply going for it.
If someone had told me way back in 2006 that I’d still be working at Abtran, I’m not sure I’d have believed them. I think it’s a real testament to the people and the range of opportunities that I’m still here twelve years on.
I first joined Abtran as Training and Development Lead. My background is in HR and Learning and Development, and I came to Abtran CIPD-qualified in both disciplines, so my first role was a great opportunity to marry the two.
At the time the business wanted to take what was essentially a traditional Quality function and develop the Learning and Development piece into an independent and fully-fledged programme that would benefit the whole company. Back then, the training function was very much about ‘this is what you need to know to do your job’, so a big part of my role was about preparing the groundwork for that fundamental shift to an employee development mindset, while the specific job training element would sit independently within the Operation.
When I look at L&D today, I think it’s phenomenal what the team has achieved and how far they’ve taken it. I’m also really proud to have been part of kick-starting what was essentially a sea-change in the company’s whole approach to learning and development. For me, it represented a real shift in thinking at the time and an emphasis on the value of learning to help our people reach for more and aspire to more within the company.
From my initial role in kick-starting L&D outside the Quality function, I then moved back into the HR team. At the time, Abtran was applying for ISO Certification and, as I had delivered all the policies, process maps and documentation for a previous employer’s ISO certification, I put my hand up to support the HR stream of the project. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love the ‘bones’ of the work and particularly enjoy analysing and improving things. In many ways, I consider this period as one of my most rewarding times at Abtran because it created the ‘perfect storm’ of everything I love to do.
Setting new standards
I’ve always been drawn to anything that involves writing, particularly technical writing and instructional design, and I also love working with the likes of Visio and Excel, so I thrived on this type of work. It was the perfect marriage of getting stuck into the depths of legislation, crafting new documentation, developing supporting training material, reporting on outputs and manging the communications piece to deliver it all.
In true Abtran style, everything gathered momentum very quickly. When we went on to achieve our ISO Certification, I remember the external Consultant remarking how we’d managed to complete in six weeks what it typically takes six months to achieve!
While the whole project was a real whirlwind of activity, it was also a fantastic learning experience, and it also complemented other work streams I was leading, from getting the Employee Forum up and running to delivering new streams of reporting that we’d never run before and managing the Balanced Scorecard.
Migrating the HR nest
By 2012, everything was on an even keel and the HR function was busy making preparations to move to a Business Partner model. This period marked a new era for HR, and it gave me the opportunity to develop the training material, guidelines, roadmaps and supporting documentation that would facilitate that transition. We would no longer be ‘the office tucked away in the corner’, as business units would have dedicated Business Partners supporting their area. The business partner model would also give each HR team member the opportunity to gain a real understanding of the day-to-day workings of the Operations they support and the ability to advise and contribute in a more meaningful and valuable way.
Along came Oracle
At the same time, Abtran was growing very quickly, and this presented some challenges. For instance, our ERP tool didn’t have the capability to scale in line with our pace of growth and Oracle was identified as the preferred solution. Knowing well that the answer would be a resounding yes, my manager at the time asked me if I was interested in becoming the HR subject matter expert (SME) for the implementation project.
The Oracle project was initially scoped as a twelve-week implementation, but the ‘plug and play’ theory didn’t quite play out that way. Instead, the whole project became a really interesting baptism of fire where we had the opportunity to get stuck into the foundations of Oracle and then rebuild it from the ground up.
While I loved the detailed nature of the work, I remember spending many late nights at the office. In the end, the system went live after six months. My buddy in the trenches at the time was our incomparable Payroll Manager, Marie McDermott, and we later learned from our peers at the Oracle support group that they’d taken twice as long with their implementation and with a much larger team. For me, this has always been one of Abtran’s biggest strengths. When we focus on something, there’s a real will and team spirit to get something off the ground and completed on time. Even after go-live, the drive for improvement continued, as our Business Intelligence team (and my own personal heroes at the time!) worked their magic to get new reporting functionality up and running very quickly post-implementation.
While Oracle was settling in, I began working on a new initiative called Programme Evolution. This was the first time I’d been involved in a company-wide programme where there were lots of different streams for both the Operation as well as Support departments.
If ISO was about achieving Certification and Quality standards frameworks, Programme Evolution was about making things better, both in the way we delivered service as well as the way we engaged with each other day-to-day. It was about using our standards as a framework and going back to first principles to make our processes easier, more efficient and user-friendly.
It was also about bringing in softer elements, and some of these improvements were quite wide-ranging. For instance, Abtran’s involvement in the SUAS programme evolved directly from the project. Our CSR programme, as well as the Charity Club and Sports and Social Club, were all revised and further promoted under the HR project stream. It was a fantastic project to lead and I think it’s a real testament to the people working on the HR team at the time that our stream was declared out of scope and ‘business as usual’ long before the timeline deliverable.
More projects, improvements and then some
Since then, I’ve worked on a variety of other projects from streamlining hundreds of job descriptions in the rollout of our Employee Development Programme (EDP), to analysing results and then putting forward recommendations from our Employee Engagement surveys. I always enjoy project-based work because it tends to be more structured and has a fixed start, middle and end point. Today, my role continues to be about driving improvement, whether that’s preparing for audits or ensuring the documentation that supports our certification standards and legislative frameworks are continuously reviewed.
A bit about me
I’m originally from Co. Wicklow, and worked in Dublin for a number of years before moving to Cork. My first degree was in English and French, and when I started my Masters in English I began teaching in UCD. I really enjoyed both teaching and research, but at the same time I’d been funding my education working in the Personnel Department of a large manufacturing company.
When I was offered a scholarship to fund my PhD, it was probably the first time I’d stopped and asked myself, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, and I taught at NUI Galway for a further year before deciding, no, I’m happier working in the private sector in a more commercially-driven environment. I rubber-stamped the move by returning to education (again!), finishing a CIPD Degree in HR Management and complementing it with a CIPD qualification in Learning and Development in order to capitalise on my teaching experience.
At the same time that I made the decision to switch careers, my husband was offered a position in Cork. It was perfect timing, so we upped sticks and moved to the Real Capital.
Over the past twelve years, a lot of water has passed under the bridge and I think that as a company, we’ve grown up a lot. When you’re young, you’ve all that energy to be innovative and to take a bit of a risk and try something different. When I first joined Abtran, I think that’s where we were as a company. Now we’ve grown up and settled down. When you know where you’re going and how to get there, things have to become a bit steadier to make sure you successfully navigate those next steps.
If I think of Abtran as a person, then when I started here it was probably in its twenties, full of promise and opportunity; over the years it’s gained that bit more experience and insight.
While there’s that extra clarity, I think everyone still has an element of that ‘kid’ inside them, though, and that’s no harm as that’s what makes the good stuff happen. When I look around, I see so many people here who have come in the door and through sheer passion and force of will have made amazing things happen and provided so many opportunities for the people around them.
Circling the next opportunity
The great thing about Abtran is there’s room for everyone. Some people are very keen when they come in to develop a career. For others, it might just be for a short stay. Either way, there are always new projects going on in every corner of the business.
For my part, I really value the work-life balance that I have, and while other responsibilities might mean putting off applying for that ‘big job’ for now, I’ve also learned that putting yourself on the back burner for a while still doesn’t have to hold you back. There are always different ways to progress. When I found that it wasn’t practical to progress into a certain role, I always looked to see if I could move into another project and learn something different.
There are always new ways to challenge and develop yourself, even if that means moving sideways or even in a circle to expand your skillset. Last year, I moved to the Internal Audit team to support our GDPR Readiness Programme. That move saw me complete a full circle – my very first role in my very first proper job was delivering an application for ISO certification, and I’m now working in the area of our business that supports compliance with our certification standards. In many ways, too, the move involved starting all over again, which can be scary, exciting, invigorating, rewarding, and any number of other adjectives you can think of!
Put your hand up
To develop or progress at Abtran, it’s about embracing every opportunity that comes along. Chances are you’ll know how to do something that someone else can but perhaps dislikes doing. If a project comes along that you really think you can learn from, put your name down and volunteer. Who knows? It might turn out to be the next step on a new career path. Sometimes, the hardest part is building the confidence to take that next step – believe me, as your textbook introvert I completely get that! – but even if you are afraid to put your hand up, do it anyway. You never know what new opportunity might be hiding just around the corner.
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