Katharine Slattery – A Day in the Life

Who are you?

I am Katharine Slattery, a People and Organisation Development Specialist working in UCD HR. 

How did you get here? What was the journey to UCD?

My route to this role would best be drawn as a circle, given that I first began working in UCD in 1999 in the Undergraduate Admissions Office. This was my first role following completion of an MA and BA in English Literature in QUB. I learned so much in Admissions and made friends for life in the Tierney building.  I moved to Australia in 2004 and was there for eight years, working in the University of Sydney. After returning to Dublin, I set up my own training and consultancy in the area of professional and peer mentoring. I worked with a number of HEIs as well as organisations like the HSE, HIQA, the Law Society of Ireland and private sector companies. Self-employment has its benefits, but it can be lonely at times too, and after almost ten years I was ready for a new challenge. I joined the People and Organisation Development team in 2021, and I am so glad that I returned to UCD in this role. It’s great to see familiar faces from all those years ago and I feel lucky to have met so many lovely new colleagues too.

What is your role within UCD, and what are your main responsibilities?

The People and Organisation Development Specialist role has responsibility for the design, development and delivery  of a range of projects and programmes which support the implementation of the UCD HR Strategy. It is a varied role within our very busy unit. Whether it’s delivering a DiSC® workshop, working on the design and roll-out of our General Course Catalogue, supporting the Aurora programme or running a RISE Peer Connect session what each initiative has in common is that they all support UCD colleagues to derive a sense of ongoing professional development and momentum in their working lives. 

Could you briefly describe what a typical day looks like for you?

No day is ever the same, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy my role. A typical day at the moment could be that I spend the morning delivering a DiSC® workshop for a School or Unit. In the afternoon might be a meeting with my manager Joyce McLoughlin to progress our work on the design of the General Course Catalogue for next year, and plan our other initiatives such as RISE and bespoke training.  Right now, I am organising a closing event for the current UCD Aurora cohort at which our Aurora Champion, Professor Regina Uí Chollatáin will present the Aurorans with their certificates. If this day was a Tuesday, I would spend a very happy hour singing with the UCD Community Choir at lunchtime.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives you or your unit are currently working on that you would like to share?

DiSC® is a personal assessment tool which is used to improve teamwork and communication, and this year I’ve delivered DiSC® sessions to twelve teams across UCD, with more booked in for the coming months. The engagement during the sessions and the feedback following the workshops has been very positive.  DiSC® profiles help you understand what motivates you at work, what you priortize, and how you approach problems. It’s been great to see how the tool has helped teams to learn more about themselves and each other. Managers have been requesting these sessions for their teams following their own attendance at RISE – UCD’s Leadership and People Manager Development Programme, which is co-ordinated and managed by our unit. 

Another initiative I’ve been facilitating recently are the RISE Peer Connect sessions. These sessions create opportunities for participants to continue to develop the peer connections and conversations that are a key aspect of RISE. During these 60 minute facilitated sessions peers are connected in small groups of three or four, and each person talks through a challenge, idea or insight, using the group as a confidential sounding board. The feedback has been excellent, so I would definitely encourage RISE participants to engage with a Peer Connect session once they have completed their Core module.

Could you share a memorable experience you’ve had while working in your role?

I always loved the creative process – whether it is developing training content, writing or designing materials. Presenting information through video creates a more engaging sensory experience than using written materials alone, and since I’ve started working in the People and Organisation Development team, I’ve created a number of short information videos for our website. I worked with Paul Fitzgerald from HR Culture and Engagement to jointly deliver a presentation on the topic of ‘DIY Video for HR’ at the Irish Universities Association HR Conference earlier this year. We were really pleased with the engagement and feedback we received.

Along with my colleagues Chantelle Guilfoyle and Helen Crowe I also presented at the University of Manchester’s Human Resources  Conference in April. It is a beautiful campus in Manchester and it was great to connect in person and share our experiences and expertise with HR professionals working on similar initiatives.

Is there a particular skill or expertise that helps you in your role and what advice would you give to someone joining your unit?

I’m genuinely very interested in people, so that’s a good first step when your role is involved in People Development! My parents were both teachers, so it’s no surprise that I love the training aspect of my role. I enjoy taking people through a concept and helping them to see how they can apply it in their day-to-day work and professional relationships. 

For anyone joining the People and Organisational Development unit I would advise them to appreciate that in an organisation as large as UCD we will always have a vast array of needs, perspectives and approaches when it comes to supporting our colleagues in their professional development. This diversity makes for a stimulating and rewarding working environment.

How do you see your job changing over the next ten or twenty years?

It will be interesting to see the evolving application of AI and machine learning in the people development sphere in the coming years. Adaptive learning, where AI and algorithms are leveraged to adjust the learning experience based on a learner’s need and performance is growing in use, as is the generation of content by AI.  

I believe that the in-person learning environment will always have a vital place in professional development. Learning from fellow participants and sharing experiences facilitates a dynamic and interactive learning atmosphere and the building of relationships.  However, I am very interested in how we can harness technological functionality to develop training and development solutions that can complement the in-person experience. E-learning software such as Articulate is incredibly sophisticated and user-friendly, and we have all seen how effective online training delivery can be in certain contexts. I’m particularly interested in how on-demand video and podcasting can add value in transferring instructional content to the digital realm.  But it all comes back to people. We have to understand the context of people’s learning and development needs before considering how best these needs can be delivered. 

If your job had a theme song or soundtrack, what would it be [and why]?

I am going to pick two songs. We learnt these songs in the UCD Community Choir this year and so they remind me of lovely colleagues and a fantastic Saturday in February singing at the Choirs for Cancer Event in O’Reilly Hall. One is ‘Brave’ by Sarah Bareilles. You’ve got to be brave and try new approaches in a people development role. The other is ‘Treat People with Kindness’ by Harry Styles, because I see kindness and courtesy in our UCD community every day.


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