There is unquestionably a quiet revolution going on within large, forward-thinking organisations. Many are becoming aware of the value of what is often called ‘human capital’.
There are massive rewards, financial and otherwise, out there for those who optimise how they engage with the people in their organisation. This is where professionals such as Valarie Daunt, a partner and human capital leader at Deloitte, come in.
Daunt teaches organisations how to help their people be as productive, engaged and motivated as they can possibly be. Her longstanding fascination with people is what first inspired her to pursue a career in human resources (HR), a career that has seen her work across multiple sectors and even found her own consultancy firm.
We chatted to Daunt about her career path and the massive potential in human capital.
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
I was always interested in people – how they thought, how they behaved, why they did and said things the way they did. My working life started in HR and evolved into human capital consulting.
It’s so interesting working with and understanding different organisations and advising them on how they can optimise the performance, engagement and motivation of their people.
Organisations often don’t realise how much they can improve their bottom-line results by engaging their people more and I love when I see this happen after my team works with them.
What education and/or other jobs led you to the role you now have?
I completed a BComm in NUIG specialising in marketing and HR. I then completed an MBS in management and organisation studies, which gave me my love of organisation behaviour.
I spent most of my teenage years working in my mum’s children’s clothes shop, which gave me a good understanding of profit and loss, and this experience has stood to me ever since – can’t beat that kind of experience.
After graduating, I joined what was then ICC Bank (then bought by Bank of Scotland Ireland) as a graduate in banking – agribusiness to be precise. I banged on the HR door once a week for eight months until they eventually let me in and my career in HR/human capital began. After leaving eight-and-a-half years later as the HR director, I set up my own consulting practice, providing talent management to a range of financial services and private sector clients.
I loved this and really enjoyed the autonomy it brought. Though I was successful through the recession, I then met one of the partners from consulting here in Deloitte who offered me a role in the human capital practice, and the rest is history.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
That’s a hard one. The biggest surprise is probably that as a leader, you are responsible for other people and their career. This is a big responsibility and one I take very seriously, one that constantly scares but also inspires me. What could be more rewarding than seeing your team’s careers grow?
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
There were many but a few specifically come to mind. Firstly, my dad – he always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted and there should be no barriers because I was female or indeed for any other reason.
My first boss was a fantastic leader and taught me so much about good leadership behaviours and how they can make a difference to the team and individuals.
Then, it has to be my first boss in Deloitte – totally different to me, and as such I learned a huge amount from him. He has always been very supportive of me, open with advice and was instrumental in me becoming a partner. He saw something in me that I didn’t see.
Finally, and most importantly, my husband and three kids – a constant inspiration.
What do you enjoy about your job?
My team is amazing – hardworking, dedicated, committed, good-humoured, supportive of each other. My clients are so diverse and interesting, and usually when they bring me in are so engaged in the transformation journey that you can’t help but get excited and inspired by them.
I also love the subject matter of human capital as it is continuously changing and no one size fits all so you are constantly on your toes.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
Resilience, optimism, and a sense of humour and fun.
How did your current company support you on your career path, if at all?
I worked part-time for the first three years of my career in Deloitte. My father was also very sick for two years and I received endless support throughout that time.
I have also been lucky enough to have two amazing mentors within Deloitte along with external coaching for some of the challenging times in my career.
Finally, and most importantly, the culture within Deloitte means everyone tries to support everyone else. Some training along the way was also greatly received.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
Be yourself and believe in yourself. Treat others with respect always. Also, have fun.
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