Exclusive Interview with Denise Hanlon – Head of HR at Vocus Group

  1. Could you tell me a little bit more about yourself and your role at Vocus?

 Vocus is an amazing company. Only 9 years old and an ASX 100 success story. We are now the 4th largest Telco in Australia.

I head up the HR function for Vocus, with a team of 24 people in Australia and 6 in New Zealand. I also lead the internal communications function. When I started 2 years ago, we had 220 employees and 1.5 HR people. Now we have 2100 employees in ANZ!

My first job was assistant to the Police Prosecutor in the NSW Police Service.. After a few years, I was asked to manage a small team. I had no idea what was involved and started studying HR in order to understand this new ‘management’ gig. 4 years later I finished my studies and found myself in HR. I’ve been there ever since.

My early experience was mostly in general office/finance roles. My qualifications now include an MBA and a Master of Finance. As one CFO pointed out, I am more qualified in finance than they are.

I’m also a professional singer/entertainer and am thinking of making karaoke mandatory at all Vocus events 🙂

  1. What are you focused on right now?

Vocus has had 3 major acquisitions in the 2 years so, most of the work we have been doing in HR has been focussed on all things people-related you need to do when you ‘smack’ companies together.

The most pivotal piece of work we’ve done is in relation to our new values. They are pretty out-there #clevercompanynomuppets #haveacrack #dontscrewthecustomer and #dontbeadickhead

While we might have come to Vocus from all sorts of different places through acquisition, our values are what ties us together. We are so proud of them and you hear people use them everyday. It’s very cool.

  1. How is the role of the HR function within Vocus responding to the current aims and challenges of your business?

We have taken a pretty unconventional approach in HR here at Vocus – trying to get out of the way of the business rather than imposing things on it. We’ve thrown out performance reviews and rating scales, reference checks for new starters, removed wordy policies full of legal-speak. We are going about unshackling Vocus from traditional processes that really add little value and slow the boat.

  1. What do you see as the main challenge that your HR function faces in the future?

 Our greatest challenge now at Vocus is the ‘growing up’ phase we find ourselves in. We are still adolescent is many ways – clunky systems, manual processes, duplication. The challenge for the business and for HR is how to ‘grow up’ in a way that keeps the creativity and startup mentality that has made us so successful.

  1. You do things a bit differently at Vocus. What key characteristics do you look for in HR professionals when recruiting for your team?

We haven’t recruited for our team much in the last 2 years given the way the team has grown through acquision but for those few roles we have recruited, ‘a little bit of crazy’ is the thing that I look for. Different industries, different experiences, fresh eyes – that’s what we will need in the future to keep the ideas flowing. ‘Crazies please apply’.

  1. What is the best career advice you have ever been given?

“What’s the worst that can happen? It’s only HR”.

I really love this. In fact, I think it’s actually my own advice to myself. We’re not splitting the atom here in HR. So, be brave, “have a crack” and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.

  1. What do you love most about your role?

 I work with an amazing group of people. Forced together in a series of ‘arranged marriages’, we’re still going strong. I have a mandate to try different things and have a play. That is a lot of fun. This is by far the best gig I’ve had and has taught me so much about what really can happen if you think pragmatically.

  1. Best place or holiday destination you have visited?

East Africa, 4 years ago. To watch the animals during the great migration is one thing I will never forget. The way animals behave naturally and out of necessity – rather than what is imposed upon them by employers, governments, politicians, religious leaders who ‘know better’. For me, it’s a metaphor for what not to do in corporate life and I reflect on that experience often.

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