Sally Hill - Global Consultant - People & Leadership Development at Munich Re

Sally shares her thoughts on why it’s crucial to offer learning opportunities to fit people’s changing priorities, the world of Virtual Reality, and why she’s more likely to reach out to her colleagues than a well known influencer for L&D inspiration.

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We were thrilled to catch up with Sally Hill, Global Consultant - People & Leadership Development at Munich Re, a leading global provider of reinsurance, primary insurance and insurance-related risk solutions.

Sally walks us through her fascinating career to date (one that also includes being a Radio Plugger) and why, although hesitant at first to consider HR and L&D, she’s never looked back.

We learn from Sally why it’s not always necessary to “tick” every box on the job description in order to nail your dream role, and why getting involved and putting the work into building strong professional networks and relationships can bring great rewards.

Sally shares her thoughts on why it’s crucial to offer learning opportunities to fit people’s changing priorities, the world of Virtual Reality, and why she’s more likely to reach out to her colleagues than a well known influencer for L&D inspiration.

Finally, she gives us an insight into her dream breakfast, a love of comedy history podcasts and why she just can’t sit still…

Sally Hill - Global Consultant - People & Leadership Development at Munich Re

It’s a pleasure to have you joining us, Sally. Can you tell us a little about Munich Re?

Munich Re is a leading global provider of reinsurance, primary insurance and insurance-related risk solutions. We are headquartered in Munich with over 40,000 employees based in offices all around the world.

In a nutshell, what are your key responsibilities in your role as Global Consultant - People & Leadership Development?

I manage our global Accelerated Development programme; Hydrogen. The programme cultivates high performing individuals with the drive and potential to take their career to the next level and increase their impact on our business. Participants receive support with customised development and increased visibility on a worldwide platform. Our Accelerated Development Framework encompasses three very individualised programmes and I'm very lucky to work as part of a passionate team that manages that.

Where and how did you start your career in L&D? Were there any key roles along the way?

It actually came out of an opportunity to cover a colleague’s maternity leave at my previous organisation, Nielsen. I had been working as an HR Generalist and Business Partner for six years (like many, having fallen into the industry) and I was seeking a role where I could make a positive impact on people’s careers.

This role included the responsibility of managing Nielsen’s Apprenticeship Programme and I was very excited by the prospect of helping to launch the careers of 12 passionate 18-to-20-year-olds! I had previously trained as a teacher and decided it wasn’t quite the right fit for me, so perhaps there were some unrealised ambitions!

Had you always intended to work in L&D, or did you explore any other routes?

Goodness, no! I actually worked in a variety of roles before starting my career in HR. I've been a Radio Plugger, Production Assistant, and Media Relations Copywriter.

After being made redundant, I took on some temporary work and found myself in a few HR administration roles! When a permanent opportunity came up at England Rugby, I initially told the agency recruiter I wasn’t interested as it was in HR.

However, and being a huge rugby fan, I decided it was worth the shot… and never looked back. My first manager was incredibly supportive and allowed me to see all that HR had to offer. Without her and the support of others I probably wouldn’t be here now.

How do you keep your skills fresh and ensure you focus on your own learning as well as others’?

I'm fortunate, as in my role I often learn through others. We provide e-learning to all of our employees which has a great selection of materials and podcasts.

I also subscribe to a few newsletters including Harvard Business School’s "Working Knowledge” that keep me up to speed with the latest developments. I also try to read; although I’m quite an active person — so sitting down to read a book is quite difficult for me!

What’s been your most memorable career ‘up’, and ‘down’? Why, and what did you learn from them?

Most memorable ‘up’ would be when I was offered my current role at Munich Re. It was the career goal written on my Personal Development Plan and I thought I would need to take another step before I got there. I was quite hesitant at first, but my manager at the time gave me the confidence that I could do it and make a difference in my own unique way.

One month into the role, I couldn’t be happier that I took the leap. I’ve learnt that you don’t have to “tick” all the boxes on the job description in order to get the role. I think it’s a common misconception, especially amongst women sadly.

Most memorable ‘down’? Probably losing my job before I moved into HR. I tried so hard to make it in another industry because I thought that’s what I wanted.

My father worked in the music industry, so it was a passion of mine to pursue something similar. But it’s tough, and you often have to work long hours and in some poor environments for little reward.

I had never wanted to work in HR, and in all honesty, I actively tried to avoid it because it seemed boring. However, when fate intervened, I realised I had found something I was good at and that came naturally to me.

HR has so many different career options but, sadly, still comes with the misconception that it’s simply ‘personnel paper pushing’. In reality, it really isn’t and the great thing about it is that you can work in any industry you like!

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a career in L&D or progress further?

My biggest piece of advice for any career, not just L&D, is to get involved, network, and put effort into your relationships. Every opportunity I have had came about because I volunteered and knew someone who could recommend me.

I’ve been at Munich Re for three and a half years now, and I'm in my third role in my third region. If you prioritise your own development, put your hand up and seize the opportunities at Munich Re they are there to support you. I was fortunate enough to take part in a number of exciting projects at Nielsen too; because I raised my hand and asked.

How has the current pandemic impacted Munich Re, its work, and/or your role in particular?

Like many, we had to move to virtual delivery and upskill ourselves pretty quickly. All content had to be redesigned.

When COVID-19 hit, our focus was on supporting employees with guidance, the relevant resources, and giving them the skills to connect with each other effectively. Our highest priority was, and is, to protect our employees and business partners.

Our business activities have continued to run smoothly, and Munich Re has been there for its clients and employees throughout.

How do you think the L&D industry will need to adapt and flex to overcome the challenges?

It will need to continue to provide flexible options to employees and give them the permission and time to work on their personal development. At Munich Re we are adopting a hybrid approach and continuing to encourage flexible working. Our employee’s priorities may have changed and working patterns have altered. We need to ensure we offer access to learning in ways that fit their routines.

A combination of e-learning, face-to-face, and virtual options seems to be the right approach.

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, what are your views on returning to face-to-face training?

There are still lots of big questions for L&D. Do we go back to face-to-face? Is that really inclusive for all? Can we manage hybrid working, and if so, how? Several questions that are yet to be answered and we will need to work through them together.

At the moment we are planning a blend of both; face-to-face training when it makes sense and is practical, otherwise virtual.

Who do you look up to or reach out to for inspiration — either in the L&D industry, your networks or in general — and why?

There isn’t an L&D “celebrity” or “influencer” that I particularly look up to.

I do follow some interesting profiles on LinkedIn such as Claire Lew and Brené Brown, but in all honesty it’s the people I work and have worked with that I still reach out to for inspiration. They all have diverse experiences in a wide range of industries and roles. Having been at the frontline of HR and L&D, they know what works and what doesn’t.

What or who motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and get working?

My team! My colleagues at Munich Re are fantastic and having the opportunity to engage with incredibly talented individuals from across the globe and help them with their development is incredibly rewarding.

Granted, the occasional anti-social early morning meetings are a bit of a shock to the system but we have a great flexible working approach and I’m given the autonomy to manage my work and day in the way I like. An early start means a much welcomed afternoon run — there is always an upside!

What are the latest L&D trends and innovations you think we need to know about?

I am quite into the concept of Virtual Reality at the moment. Traditional face-to-face training and e-learning offers great benefits and certainly have their place, but it's difficult to simulate how a leader or team member would react in a certain situation without actually observing them in it. VR gives us the opportunity to do that in a safe and supportive environment.

We’re all aware of the Digital Skills gap in the UK. Is this an issue in your organisation? If so, how are you recruiting and upskilling staff to overcome this challenge?

We all operate in a world that is changing at an increasing pace. Global trends, business demands, and the expectations of our colleagues are transforming the way we interact in our company, with our customers and all other stakeholders.

Munich Re’s global learning strategy provides a framework that supports continuous learning and promotes opportunities to develop the skills that contribute to our strategy and ambition.

We are upskilling all colleagues in our new hybrid working model, giving employees the technical skills and tools to collaborate without limitations and our leaders the confidence to promote trust, flexibility, empowerment, and inclusion.

What do you think needs to be done to retain the human side when considering digital learning?

Improving our emotional intelligence plays a big part in that. With the rise of virtual solutions, it’s easy to become more disconnected from your participants and harder to get a read on what they’re thinking and feeling. It can also be intimidating for participants to share your opinion in a Zoom meeting with many more people than you might be used to in a face-to-face environment.

Keeping groups small and intimate is key to facilitating a safe environment to exchange ideas and learn.

What time does your alarm go off? Do you snooze or leap out of bed?

It depends on whether I have early calls or not, but typically 6.30am to 7.00am. Whether I’m snoozing or leaping depends on the day!

What would be your dream breakfast and where would you eat it? (And what is your actual breakfast and location!)

Anything with eggs and somewhere sunny! My husband makes the best poached eggs so I often ask for those at the weekend. During the week, I have a protein smoothie at my desk.

What are you reading, watching, or listening to at the moment?

I've just finished The Discomfort Zone: How to Get What you Want by Living Fearlessly by Farrah Storr and I’m about to start The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. I’m familiar with Erin’s research, but I've never read her book.

I’m re-watching Killing Eve – and I love listening to comedy history podcasts. I’d recommend Evil Genius and You’re Dead To Me on BBC Sounds.

What can’t you get through the day without?

Tea! Lot’s of it, and some form of exercise. I can’t sit still.

I also don’t like silence so I always need to have some music on in the background. As you can imagine from my upbringing, I have a pretty eclectic music taste.

On any day I could be listening to Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters or Sean Paul. I also love Van Morrison and will be quite happy listening to Scala Radio for a few hours — they have a great film score and gaming programme.

What’s the best part of your job — and the most challenging?

The most challenging is managing multiple time zones! It means lots of public holidays and we need to ensure we are inclusive to all as best we can be.

The best part is definitely the colleagues I work with. They are incredibly passionate, talented, and supportive.

What do you do in your spare time or after work?

Run. I’m training for a few half marathons at the moment (my first races after COVID-19), or I do yoga or a strength session. I‘m also learning jump rope — it’s harder than it looks!

Would you like to feature in the series?

Our interviews are conducted by Nicola Greenbrook, a highly experienced HR specialist-turned-writer.

If you would like to chat about your own experiences in Learning & Development, Human Resources, or Talent Acquisition, we would love to hear from you - please use the contact form below and we'll get right back to you.

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