HR is never about Me

– with Ólafur Kári Júlíusson, Head of People and Culture, DTE

Humans of HR: The story behind the leading lights – their career, motivation and achievements.

Ólafur Kári Júlíusson is Head of People and Culture, DTE. With a background in Occupational Psychology he combines a big picture overview of HR with the minutiae of everyday working life.

Ólafur kári júlíusson head of people and culture at dte

08 July 2024

Story by
Simon Kent, Head of Content – The HR World

Please give a short guide to your career.

With a degree in Occupational Psychology, I have built a diverse and enriching career spanning several roles in Human Resources. My expertise lies in employee wellbeing, manager training, and coaching. I have gained significant experience in the technical, electrical and infrastructure sectors, leveraging my skills to drive organisational success and foster a positive work environment and concrete business results. Throughout the years I’ve had the fortune of being highly involved in daily operations with executive managers, thereby enabling me to be a strong strategic partner in the business, advancing the agenda of HR. Having been on both sides of the table, so to speak, has given me an important experience on the market. Having worked as a consultant strengthened my HR generalist capabilities and helped me train my practical skills of implementation and solution. Then, working within the companies, I have been able to tie that experience together with the intricacies of each business.

Please give us one or two stand-out achievements.

  1. I am proud of the work I’ve been able to do on an individual level, helping people with burn-out symptoms and other stress related issues. Through consultancy and guidance, I’ve helped them return to work, find new careers and increase their quality of life. Being able to work this closely with people is a privilege in the HR business in my opinion.
  1. I am very proud of my current job. After starting with DTE, a blooming business in the innovation field, I’ve helped develop and form a strong and supportive culture within a rapidly growing workplace. Our initiatives have created a very positive word of mouth on the job market, thereby helping us get access to highly qualified talent. A strong collaboration and engagement with the executive team and board of directors has helped us build an engaged workplace.

What attracted you to HR? 

For me, it’s always been the psychological aspect of working and workplaces. Too often I’ve gotten the feeling that HR has been applied in the wrong manner, perhaps giving us a reputation of being the “work police”.  I’ve never been attracted to SOPs or the “red tape” of HR, so I guess that would count as a weakness to some degree. My main agenda has been to impact people, not procedures. The human element has been all too often neglected in my opinion, forcing HR to approach workers in a mechanical way. I want to change this.

If you want to put it very simply; Helping others is what attracted me to HR.

Most of us spend, roughly, a third of our day at work. We better be able to make sure our people feel good during that time.  

behind the scenes with dte's analyzer operator

Another very important aspect is that HR is never about ME. I am not the main hero of the story. Everything I do and succeed in is because others participated and worked with me. Nothing I do can be forced. Human Resources is a people’s profession and in order for that to work, you need to be accepting and committed to the fact that without others, you will not succeed.

What is the most satisfying thing about working in HR?

For me, it’s the fact that in HR you tend to get a unique overview of the business that many others don’t get. That is the big picture. I get to impact so many moving parts of the company, connecting with individuals on a personal level. In some ways, you become a jack of all trades. Is someone not happy with the coffee selection? You’ll know about it. Is someone ecstatic with their manager? You’ll know about it. Issues with the chairs in the meeting rooms? Again, you’ll know about it!

But, perhaps the best feeling ever, is when you see new behaviours and mindsets emerge as a result of focused work and guidance. Changing ways of working and changing behaviour can take such a long time, but that’s part of the appeal for me. If behaviours were like frozen dinners, done to perfection in a matter of minutes, where would be the fun in that?

What are the important challenges and successes you have in your current role?

In my current role, the most important challenge is to ensure I manage the working environment properly and help people adjust in an efficient manner, as we have gone through a significant growth. Making sure people don’t feel overwhelmed and guaranteeing their purpose is a mission on its own! Some of the biggest successes are all the wonderful people we have been recruiting in the past. Seeing this amount of talent and “smarts” gathered in one place, all working towards a common goal is something else!

You can change one thing about HR – what is it?

Fads, trends and buzzwords. This is an occupation that has been struggling for a very, very long time to be taken seriously. Not only seriously as people who can operate an HR department and keep the wheels going, but more importantly, be taken seriously as a strong business partner. Too much attention is given to poor but popular tools, making assumptions about what the issues are and looking over the fence to see what others are doing. To this day we are seeing businesses use tools and “measurements” that are based on retro-organisational theories, some of which, if you do the digging, have roots in astrology and alchemy. How’s that for value?

A future guided more by evidence based management would be my hope. Taking the time to analyse people issues, translating them into questions that can actually be answered, ensuring that what we are looking at really IS the problem, gathering information from different sources, and being critical. This is how we can bring behaviour based value to businesses and let go of the somewhat muddled past of HR.

Ólafur kári júlíusson head of people and culture at dte

Ólafur Kári Júlíusson

Head of People and Culture, DTE
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