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Meet the Team - Stefan Cunning

3 weeks ago · 9 min read
Charged with keeping our growing Fibrus family happy and healthy, Stefan, our Head of People & Culture tells us more about himself, his team and his pen pal in the Netherlands!
Meet the Team - Stefan Cunning
  • Tell us a little about yourself, non-work you.

I’m a big advocate of bringing your whole self to work, so non-work me and work me aren’t too dissimilar! I’m originally from a small but mighty corner of North Antrim called Dunloy and I’ve been living in Belfast for about twelve years, after moving up here for university (minus a year out in Germany). 

When I’m not in work mode, you’ll likely find me doing one of the following: enjoying a pint of Guinness somewhere; watching Man United, GAA or motorsport; or getting back into running for the umpteenth time (Guinness really doesn’t help with that one).

  • What is your job at Fibrus and how did you get into this area of work? 

I joined Fibrus in March 2021 and I am lucky to be the Head of our People & Culture team; People & Culture is what other organisations refer to as “HR”. How did I get into this area? I’m not afraid to say that, like many other people, I grew into HR rather than purposely setting out to work in that area at the outset of my career. 

  • Were there any particular qualifications/experience/skills needed to do your job?

There are a number of fundamentals required for anyone who wants to work in People & Culture. Becoming CIPD accredited is hard work and something most employers look for, but simply being accredited doesn’t guarantee you’ll be successful in People & Culture – the real hard work is in your day-to-day.

The foundation of your skillset as a member of the People & Culture team has to be your knowledge and understanding of employment legislation and best practice, legal procedures and case law. Case law in particular is always evolving, so you can’t stand still! This knowledge is critical as it’s often the source of a lot of your confidence when partnering with the rest of the business – its what people rely on you for.

The real skill, however, is how you apply that knowledge to the myriad of challenges you might face and marrying it with your commercial understanding of the business. You can’t just look at things in a little HR vacuum or hide behind policy and process – you need to have a detailed understanding of who you’re working with, what they want to achieve and how you can align your advice with a solution that works for them. 

With that in mind, you need to have the social skills and emotional intelligence to really embed yourself in the heart of our business and become a trusted advisor and critical friend to everyone at all levels. When you’re performing that role of trusted advisor, you need to be able to handle significant amounts of ambiguity when presented with a problem – People & Culture professionals seldom deal with binary problems.

Above all, though, you need to have a strong moral compass and an intimate understanding of what’s right and best for our business and our people.

  • What was your favourite subject at school and why? 

German and French – I love languages and initially had plans to be an interpreter when was doing my A-Levels. I find it easy to pick up languages (except for a 6-month period trying to learn Russian…don’t ask), so that’s probably why I enjoyed them the most! My spoken French is a wee bit rusty nowadays but I’m still fluent in German. 

  • What did you want to be when you were little?

I genuinely wanted to be a palaeontologist – I was a wee dinosaur nerd as a child!

  • What does a typical day entail?

It is a cliché, but no two days are the same in People & Culture. 

Currently I’m working on our People & Culture roadmap through to January 2022, where I’m focusing on things like developing the skills of our team in dealing with complex people management challenges, becoming a more data-driven HR function, introducing new wellbeing initiatives for everyone in Fibrus, and helping us to build our long-term diversity & inclusion strategy. Admittedly I’m still relatively early in my career, so to have the opportunity to do these kind of things already is incredible – and that’s what Fibrus is all about.

  • What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job? 

From my perspective as leader and manager, it’s seeing the people in my team grow and develop in their careers – I love that. Working in People & Culture, you also get to see and support that growth and development beyond your own team, which is even more fulfilling and challenging in equal measure.

As you can imagine, when you specialise in dealing with people, you’re often faced with handling sensitive and emotive issues. To be frank, there’ll be situations where people don’t want to hear or listen to what you’re saying – that’s one of the biggest challenges. So you need to be able to balance your levels of candour and compassion, and maintain your levels of resilience and patience. 

  • Why is what you do important? 

The common thread in everything I do is putting people at the heart of it – whether that’s my own team or everyone in the wider Fibrus team. What is important to me is that once we find the right people for Fibrus, we keep them and we help them to grow – our People & Culture team play a fundamental role in everything within that.

  • How would your colleagues describe you?

Calm, open, witty, and the man to go to for drink or food recommendations!

  • What is the one piece of advice you would give yourself on your first day? 

Enjoy your post-work nap as there’ll be a ton of information to process on your first day.

  • Tell us one interesting fact about you that might surprise us

World Book Day 1998/9-ish in primary school – I’m dressed as Indiana Jones (stuck for a costume idea and sure they probably turned it into a novel at some point, right?) and we had to launch a load of balloons with a number of other NI primary schools into the sky. All the balloons have postcards from us attached to them with our name, address, and name of our favourite book written on them. 

If the balloon found its way to you, you had to write the name of your own favourite book and send it back. Watched the hundreds of balloons fly off into the air and thought nothing else of it, until about 2 weeks later my postcard lands back at my house in Dunloy, all the way from a suburb in Amsterdam! Cheers to Hilde in the Netherlands if you’re reading this.