Life moves fast these days. So do people. Instant messaging, tweets, likes, networks… It can all be empowering and exhilarating but also exhausting… and perhaps a little hollow? As I dial in for my conversation with Nova Group’s HR Manager Nicole McCallum, it’s fair to say I’m also refreshing my inbox, texting my wife, muting Spotify and draining a double shot flat white. Nicole answers the phone and ten seconds later, I’ve stopped fidgeting and am sitting back in my chair, truly centred on what Nicole has to say.
I suspect she has that impact on others too. It definitely has something to do with her openness and her friendly, down to earth way of speaking. But as our conversation progresses, I realise it’s more than that – it’s the positive feeling you get when you know you’re speaking to someone who ‘gets it’… who’s been there and done it… who has experienced enough of life’s ups and downs to appreciate the bigger picture. By the end of our chat, I’m clear on three things about Nicole: she is great to talk to, she has stories to tell and I’d love to work alongside her.
A People Journey: From Reception to Leadership
Nicole joined the Nova Group (Nova) back in 2005 known then only as Nova Systems, when they were a small business of 45 people. Her career prior to that was highly diverse. She tells me with a warm laugh that she had 19 hospitality jobs in ten years (including hotel and resort management) and that she’s worked as an Executive Assistant , a TAFE lecturer, an oyster farmer, a uranium mine sub-contractor and an escort vehicle driver.
Initially employed by Nova as a receptionist “and to cook the barbecue and stock the beer fridge”, Nicole soon found her place at the Professional Services firm. And as Nova has grown significantly from 45 to 570 people, so has Nicole’s career. Showing immense versatility and a constant readiness to ‘give it a go’, she has worked for Nova across finance, executive assistance, conferences and events, security and corporate support. And later, “at some point way back when”, she became the People and Culture Manager and a career in human resources started to emerge.
What Matters Most: Empathy and Human Kindness
She now works as Group HR Manager, managing HR across the globe for Nova Systems, GVH Aerospace, two10degrees and Geoplex, a position which she says is about supporting and connecting Nova’s employees and their managers to drive Nova’s strategic objectives and culture.
“My remit includes helping Nova’s people managers provide an environment in which people can thrive. It’s also about being there to support each employee, while also being ready to challenge and make the hard decisions.”
It’s easy to picture Nicole achieving this balance. She talks positively and confidently about the need to apply “understanding, empathy and fairness”, and I get the sense that she plays an
important role in bridging gaps, championing the employee to the business, and the business to the employee. When asked what she loves the most, Nicole’s response is immediate:
“It’s the same today as it was in my hospitality days: I love it when someone comes in with their smile upside down and walks out feeling a little better. I want to help them see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and that they want to keep going – that’s the most important thing. It’s the most basic stuff you can do for another human being.”
And there it is. That empathy based on deep life experience. Nicole reveals that she has supported a range of employees through mental health challenges, and has helped get them back to work and a more positive situation.
“Sometimes this job can break your heart. Sometimes you’re on top of the world. It’s just the way it is. When someone needs support, the key is to be honest – no BS. We need to help them get healthy and well, and not treat them any differently.”
Nicole says that her own life experiences and challenges help her empathise with and support others. She suffered from anxiety and depression as a teenager, and has also experienced loss through tragic circumstances.
“I’ve had some difficult life events during my time here. But the support Nova has given me is phenomenal. The things they’ve done for me personally have affected me – they make me want to stay and help the business continue to thrive.”
From Chainsaws to Flying Lessons: a Unique Employee Experience
Nicole clearly has a deep connection with Nova and feels they really are a great place to work. She speaks fondly of the way they reward and recognise their people, and celebrate together. She laughs as she tells me they once gifted her a chainsaw voucher, rather than flowers, adding: “They know me.”
She also says they’ve supported her through training, including an MBA and even flying lessons:
“Years ago, I used to take minutes for the Executive Leadership. We had an aircraft and our previous CEO would fly us all to the meetings. One day, I said ‘you should teach me to fly this thing’, so he did.”
Nicole recognises that as the business has grown, they’ve needed to keep working hard to ensure that everyone stays connected. Yet she’s proud of the many things Nova offers its people, from professional and personal development allowances to family benefits to health and wellbeing support. As part of this latter component, they have counselling services available 24/7 to assist their employees and managers.
“It’s incredible really that after all this time, I still don’t want to work anywhere else. I’m like an antique here! I have great relationships across the business and I‘m so grateful to Nova for the opportunities and life experiences they’ve given me.”
I suspect Nova would say the feeling’s mutual. Thanks Nicole!