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My SDF Story with Cathy McDonnell

South Downs Way

Female head & shoulder shotWhere do you work and what is your role?
I work at the University of Sussex in the HR Division as Assistant Director of Culture, Organisational Development & Wellbeing.

When did you join the SDF?
I joined SDF August 2022 when I joined Sussex

Why did you want to join the SDF?
The Organisational Development Consultants in my team introduced me to SDF and explained the value in being part of a big network that supports the work of OD and L&D in higher education.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?
It’s such a valuable resource having access to so many people who have such wide and varied experience to share. The requirements of OD and L&D are ever changing and we’re all on a journey in our respective organisations. Developing solutions in isolation can be limiting and this network supports the sharing of ideas, challenges and approaches to solutions in a really collaborative way and I love that!

What are you working on at the moment?
I am the strategic lead for our OD & Wellbeing Plan which forms part of our People Strategy. The OD team at Sussex was very small in previous years but the team has grown over the last year as there is much work we want and need to do on the OD and wellbeing front. An important part of our work is delivering bespoke OD consultancy support to our divisions and schools so we can offer meaningful support rather than a “one size fits all” approach. We also have some big projects on the go such as redeveloping our appraisal process, now known as Achievement & Development Review and improving our new employee experience by creating a new comprehensive Welcome to Sussex pack and guidance for managers on providing a good induction for new staff. We’re also busy building our Mentoring programme, redesigning our staff survey approach and will soon start work on our exit interview process.

What does a typical day look like?
Goodness that’s a tricky one to answer! No two days are the same! Some days there are project related meetings with key stakeholders which support the progression of our project work. Other meetings may involve committee or board meetings where we seek to showcase and get approval for implementing new interventions, processes or frameworks. All meetings create work so I do try to carve out time to get the “doing” done in a day and most importantly some days are spent working with my team and supporting each other to get through our plan.

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career
Many years ago I was working as a community project manager in a London FE college managing learning provision aimed at 18+ yr. old adults who were disengaged from learning. I decided to undertake my teacher training at the same time and it was the best thing I ever did as the focus wasn’t only on how to teach but also how to reengage adults in learning who had previously experienced poor educational experiences. Doing that completely changed the course of my career and brought a whole new sense of purpose with it.

The person who has influenced you the most is
Again this is a really tricky question as it probably isn’t just one person. I’ve had a fair few line managers throughout my career and as I reflect back I can absolutely pinpoint those that really supported the building of my knowledge, skills and experience. I can remember how they were genuinely interested in providing mentoring and stretch opportunities that encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and grow. Equally I experienced my fair share of those that really didn’t! Now in this role, I’m now so conscious of how powerful really good people leadership skills can be in developing really high performing teams that feel a strong sense of purpose as they make their way to become the leaders of the future.

Work life balance – what leisure activity you enjoy the most?
Definitely walking my gorgeous rescue dog, Johnny Cash! Taking long walks with him up on the South Downs is a pleasure and a great way to unwind. I also make sure I spend time with friends and family and squeeze in some yoga in a busy week.

What’s your greatest fear?
Drowning I think because I can’t swim despite countless lessons over the years!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I’m going to assume they don’t need to be still alive! It would be a bunch of musicians…Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Shane MacGowan, Sinead O’Connor, Debbie Harry, The Chicks…so many more!

What would your super-power be?
If I could have a super power it would be to extend time! There’s never enough time at work or at home and the older I get the more precious it becomes.

What’s your favourite/least favourite food?
Favourite food is salt and chilli squid. Taramasalata…can’t bear it!

What’s the worst job you ever had?
I worked as a waitress at a theatre café in London while at Uni. A family of 6 bought loads of hot drinks and cakes and then did a runner and I had to pay for it out of my meagre wages – not really the worst job but was one of the worst working days!

What thing would improve the quality of your life?
More time and more travel

What’s coming next for you?
Well I’ve only been in this role just over a year and I am loving working with my fantastic team and colleagues at Sussex. There’s lots to do which is exciting and I’m enjoying seeing the progress, so I’m not really thinking next steps just yet