How the Red Cross is Using Data to Develop Future Leaders

Peer Practices
Written by Amanda Baldwin

Jane Hollman

Chief People and Culture Officer

Australian Red Cross

Throughout Jane Hollman’s extensive career in human resources and executive coaching, she made the deliberate effort to “industry hop” to observe different environments and expand her thinking, holding leadership positions at some of the biggest names in the payment, banking, insurance, sports, technology and not-for-profit industries. She says her current role as the Chief People and Culture Officer at the Australian Red Cross “has tested everything I know about businesses,” but she feels her cumulative experience has prepared her for this moment.

I always felt it was important to work in different industries, because I think you learn more when you are stretched in different ways.”

Jane joined the Australian Red Cross three years ago along with a new team of executives to transform the business from the ground up. Like many not-for-profits, they did not invest in infrastructure, systems, policies and procedures, and her team has had to unwind everything just to implement the basics – including their first HR system which she is very proud of. But, one of the most challenging aspects of this transformation has been the cultural component. 

Jane shared, “How do you transform an iconic organisation that plays such an important role to the community? How do you pick that apart and rebuild it again to make it stronger and better than it was, and take the staff and volunteers along with you? You're suddenly saying everything you've been doing has been fine, but we now need to change it fundamentally.”

Over the years, she has learned that the answer to taking people on the journey is through a focus on leadership, and she shared how she is doing this today.

Identifying the Right Leaders with Data

Jane has a passion for people, succession planning and leadership development, and she believes that “leadership doesn't have to come from hierarchical leadership. Anyone can be a leader. There's a traditional hierarchy of leadership, but people further down the hierarchy can also display leadership traits.”

She has a clear process for how she identifies and develops leaders, and it is all through data. She said, “We will not make a decision based on emotion alone… It is a clean data pick, and I think that's where succession and leadership programs often go awry, because they don't dive into every bit of data about a person. They don't do a holistic review of their leaders to fully understand every aspect of them as a person. Where we have picked the person based on data, we have seen exponential differences.”

It's always been about how do we do things differently, and how do we actually measure the impact of what we do.”

The Red Cross’s funding is reliant on donors, so Jane and her team needed to be creative and build everything in-house to execute this strategy. Here are a few critical elements of their process:

  • Mandatory leadership experience: It’s mandatory for leaders to already have leadership experience and/or complete one of their training programs. They designed programs for every level of leader and provide specialised programs, such as one for aspiring high-level female leaders.
  • Survey staff every six weeks: Jane says, “Annual surveys have to go the way of the dinosaur,” and they will not wait a year to find out what is happening in the organisation. Instead, they conduct a pulse survey of the entire organisation every six weeks, asking just six questions selected from a library of questions aligned to their values. The results help them determine the cultural index of the team, the skill base of current leaders, if they should be in path for succession, and if someone should be a leader. This allows them to course correct regularly if necessary.
  • Leadership Impact Ratio: This measures leadership across a range of metrics to determine the strength of a leader. Using their pulse scores, they build benchmarks internally from the most junior leader to the CEO. “We wanted to radically rethink how we track people's leadership, and how we track whether they are actually delivering,” Jane recounted.

This process “360s all leaders,” and if the data shows someone needs improvement or isn’t a fit for a position, Jane and her team do not shy away from having difficult conversations and making tough decisions to improve the quality of leadership at the organisation.

She shared an example where one employee was thought to be a natural fit for a position – technically brilliant and a great person – but was rated one of the lowest performing leaders in the organisation. Her team had a hard talk with them about their pulse scores and how they could improve their engagement, and they invested in their development. Now 12 months later, there has been dramatic improvement and they are someone they would consider for future leadership roles.

In another example, an employee applied for a leadership position and knocked the interview out of the park in terms of experience and vision for the role; however, their leadership behaviour was the sole determinant in not getting the position.

Jane’s mantra is: “Leaders have to make tough decisions, and you have to live by them.” She says that many businesses ultimately fail, because they give promotions to people thinking they “can’t afford to lose them.” Doing so would reward poor behaviour and could have severe implications on the culture and rest of the organisation. Jane’s mission at the Red Cross is to only place the best leaders in those roles.

Building Strong Culture through Strong Leadership

When Jane first joined the Red Cross, they started what they call “The Growing Blue Journey” to grow a constructive culture across the organisation. Although cultural change takes time, Jane is proud that her team’s hard work has led to “a real understanding of the cultural shift that this organisation needs to have, and the role that good, strong leaders play in it.”

To develop leaders that embody culture and can share “the why,” you won’t find Jane purchasing expensive leadership programs or “retreats to Bali,” as they have limited funds, and she has never seen much value from these investments at past organisations. Instead, she implemented two virtual programs as a “safe space” to foster conversations around change and drive the business forward:

  • Leader Fit: Leaders are paired with internal mentors and meet in small groups to discuss how they think about culture, how they need to show up every day, things they need to keep in mind as leaders, and the tools that they need. It gives them a community to lean on, and Jane said that they’ve seen a real difference in leaders being more engaged and excited as they continue to learn.
  • Team Fit: Teams come together to discuss change, their role in it, and how they can navigate it together. They’ve seen similar success, and it’s led to “blue behaviour” becoming embedded into the narrative of the organisation. They even introduced a “Blue Spark” award where anyone can nominate a peer who embodies the culture and values of the organisation. 

These programs are guided by leadership advice that has resonated with Jane throughout her career: “Listen to learn.” She explains, “If you don't listen to what people say, if you don't understand what their perspective is, how can you possibly support them and understand how to serve them in any logical way.”

Jane says that they still have a long way to go, but they have made a significant shift in their leadership and culture over the past three years. She added, “I could not have done this job if I didn’t have 30 years of experience in HR in the lead up to it, because it's been so complex… but as hard as it is, it is a good journey that we're on, and it is good to be part of it.”

Jane Hollman is a Governing Body Member of the Australia CHRO Community. Join your local CHRO Community to connect with like-minded HR leaders who share your priorities - apply today.

Special thanks to Jane Hollman and Australian Red Cross.

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