Chief Chat with Ola Snow

She's the CHRO at Cardinal Health
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· 4 min read

Ola Snow is what’s considered a rarity in corporate America these days. Her career aligns with her college degree, and she’s been with the same company for nearly 21 years. She is now the chief HR officer at Cardinal Health, a company with approximately 44,000 employees worldwide. She recently shared with HR Brew how she climbed the ranks and why it’s important for CHROs to understand customers just as well as employees.

What changes have you seen in HR since you joined Cardinal Health nearly 21 years ago? From a functional standpoint, it [HR] has continued to show its strategic value. Not only are we HR leaders, we’re really business leaders. We are in strategy conversations, not just talking about HR and people strategies. What you’ve seen over the last years with Covid is [that] most CHROs ran their Covid programs…So sitting alongside business leaders, with all the challenges that have happened during these past few years, to make sure that our people strategy is enabling the business strategy, but also, do we have the capabilities? Do our people have the skills to bring our business strategy forward? Those are important things that I don’t know [that] we were talking about 20 years ago.

What parts of the business does your role touch? I lead HR, community, environmental health and safety, and real estate and facilities. And all of those things really shape our employee experience.

What role has mentorship played in your career? I had a wonderful mentor/boss at some point. Her name is Carole Watkins, and she was the CHRO at Cardinal Health. She was really passionate about the business and really made me a better business person, which is the most critical characteristic you can have in any function, but especially HR.

For me, the role of truth-teller has probably been as important in my growth and success. I say, surround yourself with a group of truth-tellers…What’s really going on at your organization? How did you do in that meeting? How did I come across?...Really having the pulse of the organization as you’re moving around… Being able to take that feedback has helped me through my career. We have to be truth-tellers in HR, but we also need to have truth-tellers so that we can be agile as both leaders and organizations.

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How did you learn about the business side of your job? And what impact did it have on your career? Early on, when I was in a distribution center, I did a lot of recruiting of salespeople. And what better way to understand the skills and capabilities that you need than to go out and talk to customers about what they need in a salesperson that’s going to support their business?…Really learning about customers, and issues, and challenges, and opportunities that they face every day is incredible for any HR leader to do…Walking a distribution or manufacturing floor, understanding what’s going on in your own operations, talking to salespeople, talking to business leaders. Our HR business partners really do sit day-to-day with our business leaders to understand the business strategy and help support and shape it.

With labor shortages and high turnover across the country, how are you keeping employees? We are not unique. We certainly are facing the labor shortages that every organization is facing…We look at our engagement scores; we do stay interviews and not just exit interviews…It’s been an absolutely interesting time for CHROs, who are all facing labor shortages…That first 90 days is so critical to any employee because, if I’m honest with you, you see generations that just won’t stay 21 years like me. So you’ve got to make sure that you can support them from day one with great training so that you can get them over that one-year hump, and then that usually is the time that people will stay.KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.