Learnings from a Healthcare CHRO with 25+ Years of Experience

Cardinal Health CHRO Ola Snow

It’s understated to say that Cardinal Health is focused on wellness. With over 50 years in the business, Cardinal Health is a healthcare company focused on distributing pharmaceutical, medical, and laboratory supplies in over 30 countries. 

For this Fortune 500 company, creating a culture of care that supports employee well-being is foundational to its success, and that starts with how it provides for its 46,500 worldwide employees through diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; mental health programs; and family services across all life stages.

Ola Snow, chief human resources officer at Cardinal Health, has been leaning into the organization’s drive to create that culture of care for more than 21 years. We spoke with her about her role, her perspective on changes in the industry, and how Cardinal Health attracts and retains employees.

Bright Horizons: 

With 25+ years in HR leadership positions, including 21 years at Cardinal Health – you have witnessed vast changes in human resources. Tell us about your experience, where you are now, and how your role has changed. 

Ola Snow: 

I started my journey at Cardinal Health as a regional director in one of our pharmaceutical distribution centers. Being in an operations role in the field helped me to really understand our business and customers. It gave me a sense of our culture, our operations, and how we make money. After a few years, I was promoted to lead HR operations for corporate functions, then to SVP of HR for the medical division, eventually leading our centers of excellence, and for the past four years, to CHRO.

As the organization grew, I’ve evolved and experienced a lot of change and growth opportunities. I was able to spearhead mergers and acquisitions, lead our centers of excellence for talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, talent management, and other functions. During the pandemic, I headed a multifunctional team across the organization. Now my role touches all the things that shape the employee experience: HR, communications, global security, community, environmental health and safety, aviation, real estate, and facilities.


You’ve had a remarkable HR experience. Now that you’ve been a CHRO for four years, can you talk about how you see the role or responsibilities of CHRO changing? 


The world is continuously changing. As CHRO, we must put a spotlight on how organizations should change to meet employee and customer needs. I like to say we need to look for our next normal, not a new normal.

We have to focus not only on the challenges in front of us today but also look toward what our organization and people will need in the future. It’s our job to anticipate what work is going to look like in the next three, five, 10 years, and understand what the workforce of the future will look like. We need to identify what organizational risks we’ll face due to labor shortages or historic turnover, whether our employment brand is strong enough to attract world class employees, how we’re going to develop and retain talent, and whether our culture is providing the opportunities workers need to thrive. 

These same issues are front and center for executive teams and boards of directors everywhere. That puts HR in the spotlight because the employee experience is more important than ever and lots of stakeholders are asking questions about workforce availability and capability, culture, well-being, and diversity, equity, inclusion. 

I think organizations that focus on their people are going to be the winners in terms of company performance, retention, and developing talent for future leadership.


You say that CHROs need to cultivate an organizational culture that helps employees thrive. Can you talk about the culture you’re nurturing at Cardinal Health?


Cardinal Health has a clear mission in healthcare. Our people are solving healthcare's most complicated issues and helping our customers advance healthcare. It’s a place where people can thrive, where they can contribute, grow their careers, and truly make a difference. That culture has been in place for quite some time. But over the past few years, it’s been enhanced by our work around diversity, equity, inclusion, and employee well-being. 

We approach well-being holistically and want to meet people where they are in their lives’ continuum. We hope to remove some of their burden and stress by providing benefits and services that help them navigate areas where they face obstacles. While there are differences in our workforce, the areas of physical well-being, personal and mental well-being, and financial well-being resonate with every employee. 

Whether it's providing affordable quality child care, helping with parental or elderly care, or finding a pathway to college for employees, we want to support all our people. That’s where the partnership with Bright Horizons covers so many of our employees, both in our distribution and manufacturing areas and in our corporate centers.


As an employer with the gamut of frontline, administrative and professional workers in a very essential industry, you must have a lot of challenges. Can you describe your top challenges and how you’re addressing them?


In many ways, we are not unique. We all face the impact of a volatile labor market, including an unprecedented workforce that spans five generations. It's a pivotal time to reimagine the workplace. 

For us, culture, purpose, and work environment matter more than ever. We’re going back to the basics, connecting people to the mission of our organization, and looking at pay and compensation strategies, employee training and onboarding – these are areas we found that help connect new employees to company culture. 

We’re analyzing turnover data, voice of the employee, health and welfare data, engagement data, and safety data for insights into where we can improve employee support. We’re also using key learnings from exit interviews and stay interviews with tenured employees to identify ways to help new employees feel connected to the organization sooner.


Working parents are an employee population that are top of mind for many employers. How does Cardinal Health support working parents and caregivers?


No doubt, working parents have been under more stress since the start of the pandemic and are shouldering more responsibilities. We provide affordable, quality child care so parents don't have to choose between work and family. Additionally, we offer flexible work options which help alleviate some of their stress. We want all employees to know that we care about them and their family units, because when employees feel supported, they can bring their absolute best to work. 

We have a number of other initiatives designed to reduce stress and burnout for employees. Our Employee Assistance Program helps employees who need legal services, financial advice, locations for memory centers for elders with Alzheimer’s disease, and more. We also have a Wellness Center on site that employees can take advantage of for doctor visits, help with grief counseling, or other needs. 

Our back-up care can fill gaps in elder or child care for frontline workers, as well as for employees working from home. Caregiving goes beyond child care. In fact, my family used our back-up care benefit when my father-in-law was visiting us -- he had an accident and then needed to live with us for several years. My husband became his primary caregiver, and the back-up care benefit provided an additional support system when my husband needed to be out of the house.

For those who have children trying to navigate the complicated process of applying to college, we offer College Coach. It’s helped my family and many of our employees, including families whose children face special educational challenges. One employee who had previously hired a college coach on their own for about $5,000, shared they had a better experience with the services they received for free through their benefits at Cardinal Health with Bright Horizons. 


So much of what you’re providing employees would be attractive to new workers. What are you doing to attract younger or more diverse employees to your industry and promote inclusivity?


It's a great question. It's about making sure people understand the value of roles in supply chain and the importance it has around the world. We look at it from both a recruitment and a development standpoint. Younger workers want to work with great companies with a clear mission and one that brings purpose in their lives. We foster this environment by connecting with our DE&I work, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) priorities and fostering a culture to talk about and help with mental health. 

We’ve also established aspirational goals for increasing the representation of minorities and women overall. We partner with the Women and Economic Leadership Development Organization and with colleges and universities to connect women to careers in healthcare, pharmacy, and supply chain. 

We’ve also launched a strategy to promote leadership development for diverse employees at the management level and above, including professional development, career counseling, and mentoring. We call it “differentiated development.” The idea is to not only attract diverse talent but also develop employees from entry level to senior leadership positions. In addition, we have established diverse manager and above representation goals – specifically by 2030 we will aspire to increase women in these roles to 48%, African American and Black employees to 11%, and increase representation of Asian, Latinx, Indigenous and all other ethnically diverse groups to 23%.

Additionally, we conduct annual audits to identify potential pay gaps. Last year we reviewed 30,000 employees' base pay and made approximately $800,000 in salary adjustments as part of our ongoing pay equity efforts.

It’s really about building an employment brand that is inclusive and that fulfills the needs of young people, women, minorities, or anyone who’s looking for a career in supply chain and healthcare.

We’re constantly asking ourselves: is what we’re doing working? Well, the results of our 2021 Voice of the Employee Survey showed that our employee engagement continues to improve. Sustainable engagement — which measures how engaged, energized, and empowered employees feel in their work — is at 87% across the enterprise. There’s always room for improvement, but that’s a good sign. 

Continue the conversation with Ola, “Learnings from a Healthcare CHRO: Normalizing Mental Health in the Workplace” 


Cardinal Health CHRO Ola Snow

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