Opinion

UNOS chief HR officer leads with values enabling employees to give the gift of life

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Print this page By Genevieve Roberts

Jo Anne Snyder, chief human resources officer for the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS (not the pizzeria), was recently celebrated as the 2013 Human Resources Strategist of the Year.

This annual award, sponsored by Titan Group and Richmond Society of Human Resources Management, recognizes an HR practitioner in Virginia who has implemented a strategic initiative in his or her firm. 

Snyder was drawn to the field of HR early in her career while working as an EKG technician for a large health system.  In that role, she was exposed to all the parts of the hospital and kept her eye on the job postings. As soon as she saw the first HR-related job pop up, she went for it and moved into a compensation role.

Being very goal-focused, she had her sights set on eventually leading a large organization HR department but realized she had a lot to learn not only about HR, but also about how business works. Shortly thereafter, she was recruited to join Friendly’s ice cream where she branched out and built skills in the area of benefits at the time COBRA was being introduced. Shortly thereafter, when Hershey acquired Friendly’s, she seized the opportunity to learn how acquisitions work.

Not content to limit her education to on-the-job training, Snyder completed her MBA at the University of Massachusetts. She felt like she needed to earn a business degree that would allow her to learn more about all the different functions of a business. This decision aligned with her goal of heading up HR one day.

She would recommend an MBA to any HR professional because it gave her a better understanding of overall business relationships and shed light on how others work together in an organization. Although her undergraduate degree in English was fine for the time, she knew from observing others in higher roles that she needed the depth and breadth of an MBA education, especially working in the HR function.

Often HR is looked at as only being a tactical function where HR professionals “police” the workplace and plan company events. She knew that she wanted to craft a different, more strategic experience for her career. Between her education and on-the-job experience, she built a lot of credibility with her business partners because she knew how to “talk their talk” and see their perspective.

Snyder’s career took her to one of her most rewarding roles at LEGO North America where she received international exposure and played with “cool toys.” She then moved to Rich Products Corp. for more HR generalist work in following her husband to Buffalo, N.Y. At Rich Products, she learned the value of affecting a huge cultural transition where every employee began to understand how they contribute to business success.

She landed in Richmond a few years later at Interbake where she got her first taste of running an HR department. There she realized the importance of implementing great processes and learned how to work with unions.

From there she went to Bon Secours and in 2012 she was recruited to a new role at UNOS. She said she was very prepared for the role and knew that her credibility would be enhanced if she knew the right questions to ask and could build effective relationships with the business leaders. She knew the best way to achieve this was by understanding their business.

For Snyder, the move to UNOS was more than a job move, it was also a move to a role that would prove to be extremely meaningful; it was not just a company focused on profits.  “I walk in the building every day and know that I help people save lives, and that is where I get the sense of reward that I can influence the organization to ensure that what I do makes a difference to people inside and outside the building,” Snyder said. “One of the most fulfilling pieces and I can get to do what I love to do while giving people the gift of life.”

Snyder’s winning strategic initiative was to create the first corporate-wide set of values that would be meaningful to all UNOS’ stakeholders. When she came into the organization, she wanted to learn about it and discover the strategic goals. She held many informational meetings with every leader, and group meetings with all employees to discuss their ideas and concerns.

From these sessions, she formulated the idea to develop the core values. UNOS has a clear vision and a mission, but was missing common language and common platform. She worked with the leadership team to develop the behavior necessary to help achieve their goals. The team, led by Snyder identified the following core values:


Our values guide our behaviors as we pursue our mission and strategic goals:

stewardship

• We act on behalf of those we serve to manage the resources and gifts entrusted to us, especially the gift of life.

unity

• We work collaboratively and respectfully, guided by consensus-building, sharing responsibility, time, and abilities.

trust

• We demonstrate integrity and reliability through consistency, openness, and honesty.

excellence
• We achieve high quality through measurement, evaluation, and continuous improvement of our standards, processes, and effectiveness.

accountability

• We take ownership of our actions and fulfill our commitments to our stakeholders and each other.


To effectively live up to these values, leaders and employees strive to maintain a culture that promotes adherence to these values.

The process to identify the values and underlying behaviors was long and involved, and Snyder received some pushback from employees who felt they already had values. She turned to the people who work in their culture and explained that their task has to make explicit expectations for specific behaviors with identified actions.

UNOS employees jumped in at all levels, at one point they had 52 values on the wall and she helped them prioritize the most important values. The five values described above were the ones all stakeholders could relate to — employees, transplant community, and patients. In her words, “these values speak to everyone whose goal it is to give the gift of life.”

One example of putting the values into action occurred in the IT security training department. It incorporated the values into its annual required training materials, and Snyder has seen how effective it have been. In 2014, Snyder wants to incorporate the values even further into the organization and blend them into the performance management, recognition, strategic planning and other processes. She has identified a Values Champion in each department to drive recognition and reinforcement on both a small and big scale.

When Snyder is not driving HR initiatives, she loves to travel, next on her travel bucket list is a trip to Australia and New Zealand. She enjoys being able to see the different cultures and yet realizing “we are all the same at some level.”

For future award applicants she suggests, “Do something that you truly have your heart in and use that as your strategic project for your organization —  identify something that is not only a need for the organization but also something you have a strong desire to do.”

Genevieve Roberts is a partner at the Titan Group, a human resources consulting firm in Richmond.


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