Home' HR Monthly : April 2017 Contents ‘You have to click’
Working closely together doesn’t mean you always see eye to eye.
Mercy Health’s CEO and head of HR talk about how they collaborate
BY SUSAN MULDOWNEY
“For an HR director, if
you can’t talk honestly
with the CEO, it’s
pretty much all over”
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KATE MCCORMACK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
PEOPLE, LEARNING & CULTURE, MERCY HEALTH
KATE MCCORMACK FAHRI
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR PEOPLE,
LEARNING AND CULTURE, MERCY HEALTH
I came to Mercy Health intending to stay for
three months. That was 15 years ago. It was the
people side of it that captured me and I’d never
worked for a mission-driven business. Coming
from the retail industry, the worst thing that can
happen is that someone doesn’t buy a jacket.
In health, people can die under our care. It’s a
pretty compelling argument.
I’ve worked with Stephen for 13 years. [In
his previous role] our offices were nex t to each
other. We bonded pretty quickly when we
moved the hospital from East Melbou rne to
Heidelberg because we were having to deal with
redundancies. Stephen delivered the news that
100 jobs had to go. In the end, we managed to
redeploy almost everyone but it was a tough
time. Stephen has an open-door policy, so
people could go talk to him and to me. There
was a lot of communication, which was good.
When Stephen become CEO [in 2011], I did
have to tone down a bit because we weren’t
working alongside each other in the same
way anymore. We needed to formalise our
relationship more because people saw us as too
close – like I was the favourite child. So now
we catch up formally once a month and quite
regularly on an informal basis. Sometimes we
just need to debrief.
Stephen and I know how each other works, so
that helps, too. We don’t always think the same,
but we’re pretty much on the same page. If he
doesn’t like something, he will challenge me. At
the same time, it’s my job to challenge him and
to make sure he knows what’s going on.
What I value most about Stephen is his
honesty. For an HR director, if you can’t talk
honestly with the CEO, it’s pretty much all over
GROUP CEO, MERCY HEALTH
I came to Mercy Health in 2003 with the
intention of staying for three years. I’d been
running a health network in New Zealand and
came here as general manager. About two years
later, I ran the whole health division and that’s
when Kate and I worked really closely together
because we were going through an entire change
program. It was a tough gig.
I met Kate within my first day or two on the
job. We were very much in sync in our thinking
about the role of HR and how we could create
a whole new hospital, a whole new way of
working and a whole new culture without losing
the good parts of what we had. Honesty and
openness were the absolute key ingredients.
When I became CEO, Kate and I deliberately
for you. You have to click. You don’t have to be
best friends or live in each other’s pockets, but
you have to be able to communicate openly.
I know Stephen values the things I say.
Sometimes he’ll go, ‘No, I’m not going to do
that’. A nd that’s ok, but it’s my job to raise it.
We just have that good working relationship.
I can pretty much talk to him about anything.
I know I’m lucky – I hear what some of my
counterparts say about their CEOs.
distanced ourselves from each other because
we’d been close colleagues before and we didn’t
want people to think that she was the golden
child. But do we still have an open, honest
One of the dichotomies for HR is that it often
gets seen as the fun police or the people called
in when you’re going to get sacked. That’s not
what HR is about. Much of it is about getting
the right people and the right culture.
Kate is relentless about recruiting the right
people. She’s like a broken record – and I mean
that in the nicest way. We recruit to our mission
and to our values. Any time that we do have an
issue with someone, Kate goes back to look at
the recruitment process and 99 per cent of the
time she says, “That’s where we failed”.
The relationship between a CEO and an HR
director is unique. This is the one person in the
organisation that you’ve got to be able to have
every discussion with because they understand
the complexity around its entire operations.
If I had to choose the two things about Kate
that makes HR in this organisation special, it
has to be her work around diversity and equity.
Everything Kate does is about making sure we
have equitable systems and processes in the way
we treat, employ and think about people.
Kate’s been a real champion of gender
equality and a real mentor to me in that regard.
She’s also still very logical and pragmatic. •••
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