Having rejoined the British Heart Foundation as Chief Executive in February of last year, Dr Charmaine Griffiths faced the hugely challenging task of leading the charitable organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, Dr Griffiths has shown exemplary leadership and has been honoured by Glassdoor as one of the Top CEOs UK for 2021 in Glassdoor’s Employee Choice Awards.
The Glassdoor team caught up with the BHF’s Chief Executive to find out more about the charity’s approach to leadership during a global crisis.
How have you adapted your leadership over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?
It was a privilege to re-join the BHF team as Chief Executive in February 2020 just at the onset of the pandemic, and I could not have asked more of our people since.
They say a crisis has a way of crystalising what’s most important; and for BHF that has certainly been true.
It was clear early in the pandemic that people with cardiovascular conditions who need us most were more at risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, and that the disruption from it across our work would be profound. From a leadership perspective, we were clear that we had four priorities: supporting the 7.6 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases across the UK’s four nations, protecting our life-saving research to save and improve lives, supporting our people through the challenge, and ensuring financial sustainability.
As a leader, I’ve found balancing kindness and empathy alongside clarity and courage have been key essentials more than ever, and that finding ways to listen, communicate and engage colleagues virtually has been key. And I have been so inspired by my colleagues, our volunteers, our partner networks and people across our sector through this period. I could not have asked more of our leaders at all levels across our BHF family in the way they’ve risen to every challenge.
What initiatives have you introduced to keep employees productive and happy?
The BHF has always attracted the very best talent, and that makes us a team that is always learning and growing. Thanks to the foresight of many people, the BHF already had robust technology systems in place so that we could seamlessly move to remote working during lockdown, helping maintain our productivity, staying in touch with colleagues on furlough and learning how to adapt, together.
We have listened to what people needed to ensure that colleagues could work from home comfortably and safely, and also to shape the future of our ways of working. If we’ve learnt to work this successfully from kitchen tables and spare rooms across the UK’s four nations, I’m excited about the possibilities for our future.
There is no doubt in my mind that the support my colleagues have shown each other has made a tremendous difference to every single person in our team’s wellbeing this last year. Our established wellbeing programme called Live Well. Work Well, and a network of Mental Health Ambassadors, were instrumental in supporting colleagues throughout the pandemic. From wellbeing sessions to coffee chats, a meetings charter and well-being days, many things have made a big difference to how our colleagues have felt, every day.
We also knew that maintaining connection to both our cause and each other was critical – so dialling up online events, utilising new capabilities through our technologies to stay connected and listen to what mattered were key. We’ve learnt a lot through this time that I hope we can bottle for the long term as we shape the BHF and how we work to help save and improve lives.
Why do you think employees have reacted so well to your leadership and company direction this year?
As a charity founded in research, taking action led by insight is important to us. We asked and listened to what mattered to colleagues throughout the pandemic and used it to steer our approach. Even when we’ve had to make tough decisions, we’ve always strived to share our thinking transparently and honestly.
It’s also been clear to all of us that our work has simply never been more needed. Knowing that people with cardiovascular conditions were more at risk of serious illness and death, our team rapidly mobilised to enable researchers to investigate the disease, set up a Coronavirus Hub that has helped more than 6 million visitors to date, and supported colleagues to return to the front line.
I’ve always said there is something magical about the BHF, and the people who join our team to make a difference in fighting heart and circulatory diseases that one in four of us will still sadly die from. Many of us have lost loved ones too soon – and this lends an urgency and helps drive us to make a real difference.
What has been the biggest challenge for you and your senior leadership team?
The BHF turns 60 this year and there is no doubt the pandemic is the biggest challenge we have faced in our history. Overnight we had to move our team of c.4,000 colleagues and c.20,000 volunteers to operate remotely, cancel much loved fundraising events and close more than 730 shops, stores and offices across the UK. We estimated our net income would drop by half, and our investment in new research would fall by the same.
And together our leadership team navigated this challenge with such drive, innovation and courage. And together we got through this darkest challenge so that today the BHF is in a robust position as we recover and look to power even more life-saving research. We’re proud to have kept our doors open for the world’s best research applications. To have reopened our shops and stores to shoppers. To have launched innovative and ambitious fundraising campaigns, and to be the voice of heart patients as we urge the Government to clear the backlog of care and treatment people urgently need.
How do you tackle diversity and inclusion at work? Is this a big reason why people join and stay at the company?
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) touch every area of our work at the BHF. As the UK’s heart charity, we know heart health inequalities mean that some people are at significantly higher risk of heart disease and are working to tackle this inequity. We are also taking steps to make our research workforce even more diverse and inclusive and use our voice to influence change in the wider research community.
We know that by enhancing EDI as an organisation we will enhance our performance and impact on heart and circulatory diseases. As the BHF’s first ever female Chief Executive I am passionate about ensuring that the BHF is inclusive and diverse at every level of our organisation, and that all people have equal opportunities while working and volunteering with us.
We are currently focused on bringing the many ways in which we tackle EDI together and increase transparency of our goals and progress. Our active Diversity and Inclusion forum, Kaleidoscope, and Affinity groups are playing a key role in shaping the BHF for the future. They have already informed our BHF approach, including helping to make our recruitment practices even more diverse and inclusive which you can find here.
What is your top tip for anyone interviewing for a job right now?
In terms of interviewing for a role right now, being curious is a brilliant start. Research as much as you can about the organisation before the interview. These days there are so many ways to find out more about what matters to an organisation and what they are looking for. Looking at what they share through their social channels, websites and formal reports are a great start, and it may also be possible to listen in to a virtual event or connect with people who already work there. Taking the time to get to know the organisation helps you stand out, and gives you more of a feeling of whether you’d really enjoy working there too. I think it’s so important to do what you love and love what you do.
Is British Heart Foundation hiring right now, and if so for what type of roles? What type of people are you looking for?
Our brilliant #TeamBHF is indeed hiring. We love working with people who share our values of being compassionate, brave, informed and driven to make a difference for people with heart and circulatory diseases. We currently have a range of opportunities for outstanding people to join us across our award-winning Technology, Fundraising, Marketing and Retail teams – please do take a moment to check these out here and share with anyone you think might be interested. We are also always recruiting amazing volunteers who contribute in so many ways and are a huge part of our BHF family.