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The CEO Series: Q&A with Grainne O'Loughlin, CEO at Karitane

The CEO Series: Q&A with Grainne O'Loughlin, CEO at Karitane

Liska Turner

over 2 years ago by Liska Turner

Liska Ceo Articles (2)

The CEO Series: Leadership Observations From The Front Line

Interviews with CEO'S from the For-Purpose sector with Liska Turner


For-Purpose leaders are as diverse as the organisations that they lead. Every couple of months I sit down with a CEO where they share their experiences and thoughts on leading a for-purpose organisation. This month I had the pleasure of talking to Grainne O'Loughlin, CEO at Karitane.


Grainne O'Loughlin, CEO at Karitane

BSc (Hons) Sp. Th., MBA, GAICD and CEO. Grainne has over 27 years experience in the public healthcare sectors in the UK and Australia. She has held a variety of senior health executive roles and has extensive strategic and operational management experience in acute, sub-acute and not-for-profit healthcare settings. She completed her Masters of Business Administration in 2011. She is currently President of the NSW Health Services Association (HSA), and a Director on the Australasian Association of Parenting and Child Health, and the National Ability Roundtable.


CEO’s lead from the front. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organisation?


The fulfilment of our mission and the ‘why’ our organisation exists informs all my leadership decisions. Recognition that our vision is not actually about our brand but the needs of the families and children we support. Clarity & focus on this ensures that our decision-making is always aligned to mission, vision and strategic direction & objectives: who to partner with, which services to grow and invest in, how we will best meet service demands with available resources and which risks are worth taking. Our decisions need to be aligned to what we are here to do and achieve and in the best interests of the organisation.


Culture is fundamental to organisational success. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organisation?


I see culture as a very broad umbrella term. I would say that culture stems from values, values statements, beliefs and behaviours. Values tell us what is important in an organisation, assist us to choose appropriate actions, guide acceptable behaviour and help build the shared culture. Values remind us what is expected by the organisation – e.g. standards.

At Karitane, our culture is linked to our values: innovation, excellence, respect and collaboration. A shared language and understanding also makes culture meaningful, with visibility of values at all levels of recruitment, performance review and in reward & recognition programs. Memorable and known ‘lived’ values & behaviours that are role-modelled at all levels within the organisation are pivotal to creating a positive culture.


No business operates in isolation. When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?


The most important question is are they values and mission aligned? Usually I look at their successes and innovations, leadership, trust and integrity and ask myself “would the partnership add value to our vision and strategy and enable us to extend the impact of our work?”  And then the usual review of the risks, reputation, due diligence and governance practices as well as are they financially secure & sustainable. Deal breakers include lack of integrity, trust, purpose or alignment.


Succession planning is key to building a sustainable organisation. How do you choose who to promote?


In terms of succession planning, staff have performance appraisals that include a professional development plan which helps to identify their aspirations. Be encouraging and call for expressions of interest and see who puts their hand up for opportunities and then create pathways for them to get experience. This may include matching them with a mentor, provide coaching, shadowing opportunities and professional development acting or relieving in the roles they are aspiring to. This extends to the senior leadership team as well- provide opportunities for them to engage with the board.

Who do I choose to promote? I look for individuals who demonstrate our values and are enablers of their team and support other people. In addition to commitment, capability, reliability, consistency, strong EQ and good technical knowledge I also look to see are they keen, resilient and do they put their hand up.  A team player who can work effectively with colleagues is a must!


The role of CEO is quite unique. What advice would you give someone going into a CEO leadership position for the first time?


The first thing is to understand the environment that you are operating in. Get to know your board. Understand what you are here to deliver and be clear on the expectations and deliverables of the role. Then get out and get to know your organisation, people and key stakeholders. Meet the teams; get to know them, their culture and what drives them.

Give a bit of yourself. Being warm, friendly, approachable and having a sense of humour will stand you in good stead.

Let the team know that everyone who works here adds something extremely valuable for our families. Create a space to be innovative and for people to share ideas and recognise and reward great work.

As a new CEO people will be working you out and forming their view. Humility, inquisitiveness, a positive role model as well as authentic interactions will help form strong team relationships in the early days.


What leadership decision are you most proud of?


It was the investment in re-establishing our company values. We took it back to grass roots and involved everyone from the board directors to the frontline team in the process. We talked about what values looked like, what they should be and why, including wordsmithing, defining and identifying acceptable and not acceptable behaviours.  We have spent much time on consulting the teams and managers on values implementation, how to best embed them across all our processes including recruitment and performance.

You can be very task and technically proficient and smartness is helpful but it is your behaviour and the team’s behaviour that the families, colleagues, partners and peers will notice and remember. They are going to remember how you treated them and how you made them feel.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karitaneNSW/ 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/karitane/ 

Personal LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grainne-o-loughlin-b4453534/

Liska Turner is an executive recruiter that specialises in the For-Purpose Sector. She works with Boards and CEO’s to build sustainable organisations through connecting people and ideas. She can be contacted at liska@beaumontpeople.com.au or 02 9279 2777.