Meet Jill Johnston, Chief People Officer

Published on
6 August 2020

Jill Johnston, our Chief People Officer, has been a key figure in guiding our people through the Covid-19 crisis. We caught up with Jill to discuss how her career journey so far has helped shape her approach to supporting people across our business throughout the pandemic.

Jill Johnston joined The Cumberland in 2018 and oversees HR for 540 staff. Originally from Belle Vue in Carlisle, this is her first job working in the city for 20 years though she has lived there throughout.

So, who is Jill Johnston?

Jill, 51, lives in Stanwix with her husband Ali, a works manager at TEAM engineering in Kingstown. Their son Jake, 22, has just finished a fashion degree, Ted, 19, is an apprentice electrician and Nell, 14, attends Trinity School.

Tell us about your career.

I went to Manchester Poly and did a marketing degree, then London where I worked at Sainsbury’s head office. Then I was head of personnel at Border TV. I joined Guardian Media Group as HR director for the radio division working alongside John Myers. Then I worked for a company with John called Team Rock. After that I worked for myself as a HR consultant.

What brought you to The Cumberland?

A colleague recommended me to The Cumberland. I joined one month after Des Moore became the new chief exec. I wasn’t sure whether it would be for me. But I met Des who is really dynamic. It’s about the importance of the role and really understanding that the people are what make the business. There are not a lot of chief execs that get the importance of that.

What does your role entail?

To make sure we have not just got great people in the business who are properly supported and rewarded, but that the culture of the business is right too. As a financial services business we are regulated so I have to make sure that we are always mindful of that but that shouldn’t stop us building a progressive place to work.

How have you managed the people aspect of the coronavirus crisis?

It’s been a real challenge. Even before lockdown we were working on a plan to get everyone out of our head office building and to work on reduced staffing levels in branch. We went from a standing-start with hardly anyone having a laptop, to getting around 250 people out of our head office and working from home in a matter of weeks and to a reduction in the number of branches open to ensure we could adequately and safely staff them. This blend was really important to allow us to protect our core services for customers and to keep our people safe. We have an occupational health nurse who really helped us navigate our way through a myriad of health concerns. At the moment we are looking at resilience training for groups of our employees. They are often dealing with concerned, vulnerable or simply lonely customers who ring and see the team as someone to talk to, and we are trying to provide support with that.

How do you create the right culture in a workplace?

Bring the right people in in the first place with the right values and trust them to get on with the job.

Have you modelled your leadership style on anyone?

Yes I have, probably, but not all of it. I worked with John Myers for such a long time. My style is still evolving.

How do you relax?

I’m not good at that! I love my family and having three teenagers. I enjoy friends and we have just got a new puppy so that is fun as well.

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