HR Administration

5 Questions With Joanna Geraghty: Not Leaving Anything Up in the Air

By Rita Pyrillis

Dec. 8, 2010

Joanna Geraghty, 38, became JetBlue’s chief people officer in September. With a background in aviation disaster litigation, she was previously vice president and associate general counsel. Geraghty takes the reins as Forest Hills, New York-based JetBlue is adding routes and expanding its workforce. But the company’s image also has taken some knocks, including last summer’s incident involving a disgruntled crew member who exited an airplane via its emergency slide. Geraghty recently spoke to Workforce Management senior writer Rita Pyrillis.

Workforce Management: How will your legal background figure into your role as chief people officer?

Joanna Geraghty: A legal education and practice provide you with a set of analytical skills that enables you to see things through many lenses. [This] serves you well in any corporate role but particularly in HR. In HR, you try to balance and take into consideration many different perspectives. By working in a client service role both inside and outside JetBlue, I think I have a good understanding about the importance of timely, accurate and clear service. My client is our crew member. If I serve JetBlue’s crew members really well, they, in turn, will serve our customers really well. This is what being a good people officer is.

WM: What do you see as the biggest workforce challenges ahead for JetBlue?

Geraghty: Maintaining a direct relationship with our employees in an industry that is highly unionized will always be a critical component of our strategy. Distinguishing ourselves as a destination employer while remaining competitive and cost conscious will be a big challenge. Finally, ensuring that our culture and our values remain core to JetBlue as we grow and expand is perhaps one of our most important areas of focus.

WM: What are your immediate goals?

Geraghty: Working on the strategy for the next three years, [including] revisiting our benefits strategy to take into consideration health care reform; engaging in a comprehensive compensation analysis; developing an effective rewards and recognition program; and developing a more robust crew member engagement strategy. Longer term, we are developing a comprehensive succession plan that includes refreshing our job descriptions and pairs performance management and succession planning efforts with tailored individual development plans.

WM: There was a tremendous amount of media coverage about the JetBlue employee whose dramatic departure down an airplane slide this summer made international headlines. You were promoted shortly after that. Was there any connection there? And how did the negative publicity affect morale?

Geraghty: There was no connection. In terms of the effect on morale? Nothing of any significance. It was an isolated incident. While the incident received a lot of media attention, from our perspective, deploying a slide is an extremely unsafe behavior. We were surprised by the position the media took by portraying [the employee] as a ‘folk hero.’ I don’t think there was an understanding of the danger of deploying the slide and that it could have killed somebody.

WM: JetBlue is known for its customer and employee loyalty. How does the company measure employee engagement?

Geraghty: We use the Net Promoter Score as a barometer for employee engagement. … The question the survey asks is: ‘On a scale from zero to 10, how likely are you to recommend JetBlue as a good place to work?’ We review it on a monthly basis and will engage in a deeper analysis looking at department information and at times focus group information to try to understand the drivers of the score. We are building a team that can partner with departments to assist with developing action plans to improve low scores.

Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 8Subscribe Now!

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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