Canada Goose CHRO: 'We're all humans - I want to ensure that we lead with humanity'

Jess Johannson sits down with HRD in exclusive interview to discuss customer interactions, performance management, HR tech and wellness

Canada Goose CHRO: 'We're all humans - I want to ensure that we lead with humanity'

When Jess Johannson first joined Canada Goose, it wasn’t just the industry shift from tech to fashion that drew her in – it was the commitment to authentic leadership.

Having worked across renewable energy to engineering to manufacturing and finally to technology, this characteristic resonated with the HR leader.

Now, as CHRO at Canada Goose, Johannson believes that value has only continued to grow.

"Everybody that I spoke to at the leadership level was just so real,” she tells HRD. “There was something exciting about that just resonated with me completely.”

Canada Goose, which started as a North American wholesale business, underwent a significant transformation, launching an e-commerce platform in 2014 and opening its first stores in 2016. With an ambitious growth plan, Johannson expressed her motivation and highlighted the need for innovation in a company that has experienced exponential growth.

46% of HR leaders name HR tech investment as top priority

"Canada Goose was 65 years old when I joined the company,” she says. “But it’s grown a lot – and very, very quickly – particularly in the last 10 years. I share this to set the stage a bit for where I saw room for change and appetite for opportunities to innovate our processes.”

And it’s not just Johannson who’s hungry for this operational change – across the board, organizations of all sizes are sharpening their departmental tools. Recent research from Gartner found that 46% of HR leaders believe investment in HR tech is a top priority this year. What’s more, the data shows that HR teams increased their yearly admin spend from $155 per employee in 2021 to $194 per employee in 2022 – something people are looking to mitigate with increased automation.

Meanwhile, Johannson had the recent opportunity to join Canada Goose’s entire executive leadership team in working as retail brand ambassadors across their global fleet of stores. This was part of a new brand initiative aimed at deepening connections with their customers and teams, while gaining firsthand insights to help refine their ongoing retail expansion strategy.

Aligned to the various steps of the brand’s “Canadian Warmth” journey, Johannson was able to spend time with employees and collaborate in real-time on how they bring this experience to life – from initial engagement to customer interaction and purchase through to ongoing relationship building. Johannson reflects on Canada Goose’s unique culture and leadership’s emphasis on the importance of hiring people, not just employees.

This ethos extends to the workplace, where fostering a collaborative and supportive environment is paramount and aligns seamlessly with the brand's promise to consumers.

"Our brand promise to consumers is to inspire and enable all people to thrive in the world outside,” says Johannson. “Empowering them to live in the open - both physically and mentally.”

‘The process for me needed to add value’

When it comes to challenges, Johannson focuses on opportunities for positive growth and transformation, particularly in the realm of performance reviews. She was dissatisfied with the traditional process, where employees spent hours detailing their achievements against set goals. While she found engagement was high, she felt there was an opportunity to add a more tangible value to the review process. 

"The process for me needed to add value - be one that ensured everyone was recognized for their impact on the organization," Johannson says. 

Looking ahead to 2024, Johannson emphasized her focus on enhancing the workplace experience globally. Initiatives include breaking down silos, prioritizing system optimization, and expanding its wellness strategy.

Within the HR department, this includes ensuring collaboration to provide the best workplace experience, integrating various systems, platforms and software to ensure a more connected, productive and cost-effective capability, growing its DEI portal and dedicated symbolic events calendar to create a more inclusive workplace and expanding its wellness strategy, focusing  on five pillars: mental wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, lifestyle and sustainability.

"I'd love to just continue into 2024 really building on the foundation of engaging folks as human beings,” she tells HRD. “We’re all humans, and I want to ensure that we lead - anything and everything that we do - with humanity and putting people first.”   

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