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Insights on Leading People & Managing Culture

We interviewed Janet Brewer, HR Alliance Board Member, about her involvement with HR Alliance and asked that she share her insights regarding M&A.
Why did you join HR Alliance?
I'm Janet Brewer. I'm the chief people officer with Arcfield. I was excited and honored to be invited to join the board at HR Alliance. I was introduced to the organization by a friend of mine, a former colleague and friend. Who'd been a member for years and also multiple different board members. She had introduced me to some of the events and I saw everything that she saw as well at those different events. I joined to engage and collaborate with seasoned professionals across the HR functions and colleagues from top vendors. We can learn and partner through an organization with over 50+ years of history bringing individuals in various industries together to shape and improve the workplace.

What is your role and what are you responsible for at Arcfield?
I'm responsible for developing and executing the company's people-related initiatives, as well as all internal and external marketing communication efforts. Specifically, we're focused on cultural transformation and addressing the business strategic initiatives of the organization itself. So Arcfield's fairly new. Our industry's in the work that we've been doing is over 60 years in terms of the partnership that we've had for a lot of our government customers. We're a federal government contractor. We're obsessed with all things related to innovation. Our DNA is all about software development and engineering. And so we're all about solving the world's toughest problems.

What should HR Leaders understand about M&A?
I think as we know for mergers, frequently people are looking at the financials of whether or not they feel like this is gonna play out, but especially in HR, as we know it's all about the people and usually a lot of it's made, made or not made by really the people, the cultures coming together, how we're able to manage that, how our leaders and people are able to come together and then how we're able to establish everyone that foundation for when they come in from day one and, and are able to build off of that. So what are their experiences early on? And actually most interesting I found is what were their prior experiences because a lot of times that's what you're dealing with is the fact that they're, they're upset from a prior M and a, and that's what they're assuming is happening here before any of it's really happened.
And that for me was, was really eye-opening. I was, I've been through a lot of M and as an employee and an HR professional, which has its own set of challenges, right. Going through that, wearing two hats yourself. But also as an HR professional, helping organizations go through that change, it's extremely challenging. And it's difficult. A lot of us love change, but it's different when you are not the one getting to direct the change or be in charge of it. So helping everyone go through that is really critical. And for HR, we're on the front lines of all of that and, and helping people to navigate that and helping our leaders navigate that similar to us, they're experiencing it, and then also having to help navigate their employees through this large change as well. We were formed based on a divesture from a larger company, but two-thirds of our employees are in cleared spaces and actually, more of them require clearances and, or have to be on-site at the larger company, that wasn't really the case.

How has your company dealt with hybrid work?
So a lot of times their policies were like, Hey, stay home. There's no problem with that. But for us, that really isn't an option for our employees. That was true when they were part of the larger company as well. But they were sort of the minority percentage-wise. So for us, the group of employees that we have is very specific, mostly cleared, mostly on-site. So a lot of the flexible policies that people want or have as part of larger companies specifically don't apply to us cuz it just doesn't apply to a lot of our employees. We also have to be very thoughtful for all of our kinds of functional employees who maybe don't have to be on-site, given that a majority of our employees are on site. We need to be really thoughtful about how we want to be consistent across the company and really kind of that solidarity there.

What have you done recently to connect in creative ways with employees?
We're trying a number of things. Now we're going to continue to evolve a number of different initiatives to try to tackle that differently and better than our competitors. But a number of things that we've been doing. We had monthly town halls for a while because we had just been divested and there was so much change going on. We wanted to make sure we were over-communicating which is difficult because not all of our employees are just sitting at their unclassified work desks and could just log in. So we've had to partner with some of our colleagues at some of those sites or locations to try to coordinate how we deliver the information. We also do more of a reach out in some cases, so to make sure that we can go to them instead of them coming to us we're now gonna flip a little bit to a quarterly, all-hands approach with the idea that, you know, we will, we want to be able to have our leaders at the various sites, make it a LAR larger event so that hopefully we can get more people to attend and also narrow that down.

So they don't have to figure it out once a month. And then we're trying to come up with other approaches for how to be able to engage people. I was really excited about it from a marketing perspective. You know, once we had our name, it took a little while to get our permanent name and we were anxiously awaiting it. And so once we had it, we then were very excited to get some swag out to our employees. And we decided to go ahead and mail that to people's homes so that we knew each person would get it and they didn't have to, you know, if they were at a customer site, they wouldn't have to think, oh, well, gosh, I don't have it. Or I have to go drive to this other place. So we delivered it to their homes for them. And we're really excited about that.

And also, you know, hopefully, their family feels a part of it as well. One of the things that's my favorite, we were able to get our engineers a puzzle. So our cool Rubiks cube. So hopefully that made it a little fun for everyone too. It was one of the times where in some cases people were out of jobs or losing their roles and things like that. Obviously, unfortunately, HR plays a heavy role in that, but more I meant in the process of managing COVID. So, you know, HR teams had to turn on a dime, go figure this out. And in a lot of cases, I think businesses recognize the extra hours and dedication and sort of the unknowns that had to be navigated. And they also had to reach out to their HR teams to help figure out, “How are we gonna navigate this?”

What has been unique about building a culture across teams that work on-site with clients?
Now we do have these remote environments, how should my managers manage that? You know, so they turn to training, they turn to HR professionals, helping them work through that. My HR colleagues are very tired from having kind of slogged through this and having to help out so many colleagues, but it impacted so many people personally, as we know with health challenges and so on. And so navigating all of that, it really brought to light that this is a business challenge, but also a human challenge as well. And HR does a, a, a really brilliant job, I think, of, of trying to help to navigate everyone through that. So I think we'll all be excited when that's behind us, but hopefully, it's put us in a, it's been a great showcase or platform for all that we will do the dedication that we'll provide and how, you know, we're sort of endlessly working to try to make sure that the business can be successful despite any of the challenges that are in front of us.

What characteristics do leaders have that help them navigate today's environment successfully?
I think that there are a number of different characteristics that are making leaders really, or some leaders more successful maybe than others in terms of navigating all the challenges we have today in front of us. One actually is being data-driven. I mean, that, that is sort of the mantra of the moment, but as more people are working out of the office, right, you no longer can rely on just, Hey, if I see them, are they working or not working that type of thing now is probably always a false data point anyway, but you definitely have to rely on something different. So I think data is one of the many ways that we can better understand what's happening.

Also, there tends to be a lot of bias in our decision-making across the board. I'm comfortable working with this type of person, our style and approach are similar, but maybe that group's not performing as well as others. I just feel really comfortable with them. So relying sometimes on metrics I think can be helpful, but I would balance that also with empathy and empowerment. So I do think a lot of the leaders who are able to think about their employees holistically, and what's going on at home as well. A lot of people are challenged with stuff that they haven't been in the past, or now we're, we're realizing we have to, we have to account for the fact that people do have lives and that that's different than we've had to do before. And that is what people are wanting nowadays is we've definitely seen with the earlier generation coming out, right. They want to be able to have a life and work that's good and healthy. I think we've ignored that for probably too long. And it'll force the rest of us to adapt a little bit more than we have in the past. And then also taking care of one's self and being a good role model. Probably continuing in that vein of having done it the way we've always done it, that may not have been particularly balanced or healthy. And I think it may be time for a change for all of us.

Watch the interview here on YouTube Channel.

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