2015 HRLA Winners


For decades, academics and management gurus have discussed the differences, if any, between a “leader” and a “manager.” Today, people look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results. The Leadership Award recognizes individuals who are both a leader and a manager who have achieved measurable results that has enhanced the mission of the organization and fully supports HR’s “customers” in meeting their needs.

Christine Dellecave, VP Talent Management

Faced with a major business transformation, Christine Dellecave took ownership beyond her role to steer the people and culture of the company and to drive the leadership of the company into new areas. Christine realized she could have the greatest impact with the middle management layer where there was the greatest need. She knew that managers are the closest to the employee base and have the most influence on employee motivation, empowerment and engagement. Her high impact deliverables included an online management development program, 360 assessments coupled with targeted coaching, manager meet ups to share best practices, development of an emerging leader program, manager goals tied to annual reviews, biweekly communication to managers and a new strategy to recruit high caliber talent.

Christine’s style can be described as tenacious yet gracious. Her alert oversight and compassionate leadership have equipped her to identify project deficiencies to resolve problems quickly and to refine talent strategies to meet the current needs of the business. Christine has the keen ability to view the entire corporate structure and to understand how all the pieces must fit together to create a successful strategy and empower those around her to achieve the goals of the company. Simultaneously, she is able to focus on the fine details of the project to get the job done. Christine exudes energy, enthusiasm and warmth. She quickly gains people’s trust and commitment to promote whatever project she is leading. Christine has developed the right balance to do what is correct for the company and its leadership while keeping the focus on the employees. Christine is an extremely effective coach and communicator. She provides honest, candid feedback in such a way that others feel good about her reviews and act upon her recommendations. She earned the highest employee engagement scores of any leader in the company. She is the type of leader that others want to emulate and follow.

Uzma Burki, Senior Vice President Human Capital

In 2012, Uzma Burki joined Amtrak as Senior Vice President of Human Capital. That year, Amtrak had just embarked on a strategic Human Capital journey to address the multitude of economic, political, performance, recruitment and succession challenges it was facing and Uzma was in a position to impact important change within the organization.

Uzma led the development of Amtrak’s first-ever Human Capital Strategic Plan – linked directly to Amtrak’s Strategic Plan – and identified seven strategic actions to hire, train, improve culture of safety and security, drive performance management, develop a total rewards strategy, deliver effective employee outcomes and proactively manage human capital risk.

Uzma introduced the use of a set of integrated organizational processes-known as Integrated Talent Management-to create a high-performance, sustainable organization that delivers on Amtrak’s strategic and operational goals and objectives. Streamlining recruiting process, utilizing hiring flexibilities and using automated application systems to increase the number and quality of candidates for Amtrak careers.

She established strong partnerships throughout the business to better align workforce planning efforts with Amtrak’s business strategy. Her approach focuses first on the roles that impact the business strategy most significantly and roles that are subject to retirement in the next five years. By identifying these roles through both quantitative and qualitative measures of the workforce (both in its current and future states), Uzma’s team can identify gaps and create action plans to address those gaps.

Uzma Burki’s extensive knowledge and experience in the area of Human Capital is an important asset to Amtrak. However, her leadership style and commitment to achieving goals is what sets her apart. She is an excellent role model. She achieves results through collaboration. She effectively manages stressful situations by remaining composed and calm. She furthers the mission of the company working tirelessly towards the strategic plan. Uzma understands a company is nothing without its employees.

Kimberly Wilson, Executive Director, HR Client Services, Research, Schools and Academic Support
The George Washington University

Upon her arrival to The George Washington University (GWU) in August 2013, Kimberly Wilson was faced with two major research challenges; to improve the workflow for Postdoctoral and Research hires within the schools and to create a visible and client driven workforce of HR generalists within the academic and research divisions at GWU that promoted human capital best practices. The main goal was to revamp the existing HR and research functions, and to establish new procedures which would add value and trust to HR Client Services presence overall. Through research, establishing buy in, identifying technology enhancements and sharing information in a timely and organized manner she was then able to train and educate all administrative research staff. With her second goal, Kimberly worked tenaciously on building relationships, breaking paradigms about HR and educating departments on what could be offered by the HR Client Partners. She opened the door for continuing strategic discussions and improved relations that open them up to seats on committees within the Provost areas.

Kimberly has the ability to successfully lead teams through difficult strategic challenges and can visualize and implement successful outcomes. She mentors and develops employees through professional development opportunities and coaching. Nine employees have been promoted over last 18 months under her leadership. She possesses the ability to inspire, engage and value experiences of all professional levels to promote an environment which encourages collaboration and positive results.

Kimberly has the acumen to navigate and understand multiple employee populations including those in research, academia, administration, athletics, retail, transportation, and business /finance. This brings trust and legitimacy to her conversations with different employee bases. Kimberly has a high level of professional integrity, ethical standards and respect from peers locally and nationwide.

Allyson Mueller, Human Resources Manager
Rose Financial Services, LLC

Shortly following 2010, clients gravitated towards solutions that provided cost savings in excess of what could be provided from services provided by people alone. Leadership at Rose Financial Services, LLC realized the need to change the way they operate, integrate more technology into their service offerings, and transform from service provider to solutions provider as a result of economic forcing of clients to find cost savings. The strategy selected involved the rapid integration of new cloud-based workflow technology and faced several change management initiatives both internal and external. As Allyson dug into the issues and solutions materialized, she developed her overall HR strategy: to engage and retain a high-performing workforce.

Allyson aligned her solutions under three goals 1) to reduce turnover by extending the shelf-life of junior staff and minimize the impact of turnover by improving cross training and documentation of best practices; 2) to redefine what success looks like post the major changes including the need to train and re-position existing staff to operate with new skillsets and new roles; and 3) improve the quality and quantity of information exchanged between leadership and staff. Implementing these solutions was more than just a matter of executing the tasks assigned, but rather Allyson had to organize complex information and present it to leadership and other stakeholders in a way that inspired cooperation towards a shared vision.

Allyson’s efforts in HR have consistently been aligned with the firm’s mission of helping their clients succeed by providing meaningful guidance that is timely and accurate. Through continuous assessment of current skills inventory and effective performance management she has been able to develop the necessary skills within the firm, rather than hiring from the outside. By reducing the time and expense associated with outside hires, she was able to spend more time on value-added activities. Employee satisfaction increased as more interesting and challenging opportunities became available, and in turn client satisfaction increased significantly as well. The firm saw a 14% increase in revenue in 2014 concurrent with a 10% reduction of average employee headcount meaning the re-engaged employees were more productive in their ability to create value for clients and for RFS.

Kelly Caccetta, Vice President, Human Resources
CSSI, Inc.

It has been a difficult few years for government contractors, but thanks to Kelly’s leadership,
morale and engagement at CSSI has improved markedly. Kelly set three goals to address these employee challenges facing the company: 1) Create a transparent, open and communicative corporate culture in the face of economic and political challenges; 2) Offer opportunities for growth and development; and3) Increase alignment among employees and company. She is a proven leader and trusted colleague to everyone at CSSI.

Kelly has demonstrated excellence in leadership in several key areas: Engaging employees at every level of the organization through meaningful, productive activities and initiatives that develop and inspire corporate culture and achieve an immeasurable increase in moral and engagement (implementing for example the CREW program “Creating a Really Enjoyable Workplace”; Creating a more open corporate culture in which the leadership team proactively communicates with employees to learn how to make improvements, all while acting as a role model to the executive team and leadership; Offering employees additional avenues for career and professional development through defining career tracks so that employees could follow a technical or managerial track to suit employee goals; Implementing a new HRIS aligned with CSSI’s talent strategy, delivering increased value to employees and with a financial payback of less than one year; Driving efficiencies in performance management resulting in a 25% reduction in the review cycle and 100% engagement in the process, while increasing focus on the quality of employee-supervisor interactions throughout the year. Kelly has led the charge through it all, acting as chief supporter and cheerleader, personally greeting and thanking employees for their service and participation.

Dominique Taylor, Vice President, Talent Management

In 2012, EverFi raised $10 million from a high-profile lineup of investors in part to fund critical hiring needed in order to scale and grow its products and programs. It needed a dedicated resource that could lead and support existing employee operations. The company had a unique culture it was eager to preserve and there were programs in place that yielded previous success for recruiting, onboarding and developing employees. Dominique was hired to leverage what was working and to create sustainable programs that would attract and retain the best talent so the company could grow its programs and change more lives.

To increase the volume of candidates, she identified industry-specific resources that complemented existing job postings. By streamlining the recruiting process, top candidates can receive an offer less than a week from when they apply and a number of employees have applied, interviewed and accepted an offer within one week. On average, 87% of the offers EverFi extends are accepted. To keep all of the new hires, she redesigned the company’s corporate orientation program (“Boot Camp”) and created guidelines for onboarding employees off-cycle. She also designed and implemented a New Hire support program that included creating a Buddy Program for new hires.

As a result of the retention programs that Dominique implemented, new hire turnover decreased by 45% from 2013 to 2014 and voluntary turnover decreased by 8% from 2013 to 2014. Additionally, in 2013 and 2014, 225 nominations were submitted by employees to recognize their colleagues.

Dominique designed short-term and long-term plans to ensure that EverFi could hire 100 employees in 18 months, growing the company by 45%. The short-term and long-term plans had tangible and intangible benefits that positively impacted the company beyond the hiring results. Executives, hiring managers and employees see Dominique as a company leader and critical resource who supports their work.


The Mentoring Award honors an individual who demonstrates leadership, dedication, and support to the professional growth and development of others in the HR/OD industry. Such commitment and extraordinary effort impacts organizational change.

Tracy Saunders, Director, Learning & Development

At the time Tracy was hired, Ellucian had low engagement scores, employees questioned the commitment to growth and development, leaders weren’t taking full ownership of their role as people managers and budget dollars for formal or in-person programs were limited. All of these dynamics played into Tracy’s strengths of supporting organizational leaders to understand their behavior in action so that they could make a stronger positive impact.

Tracy set out to put new programs, processes and solutions in place. Having a keen sense of business rhythm and the line’s limited ability to absorb new programs or processes, she enhanced the Performance Management process by shifting the focus from tactical and compensation-based decisions to a strategic lever, driving future organizational capability building. She added a developmental goal and introduced career conversations into performance management process allowing for focus on these topics without adding more meetings. She introduced tools such as a learning model (70% learning is on the job; 20% is through relationship-based methods and only 10% of from structured methods) breaking the mindset that formal training is the only option, and development planning guides. The career program Tracy designed integrates career development, internal movement, promotions, job families, and the career lattice to create a one-stop shop for our employees and managers.

When the CHRO challenged her direct reports to create a women’s initiative, but offered no budget to support the initiative, Tracy was undaunted. She recommended a leader led co-hort based learning solution modeled after Lean In Circles (LIC). Tracy tapped various organizational leaders to lead the learning cohorts, which meet for 1 year, and leveraged all of the free resources offered by the Lean In Foundation. To date 13 learning groups across the globe are meeting—connecting employees and forging new relationships and professional and personal growth.

Tracy also jumped in to coach and mentor a variety of product leaders to enhance their teams’ effectiveness. She identified a range of interventions to enable the teams to make better decisions more quickly and create more confidence in making the tough calls.

No matter what type of work Tracy is doing, she is always looking through a lens of learning. She truly sees the potential in people and looks for ways to stimulate learning in action in all of her work—whether in team meetings, 1:1 meetings with direct reports or with business leaders or in the programs or initiatives she and her team design and deliver.

Kathleen Sack, Vice President, Talent & Organization Development
American Red Cross

Kathleen knows that mentoring, or learning practical skills through relationships with others, is so valuable, she included a mentoring component in their Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program at the American Red Cross. The LEAD program was designed to meet a critical business need at the Red Cross – deliver a learning program that would develop future leaders to become general managers across the enterprise. Mentoring through this program is often pragmatic and practically focused as participants learn through more seasoned staff who can guide them on their journey to leadership roles. To ensure a successful relationship, mentors are selected against an established criteria and, then the focus becomes finding the best mentor/mentee match. Once a match is made, they provide mentor and mentee education and other resources to ensure these individual relationships are sustainable for the 3 years of the formal program and beyond. Today, the LEAD program has 63 participants from across the entire enterprise, each of whom is involved in a mentoring partnership.

The purpose of the mentoring program is to provide a learning relationship that fosters growth and learning through the mutual exchange of ideas, experiences and open communication. The LEAD Mentoring Program has been the foundation for other mentoring initiatives at the American Red Cross. LEAD mentors are enhancing their own skills as leaders of others while sharing their valuable institutional knowledge and individual perspectives. Many mentoring relationships will continue beyond the formal LEAD program and create reciprocal benefits for mentors and mentees. The number of LEAD mentees who have moved to new assignments as a direct result of mentor influence has increased each year. The number of leaders who volunteer to be mentors for LEAD has increased year over year.

Beth Radio, Vice President, Organization Development
Sunrise Senior Living

Beth’s 27 years with Sunrise Senior Living, continuous thirst for learning and sharing that knowledge, ability to challenge you, along with an approachable personality make her stand out as a leader. Once you connect with Beth, she commits to your success and you have a Mentor for Life. Beth has infused the vital role of mentoring into the policies and programs associated with training and organizational development and set the tone with a “culture of coaching.”

Beth launched a robust mentoring program for all community leadership positions utilizing Job Coaches. An Executive Director in Training Program incorporates Learning Guides to mentor emerging talent through the extensive process of internal promotions at the General Manager level. The Strategic Development Group, Talent Review process, Group Training Leader program and Leadership Council are all successful thanks in large part to Beth’s vision and guidance along with the mentoring and coaching of talented leaders.

Upon hire, all new leaders are assigned to a Job Coach in their position and meet with their trainees for three-to-five days, utilizing a comprehensive position-specific practicum to guide the mentoring experience. Training and development compliance thresholds are now a part of the operations bonus structure. Effectively coaching, mentoring and making training a priority is now, more than ever, imbedded into the core business mission and margin.

Over the course of the previous year alone, 26 team members have been promoted internally into leadership roles as a direct result of Beth’s strategic programs. 18 participants of the Executive Director in Training program became administrators of their own Sunrise community. 8 members of the Strategic Development Group progressed into positions ranging from Regional Directors to Vice President of Operations.

As a mentor, Beth provides structure and direction for several key planning and goal setting initiatives. She is a member of the senior leadership steering committee, drives the direction of the annual Leadership Conference (600 attendees) and launched the leadership partners program.


The Sister Eymard Gallagher Award honors an individual for leadership, dedication, and achievements in helping his/her organization create positive change in the communities in which he/she operates.

Marcy Foster, HR Director
Arlington County Government

The Ban the Box Movement is a national effort gaining momentum to remove barriers to employment for those who have been convicted of a criminal offense. Marcy undertook the effort to address this issue since, as a local government entity, the organizational values include a commitment to treat all applicants fairly, and to give as many opportunities as possible for employment. She recognized that while criminal background checks may promote safety and security in the workplace, it is imperative that all applicants be given a barrier free opportunity to compete for jobs. Marcy recognized a problem that could be solved with low cost and high reward for the organization.

Marcy was able to eliminate the question regarding criminal convictions on the initial application, for positions not related to public safety. She also was successful in eliminating the question regarding a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DUI (Driving Under the Influence) conviction on the initial application, provided the position does not rely on driving as a part of the job, such as a CDL (commercial) driver or public safety. Questions regarding criminal conviction may be asked at the time of the interview and employers must inform applicants that a background check is conducted on all applicants selected for employment, prior to employment.

Marcy also tasked Human Resources staff to develop and conduct a County-wide information and educational effort to accompany these changes in order to ensure that staff was made aware of the changes, including the benefits of the initiative as well as how and when to ask applicants questions about criminal convictions.

Under Ms. Foster’s guidance and oversight, this initiative has expanded the tools that support the County’s commitment to fair hiring practices. Banning the Box allows all candidates to proceed further into the hiring process. This creates opportunities for some applicants that may otherwise have been lost, resulting in a more level playing field during the initial application process. Not only does this commitment to being an equal opportunity employer benefit prospective employees, but attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce contributes to the overall health of the current workforce. Taking this additional step further fosters an environment of diversity and inclusion, making Arlington County a place employees want to work.

Colleen Herlihy, HR Senior Professional

Colleen was approached by the VP of Finance to help in a partnership between CSC and Bender Consulting to identify entry level positions in the Finance Organization that could be filled with candidates that had disabilities. When identifying entry level positions for the hiring of people with disabilities, Colleen arranges for manager seminars on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. She arranges interview days and works with candidates to improve any interview skills as needed based on manager feedback. Once a candidate is provided an offer, Colleen works with Bender and the candidate to ensure a successful on-boarding and making accommodations as needed prior to the candidate’s start date. She follows up with the managers after the start date to address any issues that may have arisen.

In addition, because of her passion for providing entry level positions to people with disabilities, she was asked by HR Senior Leadership to chair the newly created Employee Resource Group (ERG) for people with disabilities. They named the ERG Abilities First. The CSC Abilities First Network is a CSC Employee Resource Group whose mission is to provide a forum where members of the CSC Disability Community can network, share information, and collaborate with the global CSC workforce, while supporting CSC Global Diversity’s mission by creating awareness not about the “disability”, but the abilities of CSC employees with disabilities.
For the past eight years Colleen has led TEAM CSC at the National Walk for Epilepsy raising at a minimum $10,000 each year for the cause through corporate sponsorship, donations from employees, family and friends.

Colleen encourages team comradery, introducing employees to one another, finding opportunities for all employees at many different levels to work together on worthwhile projects. CSC makes a definitive focus on Corporate Responsibility, and Colleen’s actions and involvement in the disability community is a cornerstone of the mission.

Shabnam Tabibi, Assistant Vice President Human Resources
Congressional Bank

Congressional Bank is committed to serving the communities in which it operates, so Shabnam formed a committee specifically designed to address this need. The Philanthropy Committee was established in 2012—a 5-person team of individuals across the Bank, from various backgrounds and departments, coming together to brainstorm, share ideas, and execute strategies that aligned with the Bank’s mission of CRA compliance.

The goal the Committee set at the beginning of 2013 was 100% Bank-wide participation in Philanthropy. This could take many forms, but essentially meant that every full-time employee would participate in at least one (1) philanthropic event through the year. Having just come off the heels of a very successful participation in the 2012 Susan G Komen 3-Day, Shabnam was looking for a new event which would rally the team behind another great cause. Shabnam led the Committee to tailor a volunteer event with Rebuilding Together: Montgomery County (RTMC) for Veteran’s Day to fill a need in the community, specifically a low-income household in need of repairs, matching the company’s values with the added weight of helping someone who has served our country.

The Philanthropy Committee did a cost distribution analysis, obtained executive approval, allocated funds, recruited volunteers, and successfully completed the project, all under Shabnam’s guidance.

Shabnam and the Philanthropy Committee brought together two thirds of the company staff to volunteer at this one event to make improvements on two different veterans’ homes for two years running. They were able to pull off a complete overhaul of a home in just one day. Congressional Bank employees turn out in the highest numbers of all company events for the RTMC volunteer project, due to Shabnam and the Philanthropy Committee.


Honors the outstanding individual who demonstrates considerable and enduring commitment to ethical business practices in the field of HR management. 2015 is the first year this award was open for application.

Manuel Ocasio, CHRO and Integrity Officer
Holy Cross Health, Inc.

Manuel was responsible for the implementation of an integrated electronic health record at Holy Cross Hospital. As part of that implementation, there was a corollary effort to consolidate the Information Services function of Holy Cross with the central IS organization at Trinity Health, Holy Cross’ corporate parent. He was deliberately transparent in his communications to staff within the Information Services organization and the key customers about the advantages and disadvantages of the new approach to running information systems within the organization. Because of the organization’s commitment to the preservation of the workforce, Manuel was able to speak unequivocally about the issues without implication of a threat to job security. While there were several functions that moved away from the immediate organization to a centralized function at the corporate office, other possibilities for value-added work emerged, and those were explored providing staff with the ability to choose from these new opportunities or await until other more appropriate opportunities appeared.

After completing training in Just Culture, Manuel pursued a rigorous process of certification that required him to take a comprehensive exam of the key concepts and potential applications of the methodology in the context of health care organizations. He envisioned and executed a training plan to ensure that all of the management team at Holy Cross Hospital become trained and competent in the use of the algorithm that is at the core of the toolkit included as part of the Just Culture implementation. In deploying Just Culture, Manuel engaged management of the organization in learning a different way in which to address human behaviors and systems in order to increase patient safety and the engagement of staff. The results of the implementation of Just Culture included a reduction in the involuntary turnover of the organization by over 50%.

Manuel has been an active participant in community based initiatives aimed at increasing employability of marginalized persons in Montgomery County. He has also created plans towards increasing opportunities for individuals in hard-to-employ categories. Holy Cross has begun to partner with organizations that support these hard-to-employ individuals and has created a steering committee to begin to engage those organizations with a track record of success in their placement and support. Holy Cross will establish targets for recruitment and retention of these individuals and incorporate those in its operating plans to track our success in meeting these goals.


Strategic alignment is that optimal state in which strategy, employees, customers, and key processes work in concert to propel growth and profits. Strategic alignment improves and accelerates operational execution. It also increases employee morale and improves retention through creating ownership in the organization’s success, resulting in more engaged employees. This Strategic Alignment Award recognizes an HR team who achieved measurable results for communicating and implementing strategic goals of the organization demonstrating the team’s understanding of their company’s objectives.

Holly Atkins, Jessica Gillcrist, Tanja Guerra, Joya Joseph
CACI International Inc

As a government contractor, more than 60% of CACI’s workforce resides at government client sites. While this ensures our employees have a great understanding of their clients’ needs and remain highly committed to their missions, it does have a downside; often, these employees are less engaged with the company, have a decreased sense of business ownership, and aren’t as likely to participate in professional growth and developmental opportunities. Survey feedback and other data confirm that employees who don’t have a clear vision of the company’s direction and how their individual performance objectives contribute to it are less engaged. We know from industry-wide studies that these engagement and development gaps are even larger amongst our millennial population.

The Emerging Leaders program was developed with the specific goal of aligning employee job performance and professional growth with the company’s strategic vision. That’s why the content focused on teaching high-potential employees predetermined, company-specific leadership competencies and expected behaviors at every level of the organization.
The aim of this initiative is to develop a robust pipeline of competent, confident future leaders that will help take CACI to the next level.

Recognizing the success of any leadership development initiative requires senior executive buy-in; therefore, CACI’s Talent Development team partnered with company leadership and the business development function to develop the course curriculum. Working together, the team created a multi-faceted leadership training program that leveraged senior executives as faculty-member sponsors and coordinated content with the CEO, who was eager to incorporate CACI’s vision.

The team specifically selects CACI leaders as guest speakers on relevant topics. For example, the COO discusses the company’s business strategy and a successful program manager discusses people management.

A third-party organization surveyed participants on each component of the program to ensure that goals and objectives were being met. The survey included questions about employment engagement, client satisfaction, job application, and business alignment.

Survey results showed that 80% of participants recognized employee engagement as the most impacted cultural facet; 77% selected project performance, 73% selected client satisfaction, and 69% selected organizational commitment. In addition, 86% indicated that the program improved their job performance.

Kenneth Kovach, Julie McCorkle, Nicole Stichter, Monet Schrodermier
B. F. Saul Company & Affiliates

Being in the real estate industry, B. F. Saul Company constantly battles the ebbs and flows of the economy and market. A key challenge that the Human Resources (HR) team faces is the need to drive change within the organization and its culture to be more innovative and focus on cross-functional business strategies, and not just individual contributions. The HR team recognized that a key opportunity to affect change was within the development of managers and future leaders. In order to address the challenge of embracing change and innovation by focusing on succession management and developing a talent pipeline, they identified the following objectives: 1) Develop an HR team that can strategically design programs and execute tactics that bests serves the entire organization; 2) Assess employees’ strengths and weaknesses; 3) Design a development program to retain and engage employees and address long term leadership needs with the intent of company growth and sustainability; and 4) Further engage employees in a wellness program. The solution was to implement a more powerful, robust and exciting version of the Center for Performance Development (CPD) program, previously created by the HR department. This solution created the capacity for change, and development of cross-functional business strategies. The new HR team held meetings, conducted interviews, facilitated task force sessions and administered surveys to best map out the details and tactics to execute the newly defined strategies. They grew the new strategy to include a 3-pronged approach that allowed for the largest employee development opportunity. The results exceeded the original goals established by the team in all areas including: increased innovation, comfort with and ability to manage change, cross-functional strategies, increased engagement, decreased turnover, focused recruitment, and a “wellness” culture. Development of an HR team that could professionally and masterfully support all of these efforts and unbreakable team cohesion allow them to function as a highly organized unit- as “the heart of the organization”.

Nicole Sud, Michelle Engel, Patrick Devlin, Tiffany Ligon, Casey Wilson
Evolent Health

Evolent Health has a corporate level goal to maintain and grow as a High Performing Organization to maintain and foster engagement, ensure role and goal clarity, and drive opportunities for development and career growth. As a fast-growing company, they are always vigilant of their mission to change the health of a nation by changing the way health care is delivered. They need every employee to be committed, innovative, focused, and willing to use their discretionary effort in order to be a beacon in the changing world of health and health care.

Based on their engagement survey results, the team faced the challenges of ensuring that every employee understood their ever-evolving roles, understood where to focus their time via specific and concrete goals, and felt as though they had a path to grow their own careers as part of the company’s growth. Therefore, they partnered with departments so that they could role model effective communication, provide feedback, and support growth of leaders and employees by empowering leaders to own and drive department-level solutions. They used a multi-pronged solution set including a continuous stream of communications coming from multiple levels of the organization about the effort, its importance, and the value for employees; department-empowered action planning led by department-level leadership; and ongoing behind-the-scenes support from the Talent Team. They were able to customize their efforts to meet the unique needs of various departments, fostering buy-in and ownership as well as alignment to both corporate and department-level efforts. In order to ensure actions aligned with results, the team continuously monitored metrics at the company and team level and shifted strategies for each department in order to gain traction at a deeper level. This team was not content simply maintaining an already impressive level of engagement from 2013 (85%), but took targeted actions to increase engagement in 2014 during this time in order to align to the corporate goal of maintaining a high performing organization.


The Innovation Award honors a team for thought leadership in creating and implementing new ideas, methodologies, or approaches that improve organizational performance. Innovation is about finding a better way of doing something. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are made readily available.

Laurie Dalton, Judith Swedek, Michael Spear, Alhassan Elbarasse, Lisa Fine, Tony Bralich
Gategroup Airline Solutions

Business leaders do not always value the support provided by HR nor do they connect HR work with improved business results. HR had been relegated to the back office at Gategroup after years of cost cutting by former private equity owners yet the HR team believed that the business would benefit from a stronger operational partnership, and select strategic partnerships with third parties whose expertise could be leveraged.

They decided to try a new and innovative approach to closely involve business leaders versus having the approach be HR-centric, and to brand it internally and externally as “People First.” The President was very supportive of the idea.

More than a balanced scorecard, it is the Human Resources strategic action plan. Based on the fact that consistently excellent leadership is the key to long-term success and profitability, People First is meant to be a blueprint on how to build a healthy organizational culture – one that develops great leaders today and instills the mechanisms and the mindsets that will continue to foster great leadership tomorrow. People First is meant to bring awareness and joint ownership to people issues.

They developed three pillars to virtually guarantee leadership excellence: 1) Aligned goals – an objective evaluation of goal achievement in the performance management system for everyone based on KPIs; 2) Aligned behavior – ensure employees get a consistent experience with leaders by adopting certain standard behaviors; and 3) Aligned processes – identify what people related processes will be consistent throughout the company.

Each HR team member and functional leader contributed to goal setting based on their functional alignment. These became the basis of the work streams. The HR team members’ work streams dug deep into root causes of business “pain points” that affected the business negatively. The work stream leaders’ partner with a team comprised of business and HR staff to create and execute improvements to people processes and operations. This mindset helps propel innovation at the local level as local HR resources are less tied up with the basics due to the innovative partnerships formed with recruiting, temporary and development vendors. The company leverages these partnerships to deliver consistency and speed as this work could not be done internally due to cost constraints and the variability of HR staffing.

Peter Keeble, Kim White, Marc King
Ascom Network Testing Inc.

Ascom Network Testing, Inc. was seeing some work/life balance issues arising in their US employee base and yet employees were not taking their full vacation allowances. Upon closer inquiry, they determined that this, in part, was due to a desire to accrue vacation as a financial safeguard. This is not what a vacation benefit is designed for and as a result, this was starting to become a large item on their balance sheet. As a high tech company and with the evolving technology of cellphones, laptops etc. how their employees take vacation has radically changed by becoming more flexible and “blended” with their job responsibilities. Thus, as an employer of this culture, they needed to change how they offered this benefit of vacation to be correspondingly flexible to their employees.

In their locations elsewhere around the world, vacation allowances are more tightly legislated and employment contracts are very specific on this point. The US does not have a legal mandate for employers to provide any vacation and consequently this was the one geography where they had the flexibility to do something very different.

The solution was to introduce an “Open Vacation” policy whereby employees no longer accrued vacation, but could take as much time off as they wished provided they obtained their manager’s prior approval, and secondly that the work still had to get done.

Employees are refreshed and re-charged, thereby able to tackle their job responsibilities and business challenges with renewed energy and creativity. Obtaining legal counsel and coopting a Finance member to the team was invaluable in ensuring a rounded perspective to cover all the bases.

With this vanguard program, they established a valuable case study that can be used for assessing the viability of introducing such an approach in other locations outside of the US, where country labor law and contract law along with union agreements permit.
This approach to the vacation benefit removed $1.3M in accruals off the balance sheet and positions them with zero vacation accruals financially for 2016 and beyond.

Rachel Lavine, Jana Panneton, Jill Benjamin, Katrina Thompson, Camille Taylor
Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP

Dixon Hughes Goodman (DHG) was formed through a variety of mergers, resulting in a high level of inconsistency in the onboarding process throughout its different offices. As a result of this lack of consistency and reliability, employees were not receiving the same training, integration and overall experience when joining the firm.
DHG formed a project team consisting of HR professionals, as well as members from the firm’s Learning and Development and Firm Technology teams, to build an innovative new program to engage and acclimate new hires to the firm called StepONE. Without using any additional resources, the project team was able to create a proprietary branded process and products that are easily recognizable. The final product includes how-to instruction guides for the various Coaches and Guides responsible in the onboarding of a new employee, as well as an online portal for new hires to utilize as a one-stop shop. Through the project team’s meetings, they worked out the best ways to present the multitude of information that new hires need when starting at the firm. The culmination of this effort being the toolkits of important documents that are now provided to each person who plays a role in the onboarding process and an online portal. Quantitatively, since StepONE’s implementation, the firm has seen electronic sign offs on tasks as complete increase from 56.89% in the first three months to 71.7%, with participation in the Metro DC market currently at 76%. Additionally, feedback solicited from both new hires and Guides has been overwhelmingly positive.

StepONE gives new hires the tools they need to succeed at the firm, as well as providing them with a clear path. The program also makes available the resources new hires need to first become acclimated, then thrive and propel their careers forward within the firm. Additionally, StepONE enables Coaches, Guides and HR to coach and mentor more effectively and shine as leaders through their hand in supporting employee development.