The recent protests and expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement have caused many to reevaluate their beliefs and find new ways to take action. Leadership and HR at IntelliDyne considered the movement to be a call to action and the opportunity to reinforce and expand their diversity and inclusion efforts.
Meet Marisa Krafsig, the CHRO at IntelliDyne, LLC, a market-leading professional consulting firm providing mission critical technology solutions. We learned about Marisa when she was awarded the Washington Business Journal 2020 HR Impact Award.
How did you get into HR?
I got my undergraduate in psychology at George Mason University and considered a graduate degree in either Industrial/Organizational Psychology or Human Resources. After discussing with my family, they thought HR would be the best career path for me. After much deliberating and research, I decided to get my master’s in human resources management and begin a career path in HR.
When I had 3 months left to finish my degree, I thought I would start looking for employment in the HR field. It was a struggle because many employers want to have hands on experience in HR regardless of the degree. It was a bit of a struggle to actually break into the HR field and I was very concerned I wouldn’t be able to find a job in HR. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find an organization that hired me for an HR assistant role and I was able to get my foot in the door and grow with the organization.
Do you think it turned out to be as exciting as you thought it would be?
I think it turned out better than I expected. When I started my career in HR, I loved the tactical aspect of it. The hands-on day to day support helping employees. As I grew in my career and got more exposure to actual HR operations and strategy, I found it very rewarding to develop and execute programs and initiatives that aligned with our business needs. I found purpose and meaning in my role. At every level I’ve held in the HR field, I was able to make an impact that resulted in higher employee engagement and commitment. I have been so fortunate to work at organizations that value their employees and support initiatives to foster strong workplace culture.
That’s certainly consistent with what I’ve heard. I imagine that on the ground, being in HR is kind of a crazy experience.
It is. It’s so different in every organization. The main driver of the impact of HR is the culture and the value the company’s leadership places on HR to develop innovative programming and initiatives to support their workforce. There are a lot of different issues that come up that are so unique and dynamic and require HR professionals to adapt quickly in a changing environment. Just this year alone, with COVID, we had to immediately pivot from our 2020 strategic initiatives to focus on the health, safety, and welfare of our employees and our clients. It was an initial rush to immerse myself in numerous webinars, reading articles and government websites, and attending networking sessions with HR professionals to understand the complexity of this environment.
I had to immediately become an expert by navigating through all the new legal requirements, adapting policies, and creating trainings to address safety requirements all within a few weeks of COVID becoming a worldwide pandemic. We went from a 10% telework environment to a 90% telework environment. I had to quickly identify ways to help support employees’ health and wellbeing and put in place initiatives to help employees stay connected and ensure that our culture stayed intact.
I moved quickly to establish various virtual events to celebrate employee successes and create new sources for communication with our employees in new ways. We gifted tablets to every employee to ensure they had the technology to stay connected and informed with company activities and updates. Retention and pay continuity was also a huge priority for us. We established two employee funds to help support employees who were impacted by COVID. We were so proud to say we had zero layoffs or furloughs, and through our COVID fund, we were able to provide “THANK YOU” bonuses to front line workers who had to come to the worksite to support our clients.
I love HR because it’s always changing and providing challenging situations that require thoughtful solutions.
I can definitely hear it in your voice—the passion—which is really important. I see that, based on what I read about you, you guys had a military resource group. Do you have other employee resource groups at your organization?
We have an employee advisory council, and we have a women’s leadership group. Soon, we will form an inclusion and engagement council—that’s planned for either the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Right now, we are still at the listening and fact gathering stage. We want to be intentional and act with purpose. We’re getting a lot of input from employees to see how we can best serve their needs as well as hold ourselves accountable to follow through on our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. We don’t want to just say we support anti-racism and equity. We want to put something in place that’s meaningful and makes a difference.
What was the impetus behind creating the military resource group (MRG)?
A couple of years ago we decided to make hiring vets a business strategy. When we were looking at our workforce planning and identifying new sources of talent, veterans and military spouses were a natural fit. Their background experience in the military just aligns perfectly with our values—commitment, loyalty, quality, teamwork, and diversity—so they come in with the right mind-set. As a federal government contractor, veterans and military spouses understand the importance of supporting the mission of our clients. It was something we strategically developed to help with our pipeline and the engagement of our employees.
We started slow. We hired recruiters with military backgrounds to help us best connect with this talent source. We were successful in hiring a lot of veterans, but then came the challenge of keeping them engaged and retained within our organization. We wanted to put together a group dedicated to helping us attract and retain veterans, while also providing outreach and support for veterans and military families in our communities.
The MRG has been in place since 2018. The group is diverse—about half of the members are veterans or military reservists and the other half are employees who just want to make a difference in the military community. We leverage their interests; some people want to help with the recruiting, some want to do outreach, and some just want to take part in the socials and activities we host. Our MRG has helped increase our veteran employee population to 26% and was instrumental in us receiving the Department of Labor’s Vets Medallion Award and the NVTC’s Veteran Employment Initiative Award, as well as land on the Monster and Military.com’s list of best companies to hire veterans.
To what degree was getting the military ERG off the ground helping you with your new diversity and inclusion efforts?
Even within the veteran community, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. The MRG has helped reinforce the value of listening and the value of being open to hearing the needs of our employees and adapting to those needs. What’s made this group so effective is the actual members. They drive the activities, events, and give us direction on how we should shape the program and what organizations we should tap for additional help or support. Our employees are the driving force that makes our veteran program as effective as possible.
Not every organization, after the recent increase in Black Lives Matter activity and its expansion beyond a police brutality matter into a nationwide matter, has stepped outside and said, “Hey, we condemn racism, and we support this, and we’re creating all these efforts.” Some did, but not everybody. It’s commendable. It’s really important, and it shows a certain level of awareness of the direction we are all headed.
With the recent injustices happening and protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we had to pivot again and take action to make this a priority. Our CEO immediately made statements to denounce racism and harassment, reaffirming the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. Our CEO and I hosted two listening sessions to provide an opportunity for employees to have authentic conversations and share what they were experiencing. This was so important to us that we decided to make Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
The listening sessions were really eye-opening for a lot of us, hearing heartbreaking stories that our employees and their families were experiencing. Our employees are like family, and people we care so deeply about. The listening sessions provided an opportunity for some to be heard, and others to be educated and develop a commitment to take action.
Diversity is one of our six corporate values. But this movement was a call to action within us to make diversity, inclusion, and equity a strategic priority. It is a business imperative. It’s critical to have our employees feel included, valued, and respected and to leverage the diversity of thought within our employees to bring about new and innovative ideas to our customers.
Making Juneteenth a paid company holiday was an impressive move.
Yes. The executive team felt very passionate and committed. I love that I didn’t have to convince anybody on the executive team that this was important. I love that we all just came together knowing this was important; that we need to look within ourselves as well as how can we help the community.
Right now, we’re in the educational phase. Aside from the listening session and making Juneteenth a company holiday, we hosted a training for managers and provided computer-based training on understanding biases in the workplace. After we gather more information, we will work to develop goals, milestones, and metrics for us to achieve within our organization in support of equity and inclusion. This is ever-evolving and will require ongoing education, ongoing input, and listening sessions, and continuous measurement of our activities.
Were you surprised to have won an award? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes. Was I surprised? I was absolutely surprised. I saw this as an opportunity for me to showcase a lot of the great things that are going on in our organization. To be in the top three, I definitely didn’t expect that.
Do you think you’ll ever leave HR?
What if I were like, “Hey, come help me run this business. I’ll give you $300,000”?
Am I doing HR?
That’s the spirit! I find that that’s actually the case with virtually every HR person I talk to. Once you’re in, you’re in.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love most about my job is the ability to see the impact of the programs we put forward, like our military resource group, women’s leadership, and how we continue to evolve with COVID and supporting the effort for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I’m so thrilled to be at IntelliDyne because we are an organization that cares about our employees and their experience with us. We want to have a meaningful work environment that challenges employees, and not every organization is like that.
I love the strategic part of HR in identifying issues or gaps and coming up with solutions or programs to address those needs. For example, last year, we got feedback from our employee advisory council that our benefits weren’t competitive. As a result, we started gathering data. We did a comprehensive benefits survey, we looked at our time to fill metrics, and our rate of declined offers, our turnover stats, and our exit interview data. We looked at our environment (Amazon and other technology firms in our area).
We looked at benchmark data, we did a financial analysis, and as a result, we made significant changes to our benefits. Changes included moving to a Flexible Paid Time Off model, increasing paternity leave, adding a student loan subsidy, adding additional health and welfare options, and increasing our monthly wellness subsidy. These benefit upgrades helped position us to be very competitive to attract talent and to retain our existing employees.