Plugged-in
Professionals

T

he 2018 class of Workforce Game Changers knocked our socks off with their accomplishments in all areas of human resources, including recruiting, culture, training and benefits. What really stood out this year, though, was the large number of applicants who have advanced HR technology and analytics in their organizations.

Now in its eighth year, the Workforce Game Changers awards recognize high-potential young professionals under the age of 40 who are making their mark on the HR profession. This class is certainly representative of that, especially as talk in the HR community has shifted to data and analytics. One key skill in this area is knowing what to do with it and not getting bogged down by the vast quantity of content. Many of the Game Changers this year have had the intelligence and ability to know exactly what to do to improve their organization.

We’ve also asked several of our tech-centric honorees to record themselves talking about the latest trends in HR technology and the projects they’re working on in that space. The video will be available at Workforce.com/HRTechGameChangers.

One of these HR pros is also our youngest Game Changer yet. At age 20, Zackary King of Public Health-Seattle & King County, pictured at right, has significantly improved the agency’s recruiting efforts by developing a new digital platform.

Other winners have proven, still, that you don’t need to have the tech expertise as long as you understand the human aspect of human resources. Eric Watkins — who at 27 is also one of our youngest Game Changers — began as an unpaid intern at his company but through his determination rose through the ranks and made an impressive impact on revenue growth.

Shirley Cruz-Rodriguez from Fannie Mae proved that a person can put their heart into making the world a better place while at the same time making her company a quality organization. She participated in hurricane relief efforts and also developed an award-winning mentoring program.

This is an impressive group of young HR talent, and we’re proud to call them our 2018 Game Changers. Congratulations to all of them!
— Andie Burjek

Plugged-in
Professionals

T

he 2018 class of Workforce Game Changers knocked our socks off with their accomplishments in all areas of human resources, including recruiting, culture, training and benefits. What really stood out this year, though, was the large number of applicants who have advanced HR technology and analytics in their organizations.

Now in its eighth year, the Workforce Game Changers awards recognize high-potential young professionals under the age of 40 who are making their mark on the HR profession. This class is certainly representative of that, especially as talk in the HR community has shifted to data and analytics. One key skill in this area is knowing what to do with it and not getting bogged down by the vast quantity of content. Many of the Game Changers this year have had the intelligence and ability to know exactly what to do to improve their organization.

We’ve also asked several of our tech-centric honorees to record themselves talking about the latest trends in HR technology and the projects they’re working on in that space. The video will be available at Workforce.com/HRTechGameChangers.

One of these HR pros is also our youngest Game Changer yet. At age 20, Zackary King of Public Health-Seattle & King County, pictured at right, has significantly improved the agency’s recruiting efforts by developing a new digital platform.

Other winners have proven, still, that you don’t need to have the tech expertise as long as you understand the human aspect of human resources. Eric Watkins — who at 27 is also one of our youngest Game Changers — began as an unpaid intern at his company but through his determination rose through the ranks and made an impressive impact on revenue growth.

Shirley Cruz-Rodriguez from Fannie Mae proved that a person can put their heart into making the world a better place while at the same time making her company a quality organization. She participated in hurricane relief efforts and also developed an award-winning mentoring program.

This is an impressive group of young HR talent, and we’re proud to call them our 2018 Game Changers. Congratulations to all of them!
— Andie Burjek

• HR TECHNOLOGY


• HR TECHNOLOGY

ZACKARY KING
Human Resources Analyst
Public Health-Seattle & King County
Seattle

Not only is Zackary King 20 years old — the youngest Workforce Game Changer ever — he also used his youth to bring new perspectives to the organization he works at and to improve its hiring process substantially. Public Health-Seattle & King County had an outdated recruitment system, and King was assigned the task of building a new platform.

“The biggest accomplishment that I’m most proud of as an HR professional is the digital platform,” King said.

He established standard best practices for everyone in the hiring process. His digital platform cut 23.88 days from the hiring process, and that number continues to improve, according to Greg Wilson, program manager at Public Health. Wilson added that as King actively manages analytics, he also provides reports to key stakeholders and organizes presentations to keep people informed. These presentations have helped to sustain momentum in the project.

As with any new digital platform, feedback helped King shape it from something basic to something great. “Until people actually gave me constructive and positive feedback, I didn’t know where to go with it,” King said.

His appreciation of teamwork and maintaining positive professional relationships extends to his co-workers. “It’s always a team effort, and I can’t do anything I do without the companionship of my team and their work as well,” he said.

For someone relatively new to HR, King has the drive, humility and forethought of a true Game Changer. He especially enjoys the outreach portion of his job. While some individuals or groups in the company might see HR as a separate entity in their own bubble, he likes reaching out to these crowds, explaining what HR is doing to improve things on a daily basis, and confirming that HR is there for both the agency and its employees.

His passion for the job is fueled by progress, King said. When he goes home at the end of the day he asks himself: What did I do today to feel fulfilled? What did I improve or work to improve?

“There’s always something to improve,” he said. “I’m passionate about that progress.”
— Andie Burjek

ARMANDO VILLASANA
Director, Global HRIS
World Fuel Services Corp.
Doral, Florida

It’s not easy taking on the leadership role of a team scattered around the world, but Armando Villasana of World Fuel Services Corp. was up for the task.

Villasana, 39, is the director of global human resources information systems and he turned around World Fuel’s team at the Doral, Florida-based company in less than a year. Through his leadership style, he developed the team’s skills while also increasing engagement and cohesion in the group that admittedly hadn’t been in the best shape.

Javiel Lopez, the head of HR at Quirch Foods, said that Villasana successfully combines business, human resources and technology, demonstrating that HR can both be technical and business-oriented in a beneficial way to companies. His approachable style and belief that talent development helps retain and motivate employees makes him “a magnet for talent.”
— Aysha Ashley Househ

CHELSEA SECKER
Senior Project Team Manager
AT&T
Dallas

When Chelsea Secker realized that she wasn’t happy with AT&T’s campus recruitment tracking tool, she decided to create one herself. Her new tool not only made things run more smoothly but also made them more cost efficient.

Secker, 28, previously was a recruiter for the company. However, since the role required travel, Secker wasn’t sure she could continue in the job after having her second child.

“I was just so lucky because when I came back from maternity leave, they were like, ‘Surprise, you don’t have to travel. We have this awesome position that we literally made just for you,’ ” said Secker.

And that’s how the senior project team manager was “sort of thrown into the role.” Taking on the new position, she immediately felt comfortable with the technical aspects since she was first part of AT&T’s technology development program. All told, she started at the company as an intern, then eventually joined as a full-time employee.

“I always joke with people, I plan to retire from AT&T,” she said.

Despite her ease with the technical side of things, the data analytics role was a different story. Her job to collect, analyze and summarize recruiting and hiring data was new. There are two main teams — program recruiters and campus recruiters — so Secker spent time looking into their programs to find where their efforts would best be utilized and what leadership was needed as well.

“In this role I’m always being tested, and I really thrive on that,” said Secker.

Since then, she has created multiple internal websites so teams can collaborate and view reports together to make sure they’re on the same page. Before her role was created, the teams mostly functioned independently.

MyCampus Plan, or MCP, the campus recruitment tracking tool Secker developed, helps keep the teams updated on new developments to their programs and provides easy access to hiring system reports, which reduces the time candidates have to wait for recruiters to pull up information. When she first proposed her plan to the developer of the tool, she was told it couldn’t be done — not an answer she was going to accept. So she took her idea to her boss and said she could make it happen at a low cost. Since launching it a year ago, they’ve seen positive results.

She also created the new program with a necessary eye toward it being mobile friendly, which is a boon for recruiters who find themselves constantly on the road. Another issue she tackled was event calendars. If one recruiter was in charge of multiple schools, then there previously was a separate calendar for each school. MCP allows them to handle all the events on one calendar.

Even though the college recruiting and development team manager has built a new program, she’s already busy with her next project.

“I’ve actually been working a lot to create a new database, which I’m really excited about,” Secker said. “[It’s] something to really track our candidates from the very beginning, all the way through their career with AT&T.”
— Aysha Ashley Househ

ERIC MACKALUSO
Vice President,
Head of People Analytics
ADP
Roseland, New Jersey

Eric Mackaluso joined HR software and services company ADP in late 2016, and according to nominator Jarrod Schwartz, he hit the ground running.

“Eric has done more for ADP in a little over a year than we could have ever imagined,” Schwartz, ADP’s vice president of HR strategy and planning, said in his nomination letter. “He continually drives the adoption of data science, data visualization and storytelling as part of HR’s decision-making process.”

Mackaluso, 39, made a big impact at ADP in his first six months alone, which earned him a promotion to vice president, head of people analytics. Through monthly audits, he and his team cleansed the data of more than 57,000 associates that already existed in ADP’s system. He also introduced the Tableau platform, through which his team created consistent dashboards for reporting across all business units and functions. His analysis and presentation of key data metrics allows ADP business leaders to make informed decisions for the company.

“Eric is by virtue a Workforce Game Changer, and we are privileged to have him,” Schwartz said.
— Ashley St. John

MARCUS SAWYERR
President
Adecco Group X
Zurich, Switzerland

Marcus Sawyerr has been with his company for 1.5 years. It took him only a year of that time to build a global team that lead the digital transformation of his workplace, the Adecco Group X.

Sawyerr, 34, is president of Adecco’s Zurich, Switzerland, operation and has created new digital products for the human resources solutions provider. He also leads Adecco’s digital acquisition strategy. This focuses on finding and scaling the most innovative digital solutions. He’s also launched two digital companies, making him “a digital pioneer for the industry,” wrote Selma Studer, the head of communications at Adecco, in her nomination letter.

At previous employer CareerBuilder, he developed new business with their largest Fortune 100 clients. His background at the jobs site in sales, product development and HR helped provide Sawyerr with the capabilities needed to execute a digital transformation strategy, according Studer.
— Aysha Ashley Househ

KYLE F. ARNOLD
Systems Director Analytics and Talent
Mercy Health
Cincinnati

When Carol Dweck unveiled her groundbreaking research on the growth mindset in the mid-2000s, the renowned Stanford University psychology professor did not have Kyle F. Arnold in mind.

Considering Arnold was a barely out of his teens and a student at Ohio University at the time, that’s not a surprise. But today Arnold, 34, is described as the “walking example” of Dweck’s growth mindset by colleague Stacey Marroso, systems director support services and employee experience at Cincinnati’s Mercy Health.

Arnold is responsible for advancing Mercy in workforce analytics and a performance management system allowing Mercy to serve its patient population. Arnold also delivered to Mercy’s board an advanced people analytics toolkit to boost workforce planning. He also is directing a new performance management system named GPS — Grow, Perform, Succeed. That sure sounds like something Carol Dweck would agree pushes the boundaries of a growth mindset.
— Rick Bell

• BENEFITS


• BENEFITS

SHANNON VARGESKO
HR Specialist
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

Committing to a healthier lifestyle is a challenge for anyone. For employers, convincing employees to commit to wellness, and do it with a smile, is even more challenging.

Luckily for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Shannon Vargesko leads the charge from a place of personal passion. Vargesko, 32, is a former smoker and now uses her own personal journey toward wellness as a source of inspiration for others.

Vargesko developed the organization’s wellness and engagement program, which has revolutionized the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s wellness initiative. Starting in 2012, the program encouraged employees to support their health by giving rewards for activities like health surveys and biometric screenings. Now, the program has expanded into a three-tier system that is available to all full- and part-time staff.

On top of the program’s impact on employees, it has led to reduced health insurance premium renewals for the company. The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh has now been recognized by the Pittsburgh Business Times as a Healthiest Employer and by Y USA as a leader in health and wellness programs.

Vargesko’s contagious positivity has transformed a company that was once low on morale into one supported by uplifting successes and a healthy commitment to the future.
— Mariel Tishma

NATHAN COUNTS
Director of Benefits
AT&T
Dallas

With the U.S. health care system in flux, there’s great opportunity for forward-thinking benefits professionals to do something innovative and create change. Nathan Counts is one of those individuals.

He and his team at communications giant AT&T design benefit plans that impact over a million people including employees, dependents and retirees. Counts, 37, represents the future of successful health plan design, “bringing the human side to the analytical side of benefits,” according to AT&T Assistant Vice President of Global Benefits Marty Webb.

While he has worked to make AT&T’s design decisions truly data-driven, Counts has also impacted recruitment at the company by attracting many applicants with strong skills. Together, they’re a powerful and analytical design team. As Counts consistently educates himself through continuing education courses on big data, statistical analysis and more, many of his team members have followed his lead to stay up to date on relevant courses.

Counts also cares about the people impacted by his benefits plans. He’s especially proud of the investments his company has made in expanding access to fertility benefits and behavioral therapy for those on the autism spectrum.

“All of these were sizable investments in our employees, but it puts a smile on your face knowing at these great moments of need you’re able to deliver a truly great benefit,” Counts said. “Benefits are personal; it means when you get it right you can have very meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
— Andie Burjek

• RECRUITING


• RECRUITING

BROOKE FREEBURG
Senior Talent Acquisition
Consultant
Hub Recruiting
Bedford, Massachusetts

In 2013 Hub Recruiting started out small. With a specific focus on tech companies, Hub Recruiting has grown steadily since then. Brooke Freeburg, who joined the company in 2014, has had a powerful impact on the scale of that growth.

Freeburg, 37, is a former college basketball player and coach. Her passion for coaching, mentorship and teamwork has come with her into the hiring world. Her background has given her the patience to navigate client’s tough demands as she offers lessons on how to improve hiring from start to finish. Currently, she consults at two separate startups and in the past has helped one client nearly double their staff on her own.

Within Hub Recruiting, Freeburg often trains new hires herself. Since she began, Hub Recruiting has increased its head count from 10 to 40 employees.

Most remarkably, though, Freeburg serves as an integral part of Hub Recruiting’s internal learning and development program, Hub University. She chose the learning management software at the program’s start and has since taken the lead in numerous areas like curriculum development, content creation and course administration.

Kendrick Wong, marketing manager at Hub Recruiting wrote in his recommendation, “Basically, Brooke makes it all work seamlessly.”
— Mariel Tishma

BROOKE FREEBURG
Senior Talent Acquisition
Consultant
Hub Recruiting
Bedford, Massachusetts

In 2013 Hub Recruiting started out small. With a specific focus on tech companies, Hub Recruiting has grown steadily since then. Brooke Freeburg, who joined the company in 2014, has had a powerful impact on the scale of that growth.

Freeburg, 37, is a former college basketball player and coach. Her passion for coaching, mentorship and teamwork has come with her into the hiring world. Her background has given her the patience to navigate client’s tough demands as she offers lessons on how to improve hiring from start to finish. Currently, she consults at two separate startups and in the past has helped one client nearly double their staff on her own.

Within Hub Recruiting, Freeburg often trains new hires herself. Since she began, Hub Recruiting has increased its head count from 10 to 40 employees.

Most remarkably, though, Freeburg serves as an integral part of Hub Recruiting’s internal learning and development program, Hub University. She chose the learning management software at the program’s start and has since taken the lead in numerous areas like curriculum development, content creation and course administration.

Kendrick Wong, marketing manager at Hub Recruiting wrote in his recommendation, “Basically, Brooke makes it all work seamlessly.”
— Mariel Tishma

ELIZABETH CALDER
Director of Leadership Development
Suffolk
Boston

A passion for talent. An infectious, winning attitude. Someone who can be counted on to get results.

These are just a few of the qualities attributed to Elizabeth Calder, director of leadership development at Suffolk. In his recommendation letter, Suffolk Head of Learning and Development Stephen Ratt even said, “She is the embodiment of Suffolk’s core values of passion, integrity, hard work, professionalism and caring.”

In her nine years with Suffolk, Calder, 30, has been an integral member of the construction company’s learning and development team. She leads Career Start, a rotational program focused on training and developing the next tier of company leaders, as well as Suffolk’s internship program. These are critical to sourcing and developing the organization’s future talent and leadership pipeline.

According to Suffolk Chief People and Learning Officer Dave DeFilippo, before Calder’s leadership of these programs, they were haphazard and disorganized. Under Calder’s direction they began to thrive, thanks to her implementation of a multiyear strategic plan. She also enacted measurement processes for Career Start, which show, over three years, a 94 percent graduation rate leading to placement in a permanent role, 87 percent of program participants retained and a more diversified demographic.

Because of her track record of success, Calder’s role recently was expanded. She now also leads Suffolk’s two high-potential programs: Leadership Accelerator and Emerging Talent Series.

“Not only is Liz a game changer for Suffolk, she is going to change the game for the HR, learning and the talent field,” DeFilippo said.
— Ashley St. John

ERIN ZIMMERMANN
Director of Talent Acquisition
HDIS Inc.
Olivette, Missouri

It takes a special person to find talented and compassionate employees to provide 24/7 services to people with developmental disabilities at Emmaus Homes. Erin Zimmermann has that ability.

Zimmermann, 33, entered an industry challenged by a high turnover rate. Making the most of her opportunity, she worked diligently and creatively to improve Emmaus Homes. In her first year, she researched and implemented a new applicant-tracking tool that provides up-to-the-minute information on potential applicants. By using this system, Zimmermann’s team increased their number of hires by 28 percent over the previous year. She also implemented a new social media strategy by creating personal recruiting Facebook pages and highlighting the behind-the-scenes work on Instagram.

In addition to those substantial numbers, Zimmermann consistently makes a difference both in and outside of work. At Emmaus Homes, she was a vital part of the company’s wellness committee and she also led an employee engagement committee. Outside the office, she advocates for animals and the benefits of veganism.

Zimmermann recently accepted an opportunity to become director of talent acquisition at medical products supplier HDIS Inc.
— Ave Rio

NEIL OTTO
Administrator of Talent Acquisition
Orange County Public Schools
Orlando, Florida

“One of the biggest difficulties is filling the pipeline — getting the mass amount of candidates that we need at the beginning of every year,” said Neil Otto, administrator of talent acquisition for Orlando’s Orange County Public Schools. For school districts across the country, finding qualified and effective educators is an annual challenge, and some schools face teacherless classrooms when classes begin.

Thankfully, Otto, 37, has brought OCPS into the present using technology and his perspective from the business world.

“Bringing in that corporate knowledge or the understanding of how things work outside of education is part of what makes what I’m doing a game changer inside of that field,” Otto said.

His commitment to the district began early in his career when he served as an elementary school teacher. As a teacher, Otto realized that his district lacked a LinkedIn page through which the community could connect. He put the page together himself and later explained the reason to David Azzarito, director of talent acquisition and HR compliance.

Azzarito wrote in his Game Changers letter of recommendation, “Neil … wanted to make sure an employee of Orange County Public Schools was the first one to create a page to make sure it was done correctly and that only positive and truthful information was disseminated within.”

He continued to teach, and refined his business skills with an MBA, before a position in human resources opened up. Otto said he’d never considered HR prior to his new role, but now he wouldn’t change a thing. He said, “It has been a perfect fit with my extroverted self — being able to connect with so many people around not only the nation but the world.”

In his new position, Otto worked to increase OCPS’ presence on social media and improve their external branding. This felt like a natural continuation of his previous work and has since led to a decrease in vacancies.

Azzarito said, “Our inquiries from interested candidates throughout the U.S. can be traced back to information they have seen through our social media pages.”

In addition to his work on the district’s social media pages, Otto created a database of candidates to ensure the growth of the county’s network of qualified teachers. Otto’s work has allowed schools to reach and keep in touch with a new generation of teachers.

His warm and welcoming personality ensures candidates feel appreciated as they go through the recruitment process. Otto said, “I love being around people, it’s one of those things that gives me energy and fulfillment and purpose.”

His passion has allowed the Orange County Public Schools to stand out from others in their field. That’s a win for employees of the district, teachers and, most importantly, for students.
— Mariel Tishma

• TRAINING


• TRAINING

LAURA KAPELSKI
Manager of Learning and Development
Eagle Hill Consulting
Arlington, Virginia

About 1 1/2 years ago, Laura Kapelski joined Eagle Hill Consulting during a transition. As the company grew, Kapelski, 35, built career and leadership development programs from the ground up and created and implemented an L&D curriculum, all while aligning the training with business initiatives.

In her recommendation letter, Senior Director of Talent Management Stephanie Mount said Kapelski has the ability to understand the firm’s needs from both an internal engagement and an external business development perspective. “This unique lens enabled her to develop a comprehensive and dynamic L&D function that simultaneously enhances Eagle Hill’s workforce competitiveness and dynamic L&D function while building a program that embodies the company’s core values,” she said.

Under Kapelski’s leadership, the L&D team has enabled more than 47 professional certifications, facilitated 2,500 hours of external training, 2,400 hours of internal training and provided the opportunity for 30 new mentor relationships and tailored training workshops to flourish.

Further, Kapelski helped bring to life a boot camp program for project management professionals. In just six months, employees with PMP certifications went from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Since joining the company, Eagle Hill has nearly doubled in size — from 120 to 200 employees — and Mount said Kapelski has successfully had a positive impact on every employee at the company.
— Ave Rio

JULIE BETTS
Director of Enterprise Learning
NCR
Atlanta

Regarded as a standout on the team by her manager, Julie Betts is redefining learning at NCR.

Three years ago Betts, 38, revolutionized NCR’s sales learning strategy by creating a ValueSelling program that applied “one common language” to the sales force. Since the program began, Betts has produced 25 courses and 3,000 course completions, impacting 1,400 sellers. She also designed and implemented a successful managers sales certification program that produced measurable results.

Learners like what Betts is producing. A SelfServe 80 program that Betts designed and developed for 581 sellers was recommended by all of those who completed it. Further, Betts’ onboarding program has a 97 percent net promoter score.

And her direct supervisor likes what Betts is producing, too.

“Julie has branded herself through fearless execution, courageous insights and pushing boundaries on what is possible,” said NCR Vice President of Talent Development Christine Belknap in her recommendation letter. “Julie is very consistent in her performance, is passionate about her work and is the true definition of a Game Changer.”
— Ave Rio

LAURA ROENICK
Director, Talent Acquisition
United Talent Agency
Los Angeles

Laura Roenick is a strong supporter of diversity and inclusion, and not just because it’s her job. The director of diversity, development and recruitment at talent and literary agency United Talent Agency is Latina and the daughter of a first-generation immigrant, giving her a personal connection to her role.

Roenick, 35, has been a part of many projects that have pushed diversity and inclusion initiatives at United Talent Agency. She remodeled the referral-based process into one that’s more diverse when sourcing and selecting entry-level candidates. In this way, it was ensured that all résumés were reviewed, even those of individuals who don’t have a connection to the industry.

And in a time where the Time’s Up movement is prevalent, Roenick also focuses on coordinating overviews of the movement across the United Talent Agency offices and hosts follow-up innovation sessions in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee.
— Aysha Ashley Househ

SHELLEY OSBORNE
Head of Learning and Development
Udemy
San Francisco

Starting at Udemy just one year ago, the company named Shelley Osborne “Rookie of the Year” in 2017. Osborne has done a lot in her first year and Udemy VP and General Manager Darren Shimkus praised Osborne for her patience when she first began in taking the time to listen to employees and take a pulse of the company’s needs.

From there, Osborne, 35, has created an L&D culture that’s built on continuous development with a growth mindset. The Drop Everything and Learn program exemplifies that learning philosophy. Osborne encourages employees to learn on the DEAL platform during office hours and take any course that appeals to them personally or professionally.

Osborne also spearheaded the use of the virtual reality game, “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes,” which helped bridge geographic communication barriers and cultural differences among the company’s global offices.

Beyond learning, Osborne also has a passion for ensuring employees are growing personally. She helped implement a companywide wellness month, during which Udemy instructors can take in-person wellness sessions on meditation and healthy eating.
— Ave Rio

• MANAGEMENT


• MANAGEMENT

TASHA EAST
Director of Human Capital Planning
Fannie Mae
Washington, D.C.

Every HR professional says they aim to innovate, but by working with Fannie Mae’s Operations and Technology division, Tasha East has proven her commitment to it.

Robert Saylor, director of Process Improvement Strategy at Fannie Mae wrote in his Game Changers recommendation, “Tasha consistently operates with an eye toward innovation and process improvement.”

East, 36, is willing to go the extra mile for her projects. She has gone so far as to teach herself to code using Microsoft InfoPath so she could create a website for teams to share data more efficiently. This allowed them to cut outdated software.

East has shaken up her corner of the company since she started in 2016. She hasn’t shied away from challenging leadership, and in doing so she has steered the team away from a previous reliance on third-party consultants. Now, all core functions in the operations and technology division are staffed by employees, reducing the risk of information leaks.

In 2017, Fannie Mae’s HR team migrated to a lean management system. The switch required a massive overhaul with a high potential for turmoil. But East has used this time to reinforce the mission of the company. Alan Susi, director of human capital planning, wrote: “Tasha has treated this opportunity as a true game-changing moment.”
— Mariel Tishma

SHIRLEY CRUZ-RODRIGUEZ
Process Improvement Manager
Fannie Mae
Washington, D.C.

Shirley Cruz-Rodriguez has made quite the impact at financial services company Fannie Mae, where she received six awards in the company’s internal recognition program for the work she’s done throughout all her projects.

Her colleagues describe Cruz-Rodriguez, 39, as a “dynamic leader who takes on every challenge with excitement and dedication.” One of her most recent innovations at Fannie Mae was the Single-Family Mentoring Program for the company’s single-family division, a provider of single-family mortgages in the United States.

Cruz-Rodriguez developed the pilot program as a way for employees to not only receive advice from company leaders but also advance their careers and move up the Fannie Mae ladder. The program also includes something atypical: reverse mentoring. Officers are paired with lower-level employees of the organization, which gives them the opportunity to look at challenges through a different lens and view what’s going on in the organization differently.

“It’s a push-and-pull relationship,” Cruz-Rodriguez said. “It’s something that both ends learn how to collaborate, close any generational gaps, and the mentees have the opportunity to see the perspective from the leadership.” Some 200 people, including mentors and learners, participated in the pilot program, and after the success of the pilot, the HR team scheduled to expand the program formally across the company.

Meanwhile, Cruz-Rodriguez also strives to make a difference outside of the office through various volunteer efforts. She’s a leader in her church and an active member of her company’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group. She also participated in relief efforts after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September.

Cruz-Rodriguez, even while she continued to push forward on the Single-Family Mentoring Program pilot, also kept her focus on helping with hurricane relief efforts. She’s originally from Puerto Rico and still has family there.

“Everyone has a call to serve others, and for me, when I serve others, it is my way to really achieve happiness in life,” Cruz-Rodriguez said. She sees doing good as a way to better understand herself and other people, a way to have more empathy toward other people, and a way to “open our eyes in the sense of how we can help and support each other in order to have a better society.”

For her professional drive to create a groundbreaking new mentoring program and her humanitarian drive to make the world a better place, Cruz-Rodriguez is part of the Workforce Game Changers Class of 2018.
— Andie Burjek

JESSICA ADAMS
Vice President of People
Brad’s Deals by Shop Smart LLC
Chicago

When Jessica Adams was hired, she was only the ninth employee at Brad’s Deals by Shop Smart LLC, which has since grown to nearly 90 workers.

Under the leadership of Adams, 38, the company improved its hiring process to have an average of two weeks from first contact to hire. Using Predictive Index, the company can see candidate needs and behaviors, compare them to the role and thus ensure best fits for both the company and new hire. Weekly, monthly and annual engagement polls also help with employee retention, which is strong; annual turnover is only 10 percent. “Pretty much every employee at Shop Smart values having Jessica leading our HR department,” said Sarah Schmidt, the company’s vice president of finance. “She genuinely cares about each and every employee at Shop Smart.”
— Lauren Dixon

UNIQUE MORRIS-HUGHES
Interim Director
District of Columbia Department of Employment Services
Washington, D.C.

Unique Morris-Hughes was faced with the challenge of turning around two agencies with program-related issues as the chief strategy officer at the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services.

Recently, Morris-Hughes, 37, was named the agency’s interim director. But before she became the chief strategy officer, she was the chief operating officer at the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education. She was responsible for leading a team to get the district off a federal “high-risk” corrective action plan, which is a “watch list” because the department had “financial, grant-management, and programmatic-compliance issues,” according to a press release from the office of the state superintendent of education.

Morris-Hughes established a corrective plan and launched a grant-management system, which changed the way local education agencies and schools could manage federal grants and spend their money. Once she achieved that, it proved to leadership that she was able to turn something around, which is how she “stumbled upon” her current role.

When she moved from education to the department of employment, Morris-Hughes once again faced turning a program around. Changes needed to be made to programs to boost compliance, implementation, development and communication.

In one case, the agency was receiving federal money for youth programs, but that money wasn’t being spent appropriately and a number of young people weren’t being enrolled when they should have been. In another case, there were compliance issues where “the law says we should do ‘X,’ and we were doing ‘Y,’ ” Morris-Hughes said. Even though it was hard work, she’s proud of what her team has been able to accomplish.

“It was kind of thrilling and exciting, but it was frustrating. There’s so many emotions involved to turning something around,” said Morris-Hughes. “But it was life-changing and meaningful, and at the end of the day young people, people who are probably the most disenfranchised, are going to have opportunities to get some really cool services from the District of Columbia.”

Morris-Hughes is proud of the turnaround she’s helped implement, but she is most proud of the youth innovation grant program, which consists of start-up, community-based organizations that have creative ideas on how to serve youth and provide them work-based learning and workforce development skills. The program helps them bring their ideas forward by providing funding to implement, build and manage it.

“The program focuses on opportunities [for] young people who may have dropped out of school, or have had some sort of barrier in their life that has prevented them from taking a more traditional approach,” said Morris-Hughes. “So, I get really excited to see the underdog win.”

Morris-Hughes believes government shouldn’t create more barriers and should help with providing people with opportunities, and being a part of that and having Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is open to those same ideas, in her corner is what drives Morris-Hughes.

She’s also happy that she can be a role model for her young daughter.

“I’m really proud of the fact that I get to be a mom and show another young woman, who’s 2 years old, the important role women play in [not only] shaping workforce development, but the world.”
— Aysha Ashley Househ

SAMANTHA CHAMBERS
Talent Management Specialist
Kronos Inc.
Lowell, Massachusetts

Over the past seven years, Samantha Chambers has risen from intern to specialist in talent management at Kronos. A deep pride in her work, and the work of her company, helped get her there. This has meant she’s worked to improve and grow as she moved through the company’s compensation division to her current place in talent management.

“I always want to be making sure that I’m doing what I can to better myself and better myself in my role,” she said.

Some of Chambers’ greatest strengths are her analytical skill and project managing expertise. Tammy Hickey, senior manager of talent management, wrote, “Samantha brings a critical blend of analytics and project and program management skills that are essential to the HR function in today’s world.”

Her ability to pluck the key information from reams of data has made her a go-to individual for analysis. “I love data and numbers and trying to understand the story through data,” said Chambers, 29.

Team members from all over have sought out the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth graduate for projects. These include streamlining the nomination process for Kronos’ leadership award program, creating a program that helps high-potential employees rise to managerial positions and leading a team to improve Kronos’ Glassdoor results.

“I kind of have done a little bit of everything,” Chambers said, referencing the span of her career.

The Glassdoor “SWAT” team she led resulted in Kronos’ debut on the Glassdoor Best Places to Work list. She also planned and later implemented an unlimited vacation policy for the company. “That was a pretty exciting project to work on,” she said. “Especially to have been working on it for a couple of years, then actually being able to be a part of when we were ready to move forward.”

Her new position in talent management is a step outside her previous experience. The challenge didn’t frighten her, though. Chambers said that she thrives on novel experiences and is eager to gain a wide understanding of the HR world. “I think that I’m a very quick learner, so I’m always intrigued by something new and something different,” she said.

Though her new role has her juggling many responsibilities, from talent reviews to engagement, Chambers is prepared to adapt and embrace new opportunities with an open mind. Her successes, though, haven’t changed her belief that more than just work got her where she is.

“I was very lucky,” Chambers said. “I know I work hard, and I don’t always give myself enough credit, but I also think that I really lucked out.”
— Mariel Tishma

ERIC WATKINS
Vice President of Partner Sales
Abstrakt Marketing Group
St. Louis

Six years ago Eric Watkins joined Abstrakt Marketing Group as an unpaid intern. It was his desire to learn everything about the organization that helped him rise in leadership ranks and contribute to revenue growth as vice president of partner sales. Under Watkins’ leadership, he restructured the partner sales department, added 70 team members and saw referral sales rise 934 percent.

Watkins, 27, also acts as “chief huddle officer” to ensure that teams convene three times a day. In the huddles, he leads discussions about the positive results of people’s work and closes the meeting with a team chant. This practice aims to improve employee morale.

Watkins’ professional and personal growth exemplifies the company culture at Abstrakt, according to Scott Scully, president and CEO of Abstrakt Marketing Group. “Eric is an invaluable asset to the constant development of excellence in our workplace, and the contributions he has made to our culture [are] immeasurable.”
— Lauren Dixon

• CULTURE


• CULTURE

KRISTEN WAGHORNE
Talent and Culture Manager
George P. Johnson Experience Marketing
Auburn Hills, Michigan

Kristen Waghorne’s colleagues feel like each of them is the only employee she supports, said Jennifer Shifman, vice president at general manager at global experiential marketing agency George P. Johnson Experience Marketing. “Kristen’s demeanor is one that makes each individual feel that what they have to say or what they need is her very top priority,” she said. Waghorne, 39, does this all while balancing the needs of individuals and the organization.

Waghorne’s ability to listen, communicate, share constructive feedback, effectively relay complex benefits offerings and more are what led her colleagues to nominate her as a Game Changer. Her passion to make a positive difference and build the company culture “enabled the Austin [Texas] office to thrive,” said Susan Scott, head of culture and talent at the 1,400-employee global organization.
— Lauren Dixon

DANIELLE GRIFFIN
Manager, Human Resources Field Services
Envoy Air Inc.
Irving, Texas

Change in HR departments often takes off slowly with plenty of bumps along the way.

That wasn’t necessarily the case at Envoy Air Inc.

A fast-moving two-year transformation took flight at the Irving, Texas-based regional air carrier previously known as American Eagle Airlines. And helping to pilot the transformation was Envoy Manager of HR Field Services Danielle Griffin.

Griffin, 37, was selected to serve on Envoy’s core transformation team and apply her HR savvy to develop new and innovative processes. The transformation was one of the largest organizational change initiatives in company history. And it will affect all 15,000 Envoy workers.

“We needed a game-changing leader to facilitate it,” said Patricia Delgadillo, Envoy’s senior VP of administration and CFO. “Danielle was quickly defined as that leader. Our team leaned heavily on her experience to ensure that our transformation was as effective as possible.”

Griffin’s attitude and abilities assured company leaders that the program’s transformation would have a smooth takeoff and a flawless landing.
— Rick Bell

CAITLYN JONES
Vice President of Human Resources
Arlington/Roe & Co.
Indianapolis

Following her nomination for the 2018 Game Changers awards, Caitlyn Jones made some major life changes. Jones moved from her role as human resources director of the Americas at Esaote to become the vice president of human resources at Arlington/Roe & Co. Jones, 28, also married, thus changing her last name from Plummer.

Before those changes, though, Jones was at Esaote, a medical equipment company. While there, she modernized their payroll and reporting, bringing the HR function into the 21st century, said Tim McNabb, vice president of sales at Esaote. She also changed the company culture. “Prior to Caitlyn’s arrival [our] general overall workplace was not happy and people did not enjoy coming to work,” McNabb said. To change this, she implemented open-door policies so employees could feel comfortable contributing ideas that were outside their areas of expertise.
— Lauren Dixon