Executive Spotlight: Rodney Willis On GovCon HR Policies, Vet Hiring

Executive Spotlight: Rodney Willis On GovCon HR Policies, Vet Hiring - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Executive Spotlight: Rodney Willis On GovCon HR Policies, Vet Hiring - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Rodney Willis

Rodney Willis is a veteran GovCon human resources executive, where his experience includes acquiring and developing talent, succession planning, organizational development and employee relations.

He most recently served as HR vice president at Thales USA and previously served as HR senior vice president for Textron Corp.“™s defense systems unit.

Willis also has held HR leadership positions at Philips, Bayer Corp., Afga Corp. and Avon Products Inc.

The 30-plus year Army Reserve veteran recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss how companies maximize their labor resources, form international and federal HR policies and the unique advantage of employing veterans in GovCon.

ExecutiveBiz: How are successful companies allocating their labor resources to generate business in highly competitive, globalized industries?

Rodney Willis: Central to the question is the idea of long term planning to ensure effective utilization of the workforce; that is, a highly capable talent pool ready to take-on the challenges of the business. The dynamics of globalization, changing markets, technology advances and competitive pressures are today“™s norm.

The human resources strategy must reflect this reality. Talent identification, acquisition, performance management, professional development and succession planning are aspects of capability-building and so crucial to sustaining competitive advantage.

Effective human resources strategies encompass these essentials. Effective human resources strategies recognize the need to build or sustain an environment in which innovation, risk-taking and experimentation are encouraged.

The long term success of the organization is dependent upon a capable, agile and highly trained workforce. Capability and agility take-on even greater importance when considered within the framework of international operations.

ExecutiveBiz: How do you maintain a strong individual-focused culture and business model while still taking advantage of the latest technology?

Rodney Willis: You can redirect resources in ways that spur innovation, creativity, learning opportunities, and capability-building, all of which bolster personal and professional growth and development.

Technology is rarely the endgame.

Typically, technology is a means to achieve an organizational goal. Human resources professionals must routinely scan the environment and determine if or how technology solutions support capability building and a learning environment.

ExecutiveBiz: How do you achieve enterprise-wide HR goals while making the individual also feel as though their needs are being adequately met?

Rodney Willis: To the extent that the human resources strategy, goals and objectives are reflective of the broader organizational strategy, the company and employees benefit. The most effective way I know of to determine whether are not your actions are consistent with the needs of your employees is to ask them.

Your employees will tell you what they think; what they like, or dislike and how to improve. Allow your employees to be part of the process. Our most recent employee engagement survey identified many areas of satisfaction; programs and actions that we can build upon.

The message to the company, keep doing what is working. They also identified key improvement opportunities; areas of dissatisfaction that when resolved will lead to higher levels of employment engagement. These are all “gifts“ from our employees. Companies must ensure that employee development objectives are known and understood.

We must create and execute sound individual development plans, engage your employees in discussion and planning for their career advancement commensurate with skills and abilities. Help them acquire new skills or strengthen their current skill set. Individual needs and enterprise goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact they are often complementary.

ExecutiveBiz: Are there any unique challenges presented by growing international operations? What does an international growth strategy present you in terms of unique challenges as sort of the head of HR?

Rodney Willis: The challenges exist on a couple of levels. First, there is the regulatory environment in which we have to operate; legal requirements of the host and home countries. They must be executed and managed correctly and on a timely basis. Company processes must be effective and efficient. The more challenging dimension is that of working across cultures or borders. Even in circumstances in which a common language is spoken, there is room for misunderstanding. Preparation is the linchpin.

We must ensure the expatriate understands the environment in which she/he will work; the new workgroup or team. She/he and family members if applicable, must understand the impact of the move; language, schooling, housing, work restrictions, medical benefits, cost of living in the host country, transportation, frequency of trips home, social implications and repatriation; all are so crucial to successful outcomes.

ExecutiveBiz: What unique challenges does the government marketplace present to you forming successful HR policies?

Rodney Willis: That“™s an interesting question. If you can set aside some of the special aspects of government contracting; contract terms, audits and the like, I do not see significant challenges to building or sustaining effective human resources strategy, programs or policies in the defense industry. I have had the good fortune to work across several industries, in defense and non-defense companies.

The keys to motivation and engagement are universal. Employees tend to look for and want the same from the company and the roles they fulfill; opportunity, advancement, growth, learning, mutual respect, recognition, a sense of direction or mission, communication, competitive pay, etc. There is the common ground. And as long as we address those points, we ensure the organization has the capability it needs to win.

ExecutiveBiz: A lot of people that we speak with at the executive level mention a sense of fulfillment from working in the industry and providing those services. What do you derive from working in government contracting?

Rodney Willis: Your question resonates on a personal level.  I“™m a veteran. I know how important it is to the war-fighter to have confidence in the product or service we provide. Working in the defense industry is immensely satisfying; to know that in a small way we contribute to the mission.

ExecutiveBiz: We“™ve read a lot recently about initiatives to better integrate service veterans into the workforce. What unique advantages do you have with a workforce that features a strong veteran presence?

Rodney Willis: The education and experience veterans gain during their period of service correlate with the characteristics required in the workplace; discipline, dedication, loyalty, results-oriented, flexibility, tenacity, teamwork and the ability to function effectively under pressure. In addition, most veterans have held positions of leadership and know firsthand what it means to be responsible and accountable. I see clear advantages for the veteran and the company.

ExecutiveBiz: Are there any subjects that you would like to go into more depth on or anything at all that you would like to share with our audience?

Rodney Willis: Like many of my business colleagues, I have witnessed economic swings, corporate retrenchment and expansion, globalization, changing markets, new business models and technological advances. Through it all our workforce is a constant. Always keep that top of mind. Ensure that the company strategy and human resources strategy recognize that your workforce is truly a source of competitive advantage for your organization and build your plans accordingly.

I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to our veterans and their families for the sacrifices they accept and endure for our country.

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