Meet the Pinnacle Awards Finalists: 7 Questions for Norman Iracheta, MAXIMUS Federal

Norman Iracheta, MAXIMUS Federal

Norman Iracheta is the vice president of human capital for MAXIMUS‘ Federal segment and a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the HR Executive of the Year category. Here, Iracheta shares key achievements in 2018, proud moments at MAXIMUS, the biggest professional risk he has ever taken, advice for aspiring leaders wanting to follow in his footsteps and more.

What key achievements did you have in 2018? 

We embarked on a potential acquisition late in 2018 that came to fruition in mid-November. The acquisition included multiple U.S. federal citizen engagement centers from GDIT and required the successful transition of around 14,000 employees into our organization in just 47 days. The newly acquired business allowed MAXIMUS Federal to become the premier provider of services and capabilities in its space.

What has made you successful in your current role? 

Leadership is only as good as the team you lead, and I have an incredible team. An HR mentor once told me to build the team I want and can depend on — one that enabled me to focus on a strategic vision and on delivering value-add guidance to executives and leaders. I pride myself on finding talent and connecting that talent to key areas of execution as a team so I can remain focused on the broader mission.

Additionally, attention to detail is important. A lot of decision-making comes down to the details you are presented and those you present, so whether it’s a large acquisition or a memo to a small group of employees, it’s important the information is accurate, concise and understood. In short, details matter.

What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization? 

Our organization has established a great and inclusive culture. We have invested in our mission of ensuring employees and leaders feel part of a great organization whose mission of “Helping Government Serve the People” is very much a part of our DNA. We support employees when they first join by helping them get to know the organization, connect with peers and leaders, and most importantly, enjoy what they do.

We have prioritized employee engagement through holding town halls, communicating where employees fit in the organization and what their role is within the larger picture. That’s one of the best parts of my job and one I’m most proud of.

How do you help shape the next-generation  GovCon  leaders? 

GovCon is a unique space and industry, and thus its leaders have to bring similarly unique skills to meet the demands of the job. Human resources often demands that professionals in this field wear many hats, and GovCon HR is no different. I have mentored individuals in HR and continually coached those within my team to both master their current craft, but also learn areas outside of it. They’ll most assuredly find they will be able to bring key insights that otherwise would be missing were they only to be viewed from an HR lens.

I often tell the HR leaders within my team, “Don’t aspire to be great HR partners, aspire to be good HR executives.” My point of telling them this is to push them to operate at the next level and provide a better level of support.

I also encourage them to challenge their individual team members to be a “good [insert next-level role].” At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about — developing our people, while providing the highest level of support.

Which rules do you think you should break more as a leader? 

Thinking of HR as mainly a people-oriented discipline is a misnomer. As I previously stated, HR professionals are asked to take on many situations that may be outside their scope of responsibility. While most would shy away from this professional scope creep, I often encourage it. I do advise to limit veering off from your own HR lane too often, but I do encourage you to build on a situation where you’re asked to provide non-HR guidance the business may want an outside perspective on. This builds trust and can provide business leaders with critical insight they otherwise would not receive from another non-HR advisor.

What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken? 

This one is easy — it was when I left HR. I was on a great career trajectory in HR and had just assumed a more senior-level role and truly found my career path. Then, I had a career-changing conversation with my HR leader and longtime mentor. He told me that for me to become a well-rounded HR professional, and eventual executive, I had to know the other sides of the business. By “other sides,” he meant business aspects outside of the scope of HR.

Although there are many successful HR professionals without operational experience, this made sense to me, and I personally took this advice as a challenge. Six months later, I took an operational supervisor role and was promoted to operational manager not long afterward. I learned what it took to deliver for a client and what went into meeting contractual SLAs.

It was a formative time in my career, and I didn’t really know if I would ever return to HR. I wondered if when I was ready to come back to HR, would there be a position available? Or worse, would the HR discipline have changed so much I would have been out of touch with its evolving landscape?

Those were always possibilities and considerations. I took a big professional risk in leaving, but fast forward to four years later, I was offered an opportunity to return to HR and I jumped at the chance. I found that with my operational knowledge I had gained a broader and better understanding of business situations. I could provide stronger guidance because I knew what they were going through — I had been in similar situations not long ago.

Managers and business leaders alike started to trust me more and I had gained credibility in both HR and business situations because I understood their world. This was a big professional risk, but as it turned out, one of the most rewarding.

What’s your best advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in your footsteps? 

Be enumerative and analytical. Oftentimes when dealing with business challenges or decisions, data-driven decision-making is paramount. Also, be curious and feed that curiosity by learning as much as you can. Read books that add value to your HR discipline, but also those that may simply give you insight into why things are the way they are. Below are a few book recommendations:

  • “Good To Great” by Jim Collins (218 pages)
  • “From Values To Action” by Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr. (192 pages)
  • “The Method and The Magic” by Laurie Axelrod and Beth McDonald (114 pages)
  • “6 Shortcuts to Employee Engagement” by Vicki Hess (129 pages)
  • “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari (416 pages; non-business recommendation)

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