Pinnacle Award Finalist Donna Diederich: ‘To Spread Your Wings, Sometimes You Have To Leave The Nest’

Donna Diederich, LMI

The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.

Next up is HR Executive of the Year (Large Company) finalist Donna Diederich, who’s chief human resources officer at LMI. Here, she talks key achievements, career turning points and professional risk-taking.

What key achievements did you have in 2019/2020?

The competition for talent in GovCon is so intense, attracting and retaining employees has been a top priority. As an HR team, we started to see positive results in 2020, with voluntary employee attrition dropping by 9% year-over-year. We’ve been able to maintain that lower attrition rate through the pandemic, which suggests our employees feel supported and financially secure during this tumultuous time.

That tells us we’re on the right track with initiatives like unlimited personal leave, increased opportunities for internal mobility, and up to $15,000 per employee for annual professional development, certification and training opportunities.

I am also proud of our work to grow the company; LMI achieved 53% net growth in human capital since October 2018, attracting candidates who fit and enrich our mission-focused culture. We developed a robust capability for new employee onboarding and orientation that worked well even as those activities shifted virtually. That’s another affirmation we’re headed in the right direction.

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

The response to COVID-19, from our leadership team making extra investments to support the workforce to new employees onboarding virtually, has been outstanding. The empathy and resiliency displayed across the organization reaffirmed why I came to LMI.

When LMI shifted to remote operations in March, our leadership prioritized the mental and physical well-being of our employees. We wanted to reassure them and provide the flexibility and support everyone deserves right now: increasing communication from leaders, offering resources, sending them small gift packs with snacks and puzzles. We recently announced employees can receive a stipend of up to $1,000 for costs associated with full-time telework like office materials and family support.

The mission focus of our employees, from the enterprise services team enabling fully remote operations seemingly overnight to the hundreds of consultants who didn’t miss a beat serving our customers, has been remarkable. LMI is a special place where we look out for each other, and I am proud to help us fulfill that commitment.

What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

For me, the past 7-8 months have been eye opening. Our leaders have really connected with our employees on such a personal level. We’re inviting each other into our homes, virtually. I know more about my direct team than I did before the pandemic; even though we’re on Zoom, I see their spouses, their kids, their pets. One of our recent graduates is still living at home and I met his mom!

I feel like I’m getting to know our employees more as a person. The sense that you’re understanding the full employee, the full person that is at LMI — as an HR professional, that has been an invaluable experience that will inform the rest of my career.

What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?

You can have the world’s greatest idea, but to enact meaningful change, you must meet your business where it is. When I was at Northrop Grumman, I proposed a new staffing model for a fast-growing business unit. I was very excited about this plan, which was much different than anything they had used before. I did my homework, invested a lot of myself personally — and the proposal didn’t go anywhere. I was disappointed, but as the organization evolved, its readiness for that approach grew.

Three years later, I helped implement my proposal after all. I learned patience is just as important as persistence. You must trust that the time for your idea will come.

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

Leaving Northrop Grumman after 19 years was not an easy decision. I had grown and learned so much there; I could have continued to find new challenges and rewarding work. But looking back, there’s no doubt it was the right decision.

The leadership opportunities that I’ve had at LMI and elsewhere the past six years have been so rewarding. Working closely with my fellow leadership team members and our board to achieve LMI’s growth goals is an invigorating experience I may not have had other places. LMI can also feel very intimate, and I enjoy that sense of connectedness with colleagues at all levels of the organization.

Every place I’ve worked has had a distinct culture, which I would not appreciate as much if I had stayed in the same company. My appreciation for organizational diversity has made me a better HR professional and a better leader. To spread your wings, sometimes you have to leave the nest, and that was really the case for me.

Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?

I’ve been fortunate to be a mentor, friend and colleague to many HR professionals in the GovCon sector; their success means so much to me. I recently heard from someone whom I worked with during a challenging period in their career who is going to become a CHRO at a small company. I helped another teammate make the jump years ago from benefits manager to serve as an HR business partner, and now, she’s a vice president at a large firm.

There are so many stories like that and it’s just a pleasure to watch people grow and flourish. I may have had a small part to play in their journey, but to see everyone doing amazing things and remembering how it started for many of them, it’s very gratifying.

Meet the other Pinnacle Awards finalists here.

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