The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is HR Executive of the Year (Public Company) finalist Caryn McGarry, who’s chief human resources officer at ICF. Here, she talks primary focus areas going forward, career advice and more.
What is one primary focus area going forward, and why is it so important to the future of the nation?
The working world continues to change dramatically, and my team and I need to make sure we’re continuously listening to employees and evolving our programs, processes and policies.
For example, employers everywhere are facing a “new world of work.” Some have shifted to fully remote teams and shuttered their offices. At ICF, we’ve taken a more holistic view, balancing the value of in-person collaboration with the desire for flexibility.
As a professional services firm, we’ve always had some telework and remote arrangements. That certainly helped us quickly adopt a nearly 100% remote work model at the peak of the pandemic. As we learned to embrace new ways of working, we moved to a hybrid-first model with flexible work arrangements. We gave our managers the resources needed to effectively lead in this new environment.
And true to our culture, we did it with fairness, inclusion, and well-being top of mind. In our most recent employee survey, 87% felt they have flexible schedules that meet their personal needs ⏤ 16% above the industry average.
The new world of work is here. And the future of our nation’s workforce will be defined by how well employers offer flexible, personable experiences.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
As an HR professional, I find non-linear careers to be fascinating ⏤ and my own career journey is no exception. I haven’t always planned my next role, but I’ve kept my eyes, ears and mind open for new opportunities.
A real game changer in my career happened when I was working in the telecom industry and my company was on the cusp of being acquired. I was asked to move from my HR manager role to become the chief of staff for a new head of HR. It felt like a professional risk: What would it be like to work for a new leader in a role no one had held before? Did I have the right skill set for the job?
I took a career chance and it paid off. I developed new skill sets that helped with future due diligence, mergers and acquisitions. It was a springboard to a more elevated HR business partner role. From there my career grew, along with my sense of confidence that I could take on new challenges and help organizations turn around and succeed.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
First piece of advice: do some soul-searching to really determine what you like and what you’re good at. For me, it was less about specific aspects of HR and more about identifying problems in areas I felt most passionate about. Then bringing them forward with a course of action. The world will always need good problem solvers!
Second, build a champion network for your career development. Mentorships are good for receiving guidance and feedback. But sponsorships take it to the next level. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with sponsors who have been my best advocates. They’ve amplified my accomplishments, recommended me for new opportunities, and connected me to people I may not have otherwise had the chance to meet.
And finally, don’t be afraid to take risks. I’ve had to learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable ⏤ especially when taking on new roles, standing up new functions or establishing a new capability. It may seem cliché but getting outside your comfort zone can lead you to new and unexpected places along your career journey.