As part of our ongoing series, “Meet the Chief”, Signals took the opportunity to sit down with the newly-appointed Comtech Chief People Officer, Jennie Reilly, to talk about her People First strategy.
In another critical step to strengthen Comtech’s competitive position, Jennie Reilly joined the company in December 2021. In her role, Jennie is responsible for building the internal infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of our customers and markets and is at the helm of the significant and ongoing strategic investments in human capital Comtech is making. In less than a year, Jennie has already found success in developing and implementing Comtech’s new People First strategy, and she’s just getting started.
Our first questions for Jennie revolved around gaining a better understanding of how she developed her “People First” strategy.
“Before diving into Comtech’s People First strategy, I think it’s important to explain where Comtech was from an HR perspective at the beginning of the year,” shares Jennie. “Each business unit was working almost entirely autonomously in January 2022. There was little to no collaboration between departments. This included everything from using three different applicant tracking systems, offering company-wide benefits webinars, training on performance review processes, – the list went on.”
Right off the bat, Jennie worked to streamline these processes, which she knew would be beneficial in the long run.
“Change is always hard, but collaboration is key in any business, especially here as we work toward establishing ourselves as ‘One Comtech,’” explains Jennie. “One of the first things I did upon joining was acquainting myself with as many people as possible. Building those relationships with everyone, from our support staff to the C-Suite and everyone in between, is the only way to implement change effectively. Having these relationships ensures decision-making is a two-way street. They feel comfortable coming to me or our other HR leaders with ideas or input and trust us when we change the way things have always been done.”
Some of the first adjustments Jennie made were shifting to the widespread use of a single applicant tracking system throughout Comtech, based on feedback from each business unit; sending company-wide emails to foster communication; and setting up a weekly meeting for the human resources leaders in each business unit.
“The weekly human resources team meeting was really important to me,” says Jennie. “Now, our amazing HR leaders aren’t operating in a box, have a network of professionals to lean on, and know how much they are valued. Through these weekly meetings, we’ve been able to enhance our People First strategy in ways I could not have imagined.”
Our next series of questions were future looking regarding Jennie’s plans for Comtech in 2023.
“Retaining and recruiting top talent is a priority for us in the new year,” says Jennie. “We have been hard at work developing a road map for our high-potential employees, outlining a clear career path for opportunities within Comtech for them based on their strengths and personal career goals.” Jennie also mentions that having relationships with employees plays a key role in this. “Having relationships with our employees will allow us the opportunity to understand what they want out of their career, and how we can help them achieve that. I am also very excited for the opportunities that lie ahead for our employees as we restructure, both to move up in our organization and make lateral moves.” True to her People First strategy, Jennie prioritizes promoting from within Comtech, and making sure current employees feel fulfilled before hiring new staff members.
“When it comes to recruiting new talent, we are constantly refining our recruitment strategy,” Jennie explains. “But again, everything comes back down to relationships. When we interview job candidates, we want to help them facilitate relationships with the teams they may end up working with. We know this strategy is effective. For example, I know I am not going to be able to sell a person on a position nearly as well as a subject-matter expert of that team, who can truly excite them about the role. Next, the Comtech Innovation Lab and the forward-thinking community it will foster will help engage current employees and be a big selling point for us when it comes to potential new hires of top talent. Finally, while Comtech always seeks to be competitive when it comes to compensation, where we will have an edge is that employees at all levels will have a voice and career development opportunities that may not be available at other companies.”
We rounded out the interview by asking Jennie some personal questions and were delighted by the ways her personal experiences have helped her become a great HR leader.
“When meeting Ken [Peterman] for the first time, I told him I had one non-negotiable: my family,” Jennie shares. “I said, ‘I have two daughters and I like to cook dinner for them every night.” Ken not only supported, but shared Jennie’s commitment to her family. “Ken is such a family man. If his wife or kids call, Ken will drop everything to pick up the phone. I was so relieved by that: as women and as mothers, there may be certain non-negotiables we have in a job, and we must advocate for them. Family first is a part of company culture that must come from the top down, and at Comtech we practice what we preach at all levels of the organization when it comes to family.”
One of the key lessons Jennie has learned in her decorated 20+ year HR career has been about celebrating people’s differences. “I worked for a long time in a predominantly Spanish-speaking company. I learned that sometimes as people, we can become too easily focused on each other’s differences, but it’s much more effective to focus on our similarities, which are often surprising. DE&I is a big topic in HR right now, but I like to call it DEI&B. The “B” stands for belonging, and we even have a DEI&B committee at Comtech that celebrates employees’ unique attributes. We’re excited to grow this committee in 2023.”
Comtech has made incredible strides in 2022 under a new team of executive leaders, but after talking to Jennie, we have a feeling the best is yet to come. At the end of our conversation, she left us with this:
“At Comtech, people are our greatest asset. If we are doing our jobs right, people should feel engaged, valued, empowered, and appreciated. Our bottom line does not exist without our people. If our people flourish, our partners, our customers, and our bottom line will too.”