In this tight labor market, any HR executive would be delighted with a surge in new applicants. For Laurie Monfiletto, the CHRO at Los Alamos National Laboratory, that surge was sparked last year by a unique catalyst—the popular movie “Oppenheimer,” which told the story of the physicist who led the atomic bomb’s production at Los Alamos during World War II.
“We have seen an increase in applicants who are drawn to our national security mission, and the movie definitely reminded our employees of the importance of their work,” says Monfiletto. She sat down with People + Strategy to discuss her path to Los Alamos and her leadership philosophy.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN HR, AND WHAT LED YOU TO LOS ALAMOS?
My master’s degree is in finance. My first job was administrative and included various responsibilities, including HR. I loved the HR aspect—the interaction with employees, the problem-solving and the daily challenges. And I was able to apply my finance skills within HR, which made me very unusual at that time.
Before joining Los Alamos National Laboratory, I worked as the VP of HR for a publicly traded company. I enjoyed that position, but then life happened. My daughter suffered a traumatic head injury when she was in high school, and our lives changed in a minute. I left my job and took a break. No one ever tells you about how to step back and re-engage again.
A colleague of mine told me about the Los Alamos position, and since our daughter was forging her future, I did, too. Los Alamos was growing, and the leadership team wanted to modernize the human resources division. It was just the challenge I was looking for, and the opportunity to serve my country was very appealing.
WHICH HR INITIATIVES ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
When I came to Los Alamos in 2019, it was clear the human resources function needed to change, especially given its tremendous growth. We needed to streamline our processes.
The compensation system depended only on base pay. Now, variable pay allows employees to see how their performance can positively affect their compensation. Our new benefits program now enables employees to spend more time with their families (generous PTO and compassionate care leave can be used if family members are sick) and includes a more robust 401(k) program. Lastly, we implemented a new service delivery model that provides dedicated hiring and human resources services and support to the entire laboratory. Accomplishing these big goals simply could not have happened without a strong and fiercely dedicated HR team. We believe in a common vision, support each other to make it happen and celebrate our shared success.
WHAT IS YOUR LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY?
I have an incredibly hard-working team and I use the servant leadership model to coach and help them identify issues and ways to change human resources to better serve our customers and each other. I am building the leading muscle for leaders and employees to equip them for their next leadership roles.
HOW DOES THE CLASSIFIED NATURE OF THE LAB’S WORK AFFECT YOUR HR PROCESSES?
Because many employees are required to have security clearances to work here, there is more attention to background investigations and helping applicants understand those requirements. It is a rigorous process that reviews all parts of the applicant’s past to ensure they are qualified to handle classified material and protect our nation’s work.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A RISING HR LEADER?
Professionally, know your business. HR leaders often focus solely on HR activities, but it is important to know all aspects of the business, including its finances, interwoven missions and long-term strategy to better advise and devise HR programs that meet the needs of the whole business.
Personally, rising HR leaders are anxious for their next opportunity, which is fantastic. But understand that those opportunities may be lateral or even a step back to get the right experience. For example, I once took a lower-level position because I knew I needed process experience in a large corporation. It was an important experience that launched me even further in my career.
Lastly, it is important to develop the leaders of the future. We’ve all had mentors who believed in us. It is equally important, even as a rising leader, to develop those you are leading so you don’t leave a gap when you move on to another role.