Our CEO, Darren Kimball, recently caught up with Jennifer Blue, the Chief People and Experience Officer/Head of Strategic Communications for Chrysalis Health.
Jennifer was the recipient of an OnCon Icon Award for Top 50 HR Professionals nationally, the IFAH Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries Award, recognized as an HRO Today finalist for CHRO of the year and was awarded “Woman of the Year” in her industry by the National Association of Professional Women. Jennifer serves as a member of the Human Resources Workgroup for the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.
DK: I understand you’ve been at Chrysalis Health in one role or another for over 20 years?
Jennifer: I was actually a former clinician before I got into human resources. I loved working with clients. I got to a point of overwhelm, though. I still wanted to help, but in a different way. HR was something I thought could bridge the two. I could be a leader working with people and helping people, while still using my background. A friend was one of the original board members putting Chrysalis Health together in the late nineties. We were just having lunch and I mentioned I was thinking about transitioning into HR and she said, “We actually need someone.” Chrysalis Health was so new, there were no employee processes or policies. They literally gave me a stack of paperwork and I started from there. I taught myself, and then obtained my SPHR certification.
DK: Tell us about Chrysalis Health and its mission.
Jennifer: Chrysalis Health is a behavioral healthcare organization that provides mental health and substance use services. We focus on health, wellbeing, balance, and providing compassionate care to align people with who they are as a whole, productive, and happy person. That’s where Chrysalis comes from. It’s about that transformative process from the pupa to the butterfly and we create that same transformative process with our clients and families towards health and wellbeing.
DK: For many companies, building a management team where HR functions as an integrated strategic partner can be a work in progress. I’d love to hear more on the relationship between you and the rest of the C-suite team.
Jennifer: Over our 20 years, we’ve grown up together. We started young, ready to try anything, and we created something pretty phenomenal that continues to grow and expand today. We’ve shared marriages, divorces, children, and deaths. We can express ourselves however we want. Nobody takes offense. It’s a family dynamic.
DK: It sounds like this level of comfort allows you to really focus on taking chances.
Jennifer: When you’re collaborating and trying to develop an idea, sometimes the biggest hindrance is that you don’t get candid input. I think a huge advantage for us is we let it all out. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best idea or the right idea. We just talk things through. We collaborate intensely. We dig until there’s no more to dig and it allows us to really move forward knowing we’ve considered all options.
DK: Let’s shift gears and talk about the pandemic and its challenges.
Jennifer: In the beginning, the biggest challenge was going remote. If someone were to say, “We’re going to take 1000 employees and make them all remote and still have operations continue,” you would have said there’s no way. But the fact that so many of us across the globe had to do it just shows the power of intention and what people are able to do when they’re working together. We changed everything in less than two weeks. And we continued to not only conduct business but to grow.
The pandemic brought many mental wellness issues, not only for our clients but for our employees. From our organizational perspective, our main goal was to support our teams. We did town halls, support groups, and roundtable discussions. We implemented an app service for mental well-being that could provide services for our employees and their families. It gave them another resource and a benefit that could help them without having to go to their supervisor. We checked in with people and asked, “How are you doing? How can we support you further?” We were really flexible with schedules and encouraged people to take mental health breaks. We knew that the intensity of what they were doing was so incredible. We wanted to make sure that their mental health and self-care needs were front and center because if they’re not taking care of themselves, they can’t take care of anyone else. We are very “people centric” in our business operations. In fact, I rebranded HR into “People Operations” in 2016 because the whole idea of HR is so archaic. We’re in a business for people and it will always be about the people.
DK: Can you say a bit more about your talent strategies in this very competitive market?
Jennifer: There’s not one company today that is not struggling with recruiting. It’s a completely different market than I’ve ever seen in all of my years working. We communicate our message about putting people first and showcase the things that are important to job seekers right now. But it is their market and they can pick-and-choose. They’re going to go with who they feel provides the resources, benefits, culture, and dynamics they’re looking for.
But we try to establish strong relationships with the universities and schools in our areas to create a pipeline. If the university has a positive experience with us, they’re more likely to refer students to us upon graduation. We provide training, we give students tips and tricks on how to find their first job once they graduate, and we offer job shadowing virtual events based upon students’ area of study to get a real feel for the position and experience.
DK: Do you have advice for people who are trying to achieve what you’ve done?
Jennifer: Remain true to yourself. Being humble is very important when you are working with a lot of different people. It is the only way to fully connect, and it’s all about connection. There are so many situations that will come across your desk and being open to really listening to people is key. You’re not going to make everybody happy and you have to be comfortable with that. If you’re not, then it’s probably not the right position for you. And you need to be able to juggle many, many things. It’s not a regularly structured nine-to-five position. You’ve got to be agile and able to pivot when you need to change your priorities. Some people are really good at that, and some people are not. Continue to figure out who you are, what your passion is, why you want to do this, and why you want to work with people. And remember, it is important to have people who think differently for a business to be successful. Everybody has their own strengths and when they land together, it’s pretty magical.
DK: Absolutely. Final thoughts?
Jennifer: I think the evolution that has happened in these last few years has been pretty significant. I want to give kudos to all the HR and People Operations people out there. It’s been a journey. I think we’ve learned a lot about our field and the impact that we have on businesses. Others outside the function are realizing the importance of people and the significance that People Operations and Human Resources can have on an organization.