Interview with CHRO Jean Cain: Why Noblis is a “Top Workplace” Five Years Running

Vice President and CHRO Jean Cain Discusses what the Fifth “Top Workplace” Win Means for Noblis  

On June 22, Noblis was named a 2018 “Top Workplace” by the Washington Post, adding to a streak that’s continued since 2014. The “Top Workplace” list, compiled annually, is based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey administered by Washington Post’s research partner Energage, LLC (formerly Workplace Dynamics), a leading provider of technology-based employee engagement tools. The anonymous survey measures several aspects of workplace culture, including alignment, execution, and connection, just to name a few.  

“Treating people well, doing good work, and collaborating are just some of the things that Noblis does really well.” – Jean Cain, Noblis Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

Jean Cain, Noblis Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, is a big part of Noblis’ reigning success as a “Top Workplace.” Read her interview below to learn how she’s helped create a culture at Noblis where employees feel respected, enjoy coming to work, and live by the “golden rule.”

What has your journey at Noblis been like?   

Jean Cain was first drawn to Noblis because of the leadership, having previously worked with Noblis’ President and CEO, Amr ElSawy, who had a reputation for compassionate leadership and understanding how to best serve employees.  “[When I joined Noblis] it was a time before we had Glassdoor. You had to hear from friends and colleagues about a workplace and make an assessment based only off of that, recalled Jean. Luckily, she heard from many other colleagues that Noblis was a great place to work, and she joined the company in 2008.

She noted that at Noblis, Human Resources is treated as an integral part of the business that has the ability to make an impact on the success of the organization. For example, a number of signature programs at Noblis, like Noblis United, a three-time yearly event aimed at engaging and connecting staff across the country, were born and put into motion directly because of employee feedback. “Noblis has been a place to grow my career, find opportunity, and find a voice”, said Jean. We see employees as the individuals they are, and not just for the work they do.”

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Jean shares that her favorite thing about her job is the variety that comes with the work she does, along with the diversity of tasks she works on every day. “No two days or even two hours here are the same,” she says. “There are so many exciting projects across my team and across the company at large and I’m always meeting with a variety of people—whether it’s other company executives, managers, early career professionals, or even interns.”

Specifically, Jean loves the variety of tasks that she gets to work on and draws motivation from helping others succeed. “My job is never routine or boring. I take the responsibility of my position and its impact very seriously and I love that I have the opportunity to empower employees.”

How has Noblis allowed you to achieve your career goals?   

When Jean first came to Noblis in 2008, she started as a manager in charge of employee relations and development. She was promoted quickly and eventually became the Chief Human Resources Officer. “Hard work is recognized at Noblis,” said Jean. “I accepted every new opportunity that came my way in order to get to where I am today.” 

For example, about a year ago,  she volunteered  to bring the Human Resources team and Marketing and Communications team together. “I took on the project because of the synergy I saw amongst the teams,” said Jean. “It’s been wonderful to see how the teams have grown since we’ve merged as a group and become more collaborative.”

What makes Noblis a great place to work?   

According to Jean, it’s not just one thing that makes Noblis great, but several, contributing factors. “We really try every day to get it right,” she says. “Treating people well, doing good work, and collaborating are just some of the things that Noblis does really well.” Jean makes it her mission to listen to the voice of employees, so that they feel heard and empowered to speak up. That’s why she knows honesty and a drive to work hard can take employees far at Noblis.

“Our employees describe the company as ‘family-like and friendly’ because of how open-minded our culture is,” she continued. The feeling of community is a strong unifying factor, according to Ms. Cain, because employees all share the same values and goal. “We are sincere and genuine about doing the right thing for clients and employees alike.” 

How would you say that Noblis stands out against other workplaces? What makes Noblis special or gives the company an edge?   

Jean believes that Noblis stands out because of the collaborative spirit and mission-drive that exists within the Noblis community. From the Noblis Sponsored Research Program to the Centers of Excellence, Noblis employees from all disciplines and various project groups work knowing that they can get involved and reach out and get help from anyone within the company. “Doing good work, delivering innovation, and solving the nation’s critical problems are what is most important to Noblis and our employees,” said Jean. That mission drive is the cornerstone of our culture and the way that the organization runs.”

The “Top Workplace” award is based on a variety of factors, but nominations mainly come through employees referring their company. What about the culture at Noblis makes employees empowered to speak up and be proud about working here?

From Jean’s perspective, transparency is key and employee feedback can only help the company improve. “Every year, we share the results of the survey back to employees and try to find areas to improve employee engagement. We want to demonstrate that Noblis is listening and wants to take actions for change.”  Additionally, she believes in taking care of employees from a holistic point of view, and not just seeing an employee as a worker, but rather as a human being with a unique set of goals and needs. “It’s important for us to assure to employees that company executives are listening and care about what they have to say,” Jean says.

Lastly, tell me a little more about your Noblis experience. How are you trying to improve and what does that look like at Noblis? 

Jean explains that she gets a lot of feedback on a regular basis, and that it’s not always positive, but that it gives her a chance to improve. “I trust that the people helping me to grow and do better have my best intentions at heart. I feel safe, trusted, and supported at Noblis, because I know that my impact makes a difference.” Having genuine honesty in a supportive environment is something that makes a great place for improvement.

She takes time every week to think through the events that occurred and how she handled them. “Every week, I try to reflect on what happened that week and what I could have done better. I take my role and responsibility seriously and realize that I am not perfect.” This reflection leads to major takeaways and a chance for her to improve as a leader.

###

Ms. Cain is Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Noblis, responsible for the strategic direction and leadership of Noblis’ Human Resources (HR) and Organization Development division. She holds a master’s degree in human resources management from Marymount University, a certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in business and psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Read her full professional bio here.