On her way to working as chief human resources officer at VTG, a Virginia-based leader in defense and intelligence force modernization and digital transformation solutions, Elizabeth Alston made one really long stop on her career journey at Vistronix (later called ASRC Federal).
“As far as finding HR as a field, I feel like I was meant to find Vistronix,” says Alston, who worked at Vistronix for nearly nineteen years. “Over my time there, I was able to grow my career and make my path the way I wanted it to be. I was able to engage with managers and executives throughout that tenure at so many different levels in the organization.”
This depth of experience helped Alston advance her career, thanks to a number of different merger and acquisition opportunities. Eventually Vistronix was acquired by a larger organization, and she got to see the other side of an acquisition and how the HR department works during a transition.
Having worked with VTG’s CEO John Hassoun at Vistronix and being familiar with his leadership style and way of working, Alston was attracted to the company, especially knowing she would be able to come in and make an impact across the entire organization.
In her job, she has full oversight for all HR functional areas, including employer relations, compliance, talent acquisition, and more. Alston prioritizes employee experience and is proud of the overall cultural shift and focus of the organization that she has been able to be a leader of—especially the employee benefits programs.
“Over the past couple of years, we have spent a heavy focus on improving the employee experience by adding new things to the benefits package and taking the time to learn more about what our staff needs,” Alston explains. “That involves being able to reply to those needs in a positive manner, listening to the team and understanding their pain points.”
With team members spread out nationwide, and some who travel internationally and in different types of work locations, Alston must make sure the needs are met for all employees, as well as their eligible dependents.
In 2019 VTG acquired two companies, and it added another at the end of 2020. That means Alston has had to onboard a number of people and get everyone on the same page as far as the HR functions.
“When you acquire an organization, we’re not buying boxes of stuff,” she says. “We’re in the service business, and these are people. It is their professional skills and experiences for which our government customers come to us. We take very special care to understand how their culture fits with ours. People aren’t always great with change, so taking the time to listen to what the special things about them are and making sure you protect those things is important.”
While Alston is in charge of the HR component of the company, she credits her team with making the department top-notch and allowing her the time to build the partnerships and trust of everyone involved.
“I have really strong colleagues who are thinkers, who take care of all the day-to-day tasks and give me the bandwidth to focus on the specialized merger and acquisition integration activities,” she notes. “As a leader, I let them own their particular areas and tasks and let them go and do it.”
“Over the past couple of years, we have spent a heavy focus on improving the employee experience by adding new things to the benefits package and taking the time to learn more about what our staff needs.”
That’s something Alston learned from her very first HR manager, who taught her how to do something and explained why it was done that way while also giving her the freedom to carry through. And thinking back to her upbringing, Alston credits her dad for instilling in her a customer-centric mantra, which has helped drive her vision for serving employees.
“I was raised in a customer service kind of household as my dad spent his entire career with Delta airlines, which is all about hospitality,” she recalls. “And when I think about government contracting, it’s also about customer service.”
As a mission-essential business, VTG has continued to work throughout the pandemic, with half the company working at home and the other half on-site. However, the company needed to learn how to work remotely practically overnight. This naturally created some challenges for Alston.
“For the HR team, our biggest impact surrounded information, being able to communicate to people and providing support right out of the gate,” she says. “Our goal was to help managers as well as employees navigate these challenging times and keep people focused and positive.”
She quickly leveraged Microsoft Teams and emphasized having face-to-face conversations and getting employees comfortable with participating in team meetings from home.
The company also sent out care packages to all employees with items such as face masks, gloves, hand lotion, and a deck of playing cards to let them know they were all in this together in these uncharted waters.
“Government contractors do important, critical mission kind of work, and we needed to help our customers drive toward that and keep everyone focused,” Alston says.
Looking ahead, Alston hopes to continue to improve on the processes for employment engagement, highlight the value of teams, and improve employee diversity activities within the organization.