This month Judy
Mills retired from her position as Group Vice President
of Human Resources at Mediacom Communications and the
Executive Committee of the C2HR Board of Directors.
We asked Judy to reflect upon her 38 years in human
resources and share insights for the next generation
of HR leaders.
You began your HR career working for Covenant House, New York City’s largest youth homeless shelter. How did your transition from working for a nonprofit to joining Mediacom come to be?
Judy: I should start by saying that I had already been with Covenant House for 20 years when I learned about the position at Mediacom. I was not looking for a new opportunity. and while headhunters were approaching me on a regular basis, nothing they had to offer inspired me. Simply put, I was very happy at Covenant House. Then one day, a good friend of mine told me about a position at Mediacom. I did not know of the company, and the position was at a much lower level than the one I was in at the time. I thanked them for the lead but declined to pursue it.
Sometime later, I was approached again and this time they were more emphatic in their approach. I finally relented but made clear it was quite likely Mediacom would not be interested in me because my background had been all not-for-profit.
I had five interviews with the HR team, but it was the last one that grabbed me. I had been waiting in Mediacom's lobby for quite a while wondering if the last interview was actually going to happen and also wondering if the wait was purposeful, a test of my endurance perhaps. I decided to endure it and I'm so glad I did. Meeting Italia Commisso Weinand did it for me.
The transition was smooth as human resources is human resources no matter how you look at it. My first real challenge was learning the organization as there were so many properties scattered throughout the country. But Mediacom is a unique company, and I was never left without there being someone I could call on for assistance.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of employees is 4.1 years. What factors compelled you to stay at Mediacom for 17 years?
Judy: Prospective new hires ask this question all of the time. I love what the company stands for and what it promotes. We talk about being like a family, and we really are. At the highest levels in Human Resources, we still conduct interviews. We want to know who we are bringing in and we want them to know us. I often talk about loyalty to a candidate, reminding them that it works both ways. If the company is going to be loyal to them, they in return should be loyal to the company.
I also remind prospective employees that when we talk about family, that there are good days with your family and bad days. While they may be upset with a parent, sibling or whomever one day, all is good the next day. The same applies with work.
What else that has compelled me to stay is that I was able to realize my career goals. I never saw the end of the road as far as my career was concerned.
What skills and characteristics have served you best in your HR roles?
Judy: I think my patience and ability to sit back and listen before jumping into spirited conversations have served me very well. Now, that doesn't mean that I haven't jumped in on occasion. I've also learned over the years that acting on impulse and shooting from the hip is very dangerous. When emotions are high, my best advice to a manager is to give the situation 24 hours before responding otherwise you stand the chance of embarrassing yourself, making the situation worse, or potentially losing a valuable employee.
Did you have a mentor during your HR career journey?
Judy: I can't say they actually mentored me, but I can say they definitely helped influence my career. The first was Sister Mary Rose McGeady. Those who are familiar with Covenant House know of the crisis that could have brought down the organization, but when Sister Mary Rose was brought in as President, she came in with a determination I had not seen before. She was a good leader in the sense that she rebuilt the organization. But even more, she rebuilt the pride that employees had lost during that period of time. I learned from her what it takes to be a strong leader.
Italia Commisso Weinand has also been a great influence. Those who know her know how much she loves Mediacom employees. I have never met anyone like her at her level who puts herself out to employees the way she does. As I reflect back on my time at Mediacom, I can honestly say that Italia taught me what it really means to care about employees rather than simply say that you do.
You’ve served on the C2HR Board of Directors since 2015. What has the association meant to you?
Judy: My time with C2HR has been invaluable. I have met some really wonderful people and learned so much from them. For lack of a better way of describing it, the ability to network with my colleagues from other organizations is almost like having a security blanket. We all experience similar situations and knowing we are just a phone call away is a plus. I would encourage all human resources professionals in our industry to get involved with C2HR. You'd be amazed at all of the new information available to you.
Since the start of the pandemic, a startling number of employees have experience burnout. Can you share your go-to wellbeing practices?
Judy: I don't know anyone in human resources who was not impacted by the pandemic. At the worst of it we were working from home putting in much longer hours than at any other time in our careers. We simply could not just go home at the end of the day and carry on our lives as we did before.
Oddly enough, my go to wellbeing practice is to stand out on my back deck facing the Delaware River every morning and say a prayer or meditate. I also found more time to talk with my family, whom I realized I was missing very much. This realization definitely factored into my decision to retire.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite words to live by?
Judy: The biggest communication problem is we don't listen to understand, we listen to reply. I've been trying more and more to keep this in mind. Without understanding we miss the point altogether.
What are your most memorable moments in HR?
Judy: When I was at Covenant House, I was asked to lead a session on job readiness for a group of 18-year-old homeless adolescents. I think maybe four or five kids reluctantly showed up. Quite honestly, I didn't think that any of them were listening as I presented, but I continued on none-the-less.
A couple of weeks later I was standing by the elevator and this young girl came running up to me excitedly and proudly saying "I got it, I got it!" It turned out she was in that group and had just landed her first job. I learned then that people do hear what you say even when you don't think they are listening.
At Mediacom, I am most proud of the great Human Resources professionals I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. There have been some very difficult times we've had to get through, the pandemic being the most recent, but we always did so as a team.
Members of the Mediacom Team at the 2019 C2HR CON
Photo credit: Kenneth Wajda