Making the People Strategy at NREL the Essential Foundation of our Family

By Tina Herrera, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Chief Human Resources Officer

Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of 10 children, but I believe my upbringing was an ideal preparation of working in Human Resources. All of my siblings have different personalities and different career paths.

My time growing up in a tight-knit family in New Mexico enriched me in ways I didn’t understand then. Now, however, I see these familial experiences as not unlike being around the National Renewable Energy Laboratory leadership team. Just as we did with my family, we are sitting together at a table, and everyone has their unique perspectives, and we have to come together to solve problems.

Joining NREL in January 2022 as part of the leadership team, I’ve seen that one thing we’ve all agreed upon is that our People Strategy is the bedrock of what we want our laboratory to be. Of course, we have specific strategies for our research in our mission space — but underlying everything is our sense that every individual matters. We truly are an NREL family.

Since coming to NREL, I have led the lab’s People Strategy as a complement to NREL’s strategy document — the NREL Laboratory Agenda: A Strategic Plan for Achieving Our Vision.

This has been a fulfilling journey for me, learning more about the people and culture at NREL and striving to make a difference in the energy transition. So far, this path has included conducting 15 focus groups and reviewing comments from nearly 340 NRELians — as we call NREL people — to create a vision and path forward. I’ve drawn upon my profession experience of leading culture change at another national laboratory as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) manager and led laboratory-wide DEI education initiatives.

A data committee reviewed the laboratory-wide input to develop five focus areas:

  • Workplace Culture — The setting, social features, and way in which we perform our jobs including values, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes
  • Leadership and Trust — The capacity of NREL’s management/leadership to effectively empower and lead their staff
  • Organizational Effectiveness — The ability to reach intended outcomes with our organizational processes, business strategy, and allocation of resources/time; how all our processes come together
  • Well-Being — The benefits that NREL offers as well as the overall health of employees
  • Learning and Growth — The goals and opportunities to help employees learn and develop new skills and succeed at work.

The results of NREL’s self-assessments are informing our progress to ensuring that this is a place open to everyone.

I speak from experience. As a mother of three young children — including one with special needs — I’m very conscious about the daily challenges every parent faces when they are trying to grow a career while also being invested and passionate about their family lives. There have been many remote meetings with my own screaming kids in the background, especially during the pandemic. Sure, I was dying a slow, painful death inside, but I thought I’d do everybody a disservice by trying to mask the reality of all that working parents juggle in a day. Some days I chose to let them scream, so people would appreciate the stress is real.

Here’s why this is so important: People are putting their whole heart and soul and energy into making both parenthood and career work. We want such committed people here, fully invested in making the planet better for future generations.

The process will continue to unfold. Just as the demands of parenting during the pandemic emerged as a stressor, there will be others to anticipate and mitigate down the road. That’s why I let people know that our People Strategy, though published internally, is a living, breathing action plan reflecting the opportunities we have to achieve our vision of an inclusion-centered workplace, becoming better together.

This is the key to making HR feel like a trusted family member. We will strive to position NREL for the ambitious growth we have and the grand challenges we have on behalf of the people on this planet. As I said, being the youngest sibling of a large family, I’ve seen the ways family can nurture growth. Now as the lead of NREL’s HR, I’ll combine my personal and professional experiences to ensure we have a workplace that is a family-place — and second to none.

In doing so, I think we will attract, develop, and retain that talent — people of all types who want to be with us as we confront the greatest challenges posed by climate change. Going forward, NREL and its leaders will continue to experiment with the hybrid work environment that will work for our people.



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