Christine Andrukonis: “Know who you are”

Know who you are — have an honest view of your strengths and challenges and a deep understanding of what you value and where you get your energy. And make sure you nurture those things on the job and at home no matter how high-pressure your position or situation may be. If you can do that you […]

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Know who you are — have an honest view of your strengths and challenges and a deep understanding of what you value and where you get your energy. And make sure you nurture those things on the job and at home no matter how high-pressure your position or situation may be. If you can do that you will thrive, and help others do the same.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Andrukonis.

Christine Andrukonis has been helping executives change behavior for nearly 20 years. She has broad expertise that spans leadership, talent, change management, training, strategy and communications.

Prior to founding Notion Consulting, Christine directed the North American region for a boutique consultancy within Omnicom and was responsible for a 30-person team that spanned the US. She oversaw the development and implementation of people and change strategies for senior clients, and she has deep experience optimizing talent and culture during organizational transformations, mergers and acquisitions. Christine has worked with companies across a variety of industries, including Chanel, Datto, FedEx, The Estee Lauder Companies, Goldman Sachs, Hess, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Lundbeck, The NFL, Pfizer, Quest Diagnostics, Rag & Bone, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Stony Brook Hospital, Tesoro, and Weight Watchers.

Before consulting, Christine worked inside HR at American Express and Lockheed Martin. During her time at American Express she created and implemented consistent global processes and tools for talent, performance management and compensation planning. At Lockheed Martin she created and launched their inaugural career development program. She also coached executives in Lockheed Martin’s high potential leadership development program and mentoring programs as well as developing and delivering management training.

Christine was highlighted in Profiles in Diversity magazine for her creation of inclusive talent and development programs at Lockheed Martin. Her experience coaching executives and her unique ability to merge big thinking with practical action earned her the title of PR Week’s 40 Under 40 for 2013. It also garnered her the opportunity to teach at the Athena Center for Women’s Leadership at Barnard College.

Christine holds a Masters of Science in Organizational Development from American University and a B.S. in Management from Penn State. Given her love of learning, Christine now serves as an Adjunct Faculty member at Cornell University.

Last but not least, Christine is a committed wife, mother of 2 spunky young children and COO of her Montclair, NJ household. She is an active member of the community, engaged in school, church and democracy.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I was in junior high school, I have had a passion for making institutions work better for the people they serve, and helping people do their best for the institutions they serve. This all came together in college as I learned more about the industrial revolution, the labor movement and the history of the manager-employee relationship. Although I first thought I’d be an employment attorney, but I decided that I had too much of an entrepreneurial spirit so I went into Human Resources, then Management and eventually started my own consulting business 5 years ago.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The two biggest challenges I have faced since starting my company are:

  1. Maintaining a well-rounded life. As an entrepreneur with an ambitious vision and a passion for the work we do, I truly love my work. Helping clients solve tough challenges, building a business and developing talent keep me interested and engaged and happy to work. Fortunately creating, growing and running a consulting firm gives me plenty of opportunity to do that work. But I am also a woman of faith; a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend; and lover of nature, travel, food, music and culture. I am at my best when I’m intellectually stimulated and provided with opportunities to: 1) connect with family, friends; 2) experience the world; 3) give back to others; and 4) take care of myself with adequate sleep, healthy foods, exercise and lots of water. Unfortunately, all of these things take time and it is hard work navigating competing priorities to ensure I have time for everything.
    There was a point about 2 years into founding Notion, where I felt that I could not do all of the above and I was feeling the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion from trying.I considered pulling back on my work or finding someone to help me carry the load, and fortunately I found someone to help me carry the load. I hired my now-business-partner Diana Vienne and now we can help each other maintain well-rounded lives.
  2. Competing in a male-dominated industry. As noted across a variety of studies, women make up about 40% of the consulting industry and hold about 15–20% of senior consulting positions. And when you look at those who consult with the c-suite, the competitive landscape saturated with male-run firms, which is not terribly surprising when you consider the fact that women hold approximately 25% of c-suite positions. Despite all the work being done to increase representation of woman-owned businesses in the corporate world, there are still some hurdles when it comes to building the connections required for woman-run management consultancies to cut through the competition in a largely relationship-driven industry and get a foot in the door with the c-suite.
    Although I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with some amazing clients, I have experienced some of these more nuanced “glass ceiling” types of hurdles in a few subtle ways. In some cases, I have come across procurement teams who are more interested in streamlining their pool of preferred vendors than diversifying the pool and have declined to approve proposals or master agreements put forward by their teams. In other cases, I have experienced executives who somehow misperceive that as a woman-owned business we are best positioned to consult with only their women executives and have selected a comparable male-run firm to work with the rest of their c-suite. I completely understand how this happens however I believe that these types of clients are missing out on the diversity of thought that comes with a diverse pool of executive level management consulting firms. So, I continue to work hard to evolve and grow and do great work, and advocate for small shifts and improvements to be made along the way.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I believe that the greatest progress comes from leaning into life’s most difficult moments. I have looked at each challenge as an opportunity, taking an honest and open look at what I can do differently next time. I have also used these moments as opportunities to capture lessons learned for others as well and use those lessons in my consulting practice.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

So far, we are thriving and growing and becoming better each day. I’d consider that successful.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I wouldn’t consider this a mistake per se, but it was funny. After only a few weeks into the creation of Notion, I was contacted by a former client who was interesting in engaging my company in a huge project. They invited me to Philadelphia for a pitch presentation where Notion would be one of a number of firms coming in to meet with a team of executives regarding this project. I was just getting my team up and running and was unable to assemble the presentation team quickly enough to bring them to Philadelphia with me. After years of experience bringing pitch teams to these types of meetings, I went on my own and it was weird. I printed my materials and got on Amtrak, prepared myself for the presentation and walked into the building solo. When I signed in at the reception desk I could see the companies and names of the presenters who came before me. Every company was larger and well established, represented by teams of 3–5 people each. I then proceeded to the boardroom where I was greeted by at least 6 members of the client executive team who said “you came alone?” I said “yes, I did” and I went through my presentation. They were engaged and excited about what Notion could do and thanked me for the presentation. The following day the Head of HR called me to thank me for the presentation but to let me know that they selected another firm. He indicated that they wanted to select me but in being such a new firm with a new team it was too risky. I completely understood and thanked him for his time. It was an amazing experience in building courage, conviction and further developing some important longer-term relationships. I’m not sure I would do anything differently if given the chance again, but I definitely learned some important lessons about what I needed to focus on to build my team (and our reputation and credibility as a new firm) quickly.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are humans who truly understand the important link between people’s hearts and business strategy. We understand that the best business strategies will fail if people do not believe in them and understand their role in driving success. On the flipside, we also understand that sometimes even a mediocre strategy can be successful with the vision, passion and energy required to mobilize everyone in the implementation of that strategy.

I can think of numerous client engagements in which we were facilitating an executive offsite or a leadership workshop, and we had the opportunity to help them wrestle with existential challenges or internal conflicts. We gave them a safe space to share, and helped them take action on their biggest hopes, fears and concerns. We helped them work through arguments, tears and debates, and truly align on plans to move forward. Later, we’d check in and coach them as they proceeded. The progress they were experiencing as a team along with their personal feelings of energy were inspiring and keep us working every day.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Know who you are — have an honest view of your strengths and challenges and a deep understanding of what you value and where you get your energy. And make sure you nurture those things on the job and at home no matter how high-pressure your position or situation may be. If you can do that you will thrive, and help others do the same.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful to my family (then and now) for always believing I can do anything I put my mind to and for helping me believe the same. And I am grateful to the small handful of mentors I have picked up along the way. I’m not sure they even know who they are but they have encouraged me, challenged me and supported me to take thoughtful risk and live big.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try in everything I do to help people be their best selves; and I make time outside the job to do the same, through a variety of interests and volunteer opportunities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have done a lot of introspection over the past many months and have been really focused on self-advocacy. For me that means “identifying and advocating for one’s own needs and beliefs” in a way that is kind yet firm and results in creating something better for all involved. I’ve been thinking about it with my team, with clients and at home. I’ve also been thinking about it with my children, especially as my eldest heads into his ‘tween’ years. I believe this is a skill that will make the world a better, more equitable and just place for all.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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