“Regularly conduct employee surveys to create a fantastic work culture” With Kerry Wekelo & Phil Laboon

Regularly Conduct Employee Surveys: Our organizations are only as good as our people. Listening to what your people want is an easy way to increase employee satisfaction. We utilize surveys to determine what social and charity events our people want to support and what areas of growth they would like to see the firm offer. […]

Regularly Conduct Employee Surveys: Our organizations are only as good as our people. Listening to what your people want is an easy way to increase employee satisfaction. We utilize surveys to determine what social and charity events our people want to support and what areas of growth they would like to see the firm offer. The key is to check in when you have questions and go with the majority vote.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing. Kerry Wekelo. Kerry is the Chief Operating Officer Culture Infusion Director for Actualize Consulting, a financial services consulting firm. at Actualize Consulting, an executive coach, yoga instructor, award-winning author, and entrepreneur. Her book and program Culture Infusion: 9 Principals for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture is the impetus behind Actualize being named a Top Company Culture by Entrepreneur Magazine. Kerry’s mindful wisdom has been featured on ABC, NBC, NPR Marketplace, The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc., and New York Post. 

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

Straight out of college, I took my first consulting job with Accenture and feel in love with the diversity of the work. During the years, I have always enjoyed focusing on the people and their aspirations. When I was asked by the founding partner to help build Actualize Consulting, I took the opportunity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In 2010, when we were faced with 33% turnover, we decided to shift the focus from production to our people. I realized that compartmentalization of my values was not an option. I needed a holistic approach to, well, everything. I needed to show up as the same person in all aspects of my life so I could serve myself and others for our highest good. This meant I would have to find a way to help form a more holistic approach to success at Actualize — one that encouraged personal and corporate wellness in all aspects, from physical and mental well-being to “healthy,” well- functioning operations. I wanted to take to heart Kahlil Gibran’s thoughts on work in his book The Prophet: “Work is love made visible.” He goes on to say, “And if you cannot work with love and only distaste, it is better you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”1 I wanted to create a culture and workplace that made me and others proud to call Actualize our place of work.

With our people centric approach, we have had less than 1% turnover for the last 3 years.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on a leadership course that I believe will help others to experience the feeling they want to feel to inspire them to be better leaders.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

With technology and remote employees, we are not as personally engaged with our co-workers. People thrive when they feel a part of something bigger, valued, appreciated, and supported. We all desire the need for personal connections and for firms to succeed they must also focus on personal team connections both socially and giving back to the community.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

We have seen first-hand, that an unhappy workforce will lead to high turnover within a firm. High turnover effects the overall health and wellbeing of a company and their clients. We have had as high as 33% back in 2010. We were profitable, yet our clients were not as happy with constant turnover of our consultants. We took our time and slowly and steadily infused some key principles into our corporate culture. Now our thriving culture at Actualize Consulting is built on a solid foundation of personal wellness which expands into team interactions and corporate structure and operations. The result in this shift can be seen in a less than 1% turnover rate and high client satisfaction scores.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1.) Provide Intentional Leadership: which is being self-aware as well as knowing our teams are not one-size fits all. When we can see each person and their strengths, we can then capitalize on those strengths. When I found myself overworked, I realized something needed to change, I took my internal tasks and divided them amongst my team according to each of our strengths, specially allowing alignment towards our best attributes. As a result, we now all have more job satisfaction and dedication to the team and the work.

2.) Practice Effective Communication: Time expands as we are communicating effectively and efficiently. I believe the way your organization communicates to employees has a significant impact on the health of your organization. For example, when we make organizational changes, big or small, we focus on communicating the change properly so our teams have an easier time adjusting to the change — whether or not they agree with it. On the other hand, poor communication regarding changes can be detrimental to overall morale and take away from productivity as teams struggle to adjust.

3.) Handle Conflict Directly, Openly, & Immediately: Having a common way to deal with conflict improves corporate culture. We have found that when we use the 3P Method — Pause to Pivot to a Positive as a guiding communication technique, there are fewer conflicts with our communication in our teams and our people bring to our clients and their family and friends. The more time we spend in the pause the easier it is to resolve conflict.

4.) Regularly Conduct Employee Surveys: Our organizations are only as good as our people. Listening to what your people want is an easy way to increase employee satisfaction. We utilize surveys to determine what social and charity events our people want to support and what areas of growth they would like to see the firm offer. The key is to check in when you have questions and go with the majority vote.

5.) Align Performance Rewards with Firm Goals: Aligning firm-wide and employee goals is a win-win and allows you to see the value of each of your team members as everyone focuses on the same vision. For years, we had a goal-setting process for employees that offered little guidance; we would only look at their goals in our biannual review process. Before, we wondered why employees didn’t engage with the process. Now, our structure encourages our people to use their goals as a working document of their progress and we have higher engagement.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

As leaders we can choose to work with other companies that also have strong values and commitment to their people. If we make conscious decisions on our vendors and partners, we can help to change our society.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I try my best to be an exceptional leader that focuses on appreciation, respect, trust, and empower teams to add value to our company as they follow their career aspirations. For example, I work with our team on aligning their goals and tasks to their strengths versus hounding them to focus on something they do not enjoy.

I lead by example not only in each situation, I also do a weekly message that goes out to our network and our team. At a recent event, multiple new team members spoke of how they felt like they know me based on those messages. No matter your level in the firm, your actions will be followed. If you are nice to someone they will respond kindly; if you act with compassion, others will treat you with compassion; if you are engaged, others will follow your lead; if you smile at someone they will smile back at you.

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 about that?

My mentor John Harvey. Years ago when we started Actualize, John was on our board of advisors. At that time, I was not as patient in my interactions and was quick to judge. John saw that even with a few rough edges, I had leadership potential and would consistently focus on my strengths, encouraging me to keep following my vision of changing our corporate culture. He acted as a sounding board and helped give me confidence in my abilities and leadership.

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

Wonders of Your Mind was created for children of all ages to promote creativity and imagination. As children write, draw and play, wondrous things happen. My dear friend Jennifer Lynn Kibler passed away from cancer at the age of 17, forever leaving a meaningful impact on the world. In honor of Jennifer, the proceeds of this book go to distributing free copies to kids all over the world that need a mental boost — whether they are hospitalized, at a homeless shelter, or in some other way less fortunate. My intention is to spread as much love as Jennifer brought to this world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” said Helen Keller. Ever since childhood, I have been in awe of her strength and courage to make a beautiful life even though she was both deaf and blind. Like Helen, I am not satisfied with humdrum.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

More active listening. We all need a good listening too. Put your phones down and listen to the person you are interacting with. Lead by example at work and with your family. I get sad when I see kids on their devices in restaurants with their parents.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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