Human Resources Director Kaley Konecny, SHRM-SCP contributes daily to CORE’s growth and maintaining our culture as a great place to work. She enjoys resolving workplace issues and serving as a resource for employees.
Konecny recently spoke with The Zweig Letter’s Senior Editor Sarah Parkman about the importance of representing the best interest of every employee by providing them the environment, tools, and training needed that allows them to develop personally and professionally.
“If we can be part of positive change that provides equal opportunities for every person, no matter how big or small, we want to be part of that,” Konecny says. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. Having a diverse group of people who think differently will provide our clients with the most unique solutions to their projects.”
The Zweig Letter: You were part of Zweig Group’s 2021 ElevateHER® Cohort. What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Kaley Konecny: I am so grateful to have been involved in the 2021 ElevateHER® Cohort. I’m new to the industry, so it allowed for greater insight to the challenges facing the AEC industry, specifically with recruitment and retention and the need to really focus on what matters most – fixing systemic issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion. My biggest takeaway is best described by Lao Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Impactful change doesn’t require a revolution, it can happen with small incremental progress.
TZL: What do you do to maintain CORE’s culture as a great place to work?
KK: Hold true to our values, listen to feedback, adjust as needed, provide opportunities for growth, recognize and reward, provide challenging and purpose-driven projects, and communicate with transparency.
Culture is not created from one person or a select group of people at CORE. Every employee adds to our culture and makes us what we are. Our responsibility is to make sure there’s an alignment of values to avoid the erosion of our culture.
TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?
KK: CORE has always been an environment of flexibility, but COVID has changed the way in which we work. We implemented a hybrid schedule in our office, carving out Wednesdays and Fridays as hybrid days for those who enjoy working from home. There’s flexibility around these days, but our purpose is to ensure a collaborative, team-centric environment with proper communication channels in place so we can be effective in how we get work done. Overall, our telecommuting policy hasn’t changed a lot since COVID; we’ve adapted how we work and can do so effectively.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
KK: It happens regularly – in big and small ways – but if you’re a person with a growth mindset, it can be used to improve. I have a library of lessons learned, but one that comes to mind is that proactive, frequent communication is fundamental in an ever-changing environment. Communicating the “why” and allowing people to provide input is essential for buy-in and the notion of “rowing in the same direction.” The time it takes to do it is worth it. I’ve failed to spend the time upfront clearly communicating the “why,” and because of that spent much more time on resistance to change. Having empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of others is always helpful!
TZL: As an HR director, you’ve seen firsthand how challenging it is for firms to retain and recruit talent. What are you doing at CORE to attract and keep talent?
KK: Staying true to who we are has been paramount in our recruitment and retention efforts. People want to join a firm with meaningful work and purpose, but it’s equally important that the culture and values align with who they are as an individual. For this reason, it’s critical that we are open and transparent in who we are and how we operate as a team during the interviewing process. Transparency is also very important to retaining talent. We are very much focused on our values – the lens in which we operate as a company – so we know what is expected of us and our peers. We quickly address and resolve issues, and hold people accountable to expectations. We understand this is not only good for business, but it allows us to retain our high-performing employees who want to come in each day to do good work and be part of an accountable team.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
KK: Intentionality is extremely important. From our recruiting efforts to employee experience, diversity and inclusion are instilled in what we do and how we do it. It’s also part of our strategic plan, holding us accountable to results and progress. We understand it’s not one or the other; a company must focus on both to be successful. We can’t hire a diverse workforce who feel like they don’t belong, so we must facilitate a culture of honoring people’s differences, truly listening to each other, and showing respect across the board. When the mark is missed, it’s important that we take quick action to resolve any issues or problems. In addition, our internal processes – from hiring to promotions, to employee performance evaluations to recognizing and rewarding excellence – have been created to eliminate or severely reduce the chances of unconscious bias, inequity, and discrimination. We are very intentional about inserting equity in all of our policies, processes, and programs and will continue to revisit and revise in our evolution of learning and growing. We know we have much more to do on this topic and we are committed to enhancing and building upon what we have so far.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
KK: I would say I’m a leader who is ever evolving and growing. I want to do better than yesterday. I see imperfections and strive to improve. When I know better, I try hard to do better. And I expect that from my team. I never expect perfection. What I do expect is self-reflection, admitting faults, and learning from mistakes.
TZL: CORE was an early supporter of ElevateHER®, and supports many other diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the AEC industry. Can you speak to the motivation behind this? Why is it important to CORE to support these causes?
KK: The overarching reason is simply because it’s the right thing to do. If we can be part of positive change that provides equal opportunities for every person, no matter how big or small, we want to be part of that. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. Having a diverse group of people who think differently will ultimately provide our clients with the most unique solutions to their projects.
TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?
KK: We offer a program, “OptOutside” (shout out to REI) that reimburses employees up to $500 per year to spend on outdoor activities. For example, ski passes, new running shoes, bikes, hiking/fishing gear – anything that will encourage employees to reset, recharge, and do the things that they’re passionate about. We live in the beautiful state of Colorado – who wouldn’t want to be outside?
Giving back to the community is a CORE value and very important to our employees. Excitement comes from helping those in need by providing our time and expertise. It not only helps our community, but it fosters teamwork, positive relationships, and belonging. CORE offers up to 16 hours to employees per year as volunteer-time off to spend time away from work and in the community.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your firm’s line leadership are great people managers?
KK: It all starts with having the right people in the right roles. We are very intentional in how we recruit and promote. It’s about having the right people on the team and making sure they are in a role where they can be successful. We assess past behavior to help predict future behavior, alignment with our values and philosophies, competencies, and potential. We believe it’s equally important to drill down into what they really want. Sometimes people think they want to be a manager but in reality, they simply don’t. I believe it is a disservice to that person, company, and team if a hire or promotion happens out of need versus readiness and willingness to be great in that role. When the person wants the role, they understand the role, and they have the competencies to perform, CORE provides training, guidance, and exposure to professional development opportunities for continuous learning and improvement. Managing people is hard and it will never be perfect. We are complex human beings! If we show up with the best intentions, work with our people to help facilitate growth, and provide continuous feedback, we’re on the right track. That is what we expect from our managers (and ourselves).
TZL: Your ElevateHER® Cohort group focused on getting people back into the industry through a back-to-work program. What did you see as the benefits of “returnships” for both those returning to the industry and for the firms?
KK: Returnships provide an “on ramp” for those getting reacclimated to the workforce, providing a space to relearn principles and readjust to the office environment, while still providing value to projects and the firm. An ideal returnship will provide an experiential opportunity for the returner, while giving him/her the confidence to train in new settings and teams in the modern office setting.
In turn, firms are given the option of working with experienced employees and gaining new, diverse talent. These programs also provide firms with an immediate opportunity to increase the number of mid-career and senior talent on staff.
TZL: Does your firm work closely with any higher education institutions to gain access to the latest technology, experience, and innovation and/or recruiting to find qualified resources?
KK: We do. On the recruiting front, we work closely with colleges that have programs aligned with what we do. More importantly, in my opinion, is working closely with colleges whose values align with ours, specifically those that have a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion and actively seek students with varying backgrounds and experiences. We have a couple of partnerships already, and we strive to build upon what we currently have with out-of-state colleges to provide an even more diverse pool of candidates who could potentially work with us in the future. Who doesn’t want to move to Colorado?
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
KK: To provide an environment where people can do their best work.