McKissack Cares Pt. 3: Culture, a Circular Economy of Care & COVID 19

At AEC firm McKissack & McKissack, COVID 19 inspired an employee-first plan to weather the pandemic and build a stronger circular culture of care for the future.
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A culture of care is durable and resilient. COVID-19 had the potential to singularly and swiftly destroy everything we value, and certainly destroy what we value most—the lives of our employees. The lifelines of daily human connection in team meetings and the seat-to-seat collaboration we experienced daily in our offices came to a stop as we sheltered-in-place.

As a management team, we quickly and organically crafted anew plan that put employees first. Christine Merdon, our chief operating officer, started making business continuity plans for the coronavirus a day after the country’s first COVID-19 death was reported. But the entire business team was prepared for this moment thanks to the work Andrew Corn, our director of technology, had done on our “infrastructure” at McKissack, enabling all team members to work efficiently and effectively from any location.

As our leaders pulled together to set new procedures and guidelines to keep us working without missing a beat, we embraced the following strategies.

Adopting highly visible, connected and caring leadership by:

-Staring biweekly video conference town halls for all staff, led by the CEO, top executives and practice leaders;

-Starting daily touch-base leadership meetings to review priorities, opportunities and challenge;

-Prioritizing employee needs, concerns, and issues daily;

-Ensuring decision-making was non bureaucratic and swift; and

-Embracing greater transparency.

Promoting cultural growth, with strong messaging and engagement strategies, that:

-Included inspirational words of hope in each meeting with employees;

-Asked employees to contribute their own messages on why they were grateful;

-Employed practical discussions about embracing reality and becoming more self-aware as an opportunity to be better coming out of COVID-19; and

-Refocused employees on their social responsibility to help others; they had job, but many people did not.

Fostering connectivity—especially remotely, by:

-Encouraging employees to share visuals and show their casual, natural selves in remote meetings;

- Bringing co-workers together in groups of four for 15-minute long speed dating breakout sessions we called “speed talking” where they shared their personal interests, and a few laughs, with team members in every part of the company; and

-Planning social sessions for our employees so they could relax, relate and just enjoy each other.

Investing in talent management and professional growth by:

-Instituting a seven-week employee training program focused on the healthier, more connected “you.” Sessions focused on developing humble,hungry and smart team players who embraced these attributes as core values; and

-Revisiting and deepening the McKissack Cares community giveback program.

In truth, every day when I start work I have more reasons to be grateful. Even in a dark time, this has been the most amazing journey, filled with enlightenment, hope and joy. Our trust and confidence in our leadership, the company and each other has brought us through the worst of the pandemic, and will serve as the building blocks for our future. By encouraging feedback, McKissack team members have shown their desire to carry forward many of the strategies we have put in place.

This journey will build resilience and confidence in our ability to generate new contracts and win work. More importantly, it has re-energized our company and the circular economy of care we cherish–focusing us on each other, our clients, but also the world–a company where everyone is welcome at the table.

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