As Director of Human Resources, who is known for strategic insights and tactical focus on results, Elise Giannasi is dedicated to developing and leading Jabian Consulting’s people strategy and operations across all dimensions of an employee’s experience at the firm.
Prior to joining Jabian Consulting, Elise had extensive experience across all dimensions of HR including Strategy Development and Implementation, Performance Management, Compensation and Career Modeling, Staffing, Communications, Change Management, and Employee Engagement. She is most passionate about Diversity & Inclusion, Culture, Coaching, and Professional Development.
Outside of the office, Elise is active in multiple local women’s groups dedicated to advancing and developing female leaders. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Barnard College of Columbia University.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Learning Insights. Brought to you by TrainingPros. When you have more projects than people, TrainingPros can provide you with the right L&D consultant to start your project with confidence. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:27] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Learning Insights, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our friends at TrainingPros. Without their support, we could not be sharing these stories. Today on Learning Insights, we have Elise Giannasi with Jabian Consulting. Welcome, Elise.
Elise Giannasi : [00:00:46] Hey, Lee. Thanks for having me today.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:48] Now, before we get too far into things, tell us about Jabian Consulting. How are you serving folks?
Elise Giannasi : [00:00:53] Absolutely. So, Jabian is a management consulting firm with a local focus. So, that means that we serve clients within the markets where we live. And we have four offices, Atlanta, Dallas, and Charlotte, and Chicago. And full service offices in all four cities, which is a little tricky now that everything’s gone remote. But it’s certainly opened up opportunities for everyone as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:20] Now, what’s your role with the company?
Elise Giannasi : [00:01:23] I am the Director of Human Resources, so I oversee the H.R. function for Jabian and the full team that covers off on everything from day to day tactical things, all of our operations, and also our strategic initiatives.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:39] So, where are you based? Are you based in one of those four cities?
Elise Giannasi : [00:01:45] I am here in Atlanta. Atlanta is our largest office.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:49] But you’re still serving those other offices as well?
Elise Giannasi : [00:01:53] That’s right.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:54] So, now, what are some of the challenges from, you know, doing human resources in one location but serving kind of remote locations?
Elise Giannasi : [00:02:04] Most of my career has actually been spent doing H.R. in a remote capacity, meaning that I’ve served teams across several different cities either globally or nationally. So, I find it to be less of a challenge than if I hadn’t had that experience. That said, one of the biggest challenges, I think, is making sure that employees in other offices feel like they’re getting the same level of attention. As well as leaders in other offices feeling like they’re getting the same level of business partnership from their H.R. leader and other functional leaders, for that matter.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:44] So, now, how does the kind of culture work when you’re dealing with remote offices that are run kind of with some level of autonomy in each of those markets?
Elise Giannasi : [00:02:56] So, we have a leader in each of our markets. So, it’s our shared services like human resources, marketing operations that are based in Atlanta. So, each office does have local leadership. But in terms of making sure that our culture makes its way across all four offices, you know, Jabian has a very strong culture, and one of the ways that we work to preserve that and also spread that across all of our offices is through our recruiting process. And really making sure that our culture and our value proposition is extremely clear when we are doing the recruiting. And then, once an individual joins, making sure that we are connecting the dots to what that culture means for them once they arrive. And so, our hope and our intent so far have been pretty successful at that, is that we are attracting people who live that same culture in their own lives and are able to bring that into the company. And that way, we’re able to maintain that culture across four offices.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:03] Now, how do you kind of measure culture? How are you determining that, yes, these people are kind of walking the walk that we want them to?
Elise Giannasi : [00:04:16] So, I think part of that is done through interviewing, of course, in the recruiting process. But once people are here, you know, there are a number of ways that we’re able to measure and engage. And I think that’s the biggest thing that we look to, is, are our people happy and are they getting what they need? Are we delivering on that value proposition that we put forward to them when they are in the firm? And are they satisfied with what they’re still bringing to the firm?
Elise Giannasi : [00:04:46] One of the ways that we measure that, just from a quantitative perspective, is we have a yearly employee survey, which I think many organizations do. And we go pretty deep into the data to really assess how engaged our employees are across a number of different dimensions. And then, we are extremely transparent with those results. And we spend plenty of time with our leadership team as well as the entire firm reviewing the results and getting real about all of the things that are working and what are the things where we’ve got improvement opportunities. And we use those results to really inform what our people agendas will be in the year ahead.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:30] Now, how did Jabian navigate the pandemic as that was kind of coming into play? With their own team as being remote kind of helped already. But when they’re dealing with their local clients, how were you able to maybe share best practices and help everybody kind of when you’re not all in the same place?
Elise Giannasi : [00:05:50] It’s really hard because consulting is a business built on relationship building. And when you have a firm that is a local consulting firm, where we really focus on being able to serve people who we live in the same city with, when you become remote, it’s more challenging to build relationships. But we’ve always had a really heavy emphasis on networking and doing that internally within our peers at the firm. But then, also, making sure that we are staying in touch with our clients and building relationships through the project work. Or if the project work comes to a close, that we maintain those relationships on work. So, I think people had an opportunity to flex a new set of muscles that maybe weren’t as strong, which is that kind of remote connection. But we already had a strong foundation of networking skills to build on, given that relationship building is so critical to a consulting business.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:47] Now, when you’re onboarding a new employee, how were you able to kind of do that when some of consulting is this relationship and there is an opportunity to kind of be together, look over each other’s shoulder, and be a fly on the wall, and kind of absorb things by just participating? How are you able to do that kind of in this new world we’re living in?
Elise Giannasi : [00:07:12] New world. So, I heard of a really interesting thing that some employees started to do, and I thought it was great and actually tried it with a few of my team members, which was essentially going on to Zoom or the Microsoft Teams and all working together. Even if you’re not talking, it essentially recreates that feeling of being in the team room together. And then, anyone can speak up at any given time and kind of get help with their work. So, that’s an interesting solution I’ve seen people doing for just that kind of day to day working together and learning together situation.
Elise Giannasi : [00:07:52] But then, also, I think that our leaders who lead all of our accounts have been really diligent in making sure that everyone is able to stay connected either through weekly or daily account meetings and stand ups or other things like that. But all of it, of course, done via video on Teams. So, I think video has been a really huge piece of this is making sure that everyone’s got their cameras on. And that really helps people to be more engaged when they’re actually having conversations and hold each other accountable for staying in that moment and having the conversations that they need to have about project work.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:29] Now, have you figured out a way to kind of simulate maybe some of those accidental serendipitous moments, these kind of collisions that happened almost randomly when you are all together?
Elise Giannasi : [00:08:44] That’s a hard one. That’s one of the things – if you ask me what keeps me up at night, I would say that’s one of the things, is, how do you keep those moments going? The thing is, is that with everyone remote, they’re more inclined to pick up the phone or use Teams, which is what we use as an organization. So, we really upped our use of IM-ing through Teams. So, I think that’s what people are doing.
Elise Giannasi : [00:09:11] What I would be concerned about is, as we start to go back to the office, whenever that may be, there are some employees who choose to stay remote or who we determined will stay remote. How do you create those moments when half your employee base is in-person and the other half is remote? Because then, you’ve got to bring people along if they’ve missed those moments, but they’re still on your team. So, I would say it’s a challenge we’re still working on and what I foresee to keep going for a while.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:42] Like, how did you weigh kind of the pros and cons of going to that type of hybrid?
Elise Giannasi : [00:09:50] We have not gone to that yet. It’s just more something that I am thinking about way down the line. When the time does come, there may be – I think a lot of organizations are thinking about this, it’s caused us to say, “Well, what roles do need to be in the office and what roles can be remote?” And so, we haven’t had that conversation thoroughly yet. It’s just more something that we’re starting to think about. What will that mean? What are the implications on our business, our internal back office functions, et cetera? But for consulting, most of the work we do is offsite anyway. It’s with our clients at a client site. So, that’s really going to come down to whether our clients are ready to have us be on site with them or not.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:36] Now, what are you doing as an organization regarding your own learning and training? Has anything changed because of the pandemic or do you always use remote learning or e-learning?
Elise Giannasi : [00:10:48] So, we’ve definitely had an opportunity this year to come together quite a bit for learning, but I would say it’s learning in a different way. So, when the racial and civil unrest had really reached its peak this summer, we jumped on the opportunity to bring our teams together virtually, of course – we used Zoom for the most part – around a series of discussions and learning opportunities around different issues like racial inequality, talking to your kids about racism, how to be an ally, gender identity, and most recently, a conversation around the impacts of COVID on marginalized populations. And we were able to have this discussion series that ended up being, about, monthly where we brought everyone together. And so, I would call that more informal learning where the point is to have challenging conversations but also teach each other through those conversations.
Elise Giannasi : [00:11:57] So, this year, we’ve focused on learning in that way. And then, we also have been doing a number of weekly and, now, they’ll probably become monthly, town halls where we come together as a firm and really talk a lot about the business and the steps we’re taking to navigate the economic impacts of the pandemic. So, I would say, our learning focus really shifted more to how do we continue to grow as a business and as colleagues around the topic of inclusion. And, also, this year, like I said, really helped people hone their business development and relationship skills and remote capacity. So, it’s almost like on the job learning, if you will. In the past, though, we have definitely run more formal training programs. But I would say this year, the emphasis on the recovery of a business in the middle of an economic scare and pandemic, it’s turned more towards that kind of informal learning through conversations and town halls.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:04] And when you’re doing that kind of informal learning, is that something that is even possible to measure?
Elise Giannasi : [00:13:12] So, the best way that we could measure it is through this sense of whether our people are feeling more connected and whether they understand the decisions we’re making about the business. And that’s really hard to measure quantitatively. I would say, it’s really been more of a qualitative feel for how people are feeling connected to the culture. And, of course, we do receive, especially this last year, a lot of emails or texts or calls from people letting us know that they feel supported by the firm, but also our support of the firm and the decisions it’s making.
Elise Giannasi : [00:13:52] But our employee survey, again, it’s a big thing for me where I can dive in and really get a sense for how people are feeling about the way we communicate and a level of transparency and their satisfaction with some of this inclusion material that we’ve been able to do this year. And so far this year, we did really well in those areas. So, that’s where we stand.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:18] Now, I know Jabian, the communities are important and the inclusion, obviously, is important. When it comes down to kind of the behavior you’d like your people to demonstrate and really immerse themselves in the community, is that possible to measure? Can you tell that, “Hey, we are getting more engagement from folks that want to get involved in these social causes and social impact initiatives”?
Elise Giannasi : [00:14:49] That’s easier to measure because we can simply keep track of all of the things that our people are doing. And they are very engaged even remotely. It’s something that draws people to Jabian, but it’s also something that’s a requirement at every level. It’s part of the competencies that we expect of our people. So, 100 percent of the firm is engaged in the community in some way or another.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:17] And that’s just one of the core values of Jabian so that in order to be part of the team, then you have to kind of demonstrate that by actively doing some of those doing that work.
Elise Giannasi : [00:15:30] That’s right. That’s right. And it’s also one of the things that attracts people to us. It’s not just about serving clients in our local markets, but it’s also about serving communities in our local markets. Really putting down roots where you live, because a lot of consultants are always on planes, at least not in the last year, of course, but usually on planes going to other cities. And, for us, our advantage is that we are serving clients where we live and also getting engaged in that community where we live and making an impact.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:03] Now, pretty much annually, at least, as long as I’ve known about Jabian, your organization gets recognized as one of the best and brightest companies to work for. That obviously is something you’re proud of and obviously it’s important to you. How did that come about? And is that something that just organically happened and then you realized, “Hey, we are this and so let’s celebrate this.” Or was that kind of like a happy accident?
Elise Giannasi : [00:16:34] You know, I don’t actually know the origin of what brought us to that, just given that I haven’t been at the firm long enough. I think, we’ve been winning these awards since well before I joined Jabian. But in the last year, this year in particular, we won that for both Atlanta and Dallas as well as nationally. And I believe that’s been true for the last several years. And in the coming year, we’re going to be competing in that space for our other two offices, Charlotte and Chicago. It’s probably a chicken or the egg question, but I think that we do have a really unique and extraordinary culture. And it’s something that we want to celebrate internally, but we also want to make sure that those people who we want to attract to the firm are also aware of how great our culture is.
Elise Giannasi : [00:17:26] And one of the best ways to get that kind of recognition is through awards and recognition like Best and Brightest. So, we’re certainly proud of that, especially this year, because the recognition was really rooted in how companies were able to navigate through the challenges that we all faced this year with the pandemic and the social unrest. And so, we really felt like the recognition received this year reflected how we approached them.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:56] Now, do you have any advice for other leaders out there that would like their organization to be, you know, considered among the best and the brightest? Are there some low hanging fruit that organizations can focus in on that can help them get a leg up?
Elise Giannasi : [00:18:12] That’s a great question. If I think of the way that you want to think about the way that you’re asked the questions around what makes you best and brightest, and I think the things that are really important are your values. And do you truly live your values both in the near term and do you make decisions that are aligned to your values for the long term. So, I think that’s really important. And I think having an engaged employee base that are really proud of the culture and believe the culture to be strong is going to be really important, because your employees are the ones who are filling out the surveys for these awards. And so, it’s really you want to make sure that they are feeling valued and engaged in order to make sure that that gets reflected in that way.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:02] Well, Elise, if somebody wanted to learn more about Jabian and connect with you or somebody on your team, what is the coordinates? What’s the best way to get a hold of you?
Elise Giannasi : [00:19:11] If you head to jabian.com, you would be able to find us. Anything, any questions you have about Jabian would be on our website, of course. And then, you’d be able to contact us through the Atlanta page. You could get direct contact with us there. That’s where I’d be.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:26] And then, what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Elise Giannasi : [00:19:30] Oh, gosh. I would say, one of the things that we are looking for is, obviously, more community engagement. So, the more that we can learn about our community, the more that we can get involved in our community. And then, also, certainly, ideas for continuing to engage employees through remote work is top of mind for me right now.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:55] Well, Elise, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Elise Giannasi : [00:20:01] Thank you, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:02] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on Learning Insights. And remember, please support our sponsor, TrainingPros. Without them, we could not be sharing these important stories.
Outro: [00:20:15] Thank you for listening. For more information about TrainingPros, visit their website at training-pros.com.
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