CSR Matters: How to Create a Work Environment Where People Thrive

01/09/2018 05:01 pm ET

A Q&A with Tamika Tremaglio, Deloitte Greater Washington Managing Principal and East Regional Leader

How many times have you been told by your boss that the way to get ahead is to deliver results quickly and “not to mess up” because “failure is not an option”? More times than you care to count?

Well, you’re not alone. This November I, along with a room full of CSR practitioners, business executives, academics, and community partners came together for an event on the “Business of Kindness.” The event—one of the most empowering I attended all year—was brought together by Deloitte, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

You read that right. In these divisive times, championing kindness in the workplace is so critical that it’s brought together unlikely collaborators Lady Gaga and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation!

Questions explored during the day included:

  • How do we create a cultural shift towards kindness?
  • How do we engage employees at every level to empower kindness inside their companies?
  • What is inclusivity and what are the best practices for achieving it?
  • How can you make the business case for kindness in your workplace?
  • How do you create an environment for safe, honest, and meaningful discussions?

For me, one of the highlights was the keynote discussion between Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Bissett Germanotta, President and Co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation and Tamika Tremaglio, Managing Principal, Greater Washington, Deloitte.

Something that really stuck with me was the passion in which Ms. Tremaglio spoke about creating a “culture of courage” where people are encouraged to “bring their authentic selves to work,” make mistakes, and to fail.

After the event, I had the fortune of speaking to Tremaglio, who was chosen last February to lead Deloitte’s massive Greater Washington practice, the largest accounting, consulting, and audit operation in the region. In the business world, Tremaglio is a bonafide rock star.

In 2017, Washington Business Journal honored Tremaglio in its list of “Women Who Mean Business.” Washingtonian Magazine recognized her as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, DC. She’s even been categorized in Essence Magazine’s Power & Money List as a “Game Changer” with the likes of Queen Latifah. Oh, and by the way, she also serves as president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association Foundation.

I could go on and on in listing her achievements, but I’d rather provide the space for you to learn how she successfully manages and empowers her 12,000 person workforce...

What follows is a transcribed Q&A from our conversation I had with Ms. (slightly edited for length and clarity). With leaders like Tamika Tremaglio, it's easy to see why Deloitte is consistently named as one of the best places to work.

At the bottom are my “Five Key Takeaways for Creating a Work Environment Where People Thrive.”

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Ryan Rudominer: Can you tell our readers a little about your background and if there’s been a mentor or major guiding force in your life?

Tamika Tremaglio: I think most leaders benefit from having someone to mentor and guide them. I am certainly no different. Throughout my career, I have been incredibly privileged to have amazing mentors of all genders, races, and ethnicities. This has played a significant role in terms of my overall leadership style and my ability to be where I am today.

From a general background perspective, I grew up in a small town in St. Mary's County, Maryland. I attended St. Mary's Ryken High School and then Mount St. Mary's University for undergrad. I majored in business and finance, but I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. So I went on to law school at the University of Maryland. Honestly, while I wanted to be a lawyer, I still had an incredible passion for the business side as well.

At that point, I decided that I wanted to do a JD/MBA, simultaneously. This allowed me to be much more strategic. It's the perfect marriage, if you will, allowing one to get the academic experience of both disciplines.

Part of my success is undoubtedly because I had great mentors, who told me that education would be an equalizer. It's important to set the right foundation. For me, the right foundation was to have the proper education to allow me to do what I was most passionate about.

RR: Deloitte has a reputation for hiring some of the best and brightest minds in the business. Can you tell our readers, what are a few qualities you are most looking for when making a hire and why?

TT: I think you hit on it earlier—the question of how we can create a work environment where people thrive. A lot of it has to do with the tone at the top. Cathy Engelbert, our CEO, has set a courageous tone. It's all about bringing our authentic selves to work. When we're interviewing and recruiting, it's important that we're looking for people who will be authentic. We call it our "culture of courage." You feel that you have the freedom and experience to actually be innovative.

Bringing our authentic selves to work means that we can provide more value to our clients. We can feel like we're allowed to have varied opinions and ideas. We can engage in dialogue where people don't feel like they'll be diminished or their voices aren’t being heard. It's so important. To your point, I do believe we have the best and brightest. Thank you very much for that.

Another difference is that we allow our people to make mistakes, to fail, to say the wrong thing. You have to make sure you have a culture which allows for that. Under Cathy's leadership, I feel we've accomplished this – Cathy is the tone at the top. I am the "message in the middle." Our people, then, are the “echo.” Everyone feels that their opinions are being valued. This is what creates a work environment where people thrive. It's a place they really want to be.

RR: How do you go about creating a cultural shift towards kindness in this current social and political climate?

TT: The first thing I'd say, Ryan, is that right now is probably the time where people are craving kindness the most. We've had so many things happen, in the U.S. certainly, but throughout the world, that have been just catastrophic—from natural disasters, fires, storms, and hurricanes, to shootings. People are really craving things that are positive or make them feel good. I know I mentioned this during the Business of Kindness forum, where we talked about more people than ever watching the Hallmark Channel.

I think people want to see things that make them feel good, that bring that sense that you're helping others. One of the things I think we are trying to do, at Deloitte, is finding ways for people to feel good about their work and the contributions that they are making to society as a whole. We've accomplished this through three main pillars in Greater Washington. The first is how we treat each other on our teams, and certainly in our local offices.

We also look at ways to make sure we're thanking people. We have a rewards and recognition program and we also take time to write thank you notes, both externally and internally, and let people know they are important, that the things that they do really matter. Something as simple as taking the time to say thank you could really be significant, and we've prioritized that.

We also wanted to take our message of kindness out into the community and have asked ourselves: How should we engage in the community? How do we give back to our community here in Greater Washington and promote acts of kindness? You probably know this, but we have close to 12,000 professionals here, so if we are involved in an activity in our local market, we can really make an impact.

This year, Deloitte is the only professional services firm to participate in DCPS’ Adopt a School program and, since September, we have ‘adopted’ McKinley Technology HS in Northeast DC, under the leadership of Dan Helfrich. What an amazing school! We couldn’t be more thrilled with and proud of the relationship.

One of the first programs we rolled out at McKinley was the Kindness Campaign – we have done a Day of Encouragement, providing students with positive praise and encouraging them to pay acts of kindness forward – and will be supporting the school’s No Name Calling Week in January. I’ll also be participating in a ‘Girl Boss Week’ panel for Women’s History Month in March. My focus will be on how business leaders can be strategic and decisive while still being kind, respectful, and authentic.

So far, we've been able to not only be mentors for these students, but to spend time with them and advocate for them as well.

Finally, we looked at how we're leading across the country. The best way is to lead by example so others are engaged and want to do this as well. The Business of Kindness forum brought together some titans of industry – PNC Bank, Marriott – and we are committed to getting others in the private sector to join this movement.

RR: On its website Deloitte makes clear that “We believe that we're only as good as the good we do.” Is there a specific project in the local community or initiative that you’re especially proud of?

TT: Yes, absolutely. There are so many specific projects in the local community I'm proud of, but the one that comes to mind first is the Mentoring Matters program we co-sponsor here in Washington, D.C. alongside the United Way of the National Capital Area, of which I am a board member.

Our firm is passionate about mentoring – January, in fact, is National Mentoring Month – and this program helps us build the capacity and professional development of mentoring-focused nonprofits so that every child in Greater Washington can be matched with a caring adult mentor.

I think we've been able to make a real difference, and our professionals are passionate about our work there. The one thing that I will say, in addition to everything else that makes us great, finding people to volunteer their time, talent, and resources has never been a problem. We're fortunate that people want to help out and be engaged, particularly when it comes to empowering the next generation.

RR: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges that Deloitte faces in communicating internally in light of it being such a large company?

TT: That's a great question. I would say that everyone gets tons of emails, so the biggest challenge is making sure people actually know about the available volunteer opportunities. We have a really great Volunteer Council, run by Allison Solomon, our corporate citizenship manager. While we recognize that it may be challenging to expect everyone to be in-the-know by email, I do think that's the best application.

As I mentioned earlier, in Greater Washington, we have a Volunteer Council that works to engage other professionals in volunteer opportunities. While email is a great tool to get the word out to many, word-of-mouth via the Council allows professionals to feel personally connected to volunteer opportunities and know they have someone they can call the minute they want to get involved.

RR: How important is the role of storytelling in what you do? What are some of the biggest challenges as you look ahead to 2018?

TT: Deloitte invests heavily in professional development, and one of our courses offered is the art of storytelling. One aspect of this is the ability to connect with people. To be effective at this, you have to be able to approach the process on a personal level. People often connect with things they find relatable. At Deloitte, we've found that telling those stories is much easier when you allow people to develop a level of intimacy where they can relate to you.

As for potential challenges, they're largely unpredictable. The world will definitely look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. For instance, will our clients be prepared for artificial intelligence? We know that by 2040, 40% of jobs that people now hold will no longer exist. As a result, we’re likely to see talent gaps in the most needed skill sets.

RR: Is there anything else that you would like to add about the Business of Kindness or anything else?

TT: There's one thing I probably didn't touch on, and that is the generosity of our people. I think I mentioned that we have nearly 12,000 professionals in the Greater Washington region. While these people have various backgrounds, Advisory, Consulting, Tax, or Audit, they all have tremendous talent. In addition to performing client service, our professionals also offer those same services to not-for-profit organizations, via our pro bono program. For example, in 2016, we invested almost $22 million in pro bono work, or about 90,000 hours. By leveraging the knowledge and experience of our professionals, we are able to make a more significant impact for nonprofits nationwide and across local communities.

RR: In some of my other writing, I’ve focused on how that sense of purpose (i.e., the pro bono work) is so important for employees in terms of engagement and keeping them retained, particularly Millennials.

TT: Yes, it’s been significant, absolutely.

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FIVE KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR CREATING A WORK ENVIRONMENT WHERE PEOPLE THRIVE.”

  1. Fostering and cultivating compassion in the workplace is not a “nice to have,” it’s a “must-have.” It can be the difference between having productive teams, retaining and recruiting the best employees, and providing the most value to your clients.
  2. Championing kindness in the workplace is more important than ever. “Right now is probably the time where people are craving kindness the most,” notes Tremaglio. “We've had so many things happen, in the U.S. certainly, but throughout the world, that have been just catastrophic—from natural disasters, fires, storms, and hurricanes, to shootings... One of the things I think we are trying to do, at Deloitte, is finding ways for people to feel good about their work and the contributions that they are making to society as a whole.”
  3. Create a “Culture of Courage” where employees are encouraged to bring their most authentic selves to work. When employees feel forced to project an image that isn't their authentic selves, they waste a ton of energy putting on an act. Not only does this zap productivity, but it can also result in distrust and disengagement.
  4. Give back to society. According to Deloitte’s “2017 Volunteerism Survey,” nearly 9 out of 10 (89%) working Americans believe that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that do not. In 2016, Deloitte invested almost $22 million in pro bono work, or about 90,000 hours. According to Tremaglio, “By leveraging the knowledge and experience of our professionals, we are able to make a more significant impact for nonprofits nationwide and across local communities.”
  5. Allow your people to make mistakes, to fail, and to say the wrong thing. Know it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail. “You have to make sure you have a culture which allows for that,” adds Tremaglio. “Under Cathy's [Engelbert, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte US] leadership, I feel we've accomplished this–Cathy is the 'tone at the top.' I am the 'message in the middle.' Our people, then, are the 'echo.' Everyone feels that their opinions are being valued. This is what creates a work environment where people thrive. It's a place they really want to be.”
Cynthia Bissett Germanotta, President and Co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation and Tamika Tremaglio, Managing Principal
Cynthia Bissett Germanotta, President and Co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation and Tamika Tremaglio, Managing Principal, Greater Washington, Deloitte.

Ryan Rudominer is a communications strategist with fifteen years of experience designing campaigns that break through the noise. He excels at leveraging the power of storytelling to connect people to causes and purpose-driven brands and organizations.

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