Prioritizing People & DEIB |Stacey Obrecht | Public Knowledge, LLCl
Stacey Obrecht joined Public Knowledge® (PK) in 2013 as a Management Consultant. Over the last four years, her leadership has focused on two primary pillars – 1) company culture and 2) innovative, high-quality services. One of the things that drew Stacey to PK is the strong company culture, teamwork, and supportive environment. Employee experience and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are important to Stacey personally and professionally. She has implemented the “PK Way” during her leadership tenure to establish transparent performance measures that align with clear behaviors. The PK Way prioritizes a people-centered onboarding process, flexible work environment, servant-leadership model, and most importantly, a constant focus on DEIB.
As a result, diversity at the firm has increased more than 50% over the last two years. And over 90% of the employees say that they feel part of a true team at PK.
The other primary focus for Stacey has been on innovative and quality services for the firm’s clients.
This model consists of true management consulting in a team-based matrix organization that emphasizes personal responsibility and teamwork. This, along with the DEIB work, has led to extremely effective teams that drive innovation and creative problem solving for their clients each day. PK focuses on solving problems for their clients while driving the ultimate impact to the client, their programs, their constituents, and ultimately our communities.
Influencing & Guiding Women
Stacey ensures that women have a place at her firm and a strong voice —73% of her leadership team are women and there are more women than men at PK. “We have the strongest leadership team I’ve ever seen, and I think what makes us strongest is our ability to continue to diversify, amplify minority opinions, and reflect the world we live in,” she says. “This includes a higher percentage of women than many, if not most, of our competitors. It also means increasing our diversity in many other ways.” Stacey takes great pride in every person at the firm, but the diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, and more is what she takes the most pride in. “We are a home for all, and everyone is welcome and safe to be their true self.”
An important area of Stacey’s focus is empowering the next generation of women, and all PK’s employees, to support their work-life juggle. This has a huge impact on women leaders and employees. Too often, employers see home and non-work-related activities as a distraction for employees and not important. She makes it a point to know about the teams’ families, kids, pets, passions, and exciting life events. It allows them to be their true authentic self at work —and allows Stacey the compassion and empathy she needs to show when people are struggling to balance it all.
Adapting with Change
According to Stacey, navigating today’s workforce and workplace is so different than it was even two years ago. Everything is changing quicker than we can even notice. And all the tools that have worked in the past are unlikely to work now. So much of true organizational development work now focuses on what will work for today’s workplace. She cited examples, including:
- Training has changed. Many employers are faced with offering online training that can be accessed from anywhere as they deal with a remote workforce and the inability to bring large groups of employees together for training in large training rooms.
- Leadership has changed. The workers of the future are looking for leaders that are authentic, transparent, and empathetic. The recipe for leadership is nothing like it used to be.
- Teamwork has changed. The work that teams in the workplace do today is different from before. There are very few of the line workers who depend on each other. And a lot of the teams that must dig into solving a problem that’s never been solved before. To establish teamwork of this nature, people must trust each other, and they must be comfortable voicing and standing for an opinion that is different from the majority. The team must be healthy and skilled enough to land on the right decision. This takes extremely healthy and effective teams, which doesn’t happen by chance.
- Change has changed, and change is now constant and not unique. “We can’t plan for a large one-time event when we facilitate Organizational Change Management anymore. We must equip the workforce to deal with constant change. This process requires leadership skills, resilience, communication, and a lot of trust.”
Leading Towards the Future
For Stacey, what she has learned is that to be an effective leader, one must be compassionate, empathetic, and most importantly authentic. Stacey is a working mother and she sees this as one of her biggest strengths, which surprises many people. Being a working mother of three and having one child with a major medical condition, she thinks it’s important that others see that it can be done. One can be an involved mom and have a fulfilling career, “even when life throws you major curveballs you don’t expect,” she explains. And finding a workplace culture that supports and celebrates this is key to making it work.
“I made a lot of mistakes along the way trying to get it right. Once I started being more authentically who I was, not who I thought I needed to be, my strength as a leader grew.” Armed with such a unique ideology, Stacey will continue to lead the company with empathy as they grow and expand to serve more clients. According to the steadfast leader, “at the heart of our success is true management consulting. It’s the ability to look deeper into the problem the client thinks they have and dig in and identify the real issues at hand —and then solving that problem as a team with creativity. Without these trusted partnerships with our team and our clients, we wouldn’t be able to solve the right problems and get the impact we want.”
Relationships are at the core of what sets the PK approach apart. Every client is unique and important, and they spend a lot of time getting to know their clients and understanding their distinctive challenges. Most of her past clients are still Stacey’s friends, and she knows many of her team members are in the same situation. “The trust that we build with clients is at the heart of the work we do. We are there in the background quietly and relentlessly ensuring their success.”
There is so much to look forward to in PK’s future. They have expanded into Canada and started their private sector practice. Doing work outside of the government sector is exciting and different for the team. The firm also launched a new peer-reviewed journal to focus on the changes they want to see in the child welfare system called the Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly. This work is extremely close to Stacey’s heart as she has spent most of her career as an attorney, consultant, and leader focused on child welfare and associated government programs like healthcare, Medicaid, workforce, the courts, and transportation. “Finally, we are expanding our work in two critical areas for our clients. First, learning and training for this new workforce. And second, business intelligence. Both of these teams are newly formed but offering a wide variety of services to our clients to ultimately improve our value and increase our impact.”