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Hawai‘i Community Foundation
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Helping HCF Employees Thrive and Grow

HCF recently reorganized and refreshed its human resources department as the People Operations and Growth Department, or POG for short. More than just the name of a fruit drink, the goal was to take an inclusive approach to perpetuating a positive and thriving work environment that’s both productive and sustainable. At the core of this new POG program is a strategy called Thrive and Grow. We sat down with Jamee Kunichika, vice president of people operations and organizational planning, and Jamie Mitte, people partner, to learn more about this approach and why it matters today.

Mary Leong-Saunders

Q: How do you explain the Thrive and Grow concept to people?

Jamee Kunichika: During COVID, our entire staff had their foot flooring the gas pedal. Our crisis response for the community was immediate and needed, but we recognized that staff were in survival mode. They were juggling our organization’s ongoing rapid and expansive response to support the community’s pandemic needs, quickly developing new processes and practices as we instantly shifted to an almost entirely remote work environment, along with their own personal stresses of living through the pandemic. Coming out of that, we wanted to figure out how we can meet them where they are and support them in their individual journeys to having a great work experience. So, when you think about it, what’s the opposite of just surviving? It’s thriving, right? Our focus became, how can we support our staff to thrive in work and life again.

Jamie Mitte: Yes, and, to do that, you’ve got to create an environment that makes life better for employees. There’s been a real shift in the viewpoint of HR (human resources), from being all about managing employees and making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, toward trusting in the skills, energy, and the inspiration that our employees bring to the table. So, we asked ourselves, what can we do to support them in bringing their best selves to the job? How can we unlock their potential?

Q: One functional thing that Thrive and Grow does is that it gets rid of traditional annual performance goals for employees, and instead asks employees to identify their top priorities. Can you share more about this new approach?

JK: We used to set individual performance goals for every employee. And, at the end of the year, when we would do a performance review, we’d go over whether they hit the mark—or they fell short. To me, that doesn’t feel very empowering or encouraging. We wanted to create an environment where we’re supporting each employees’ journey moving forward and giving it their all. I feel like this approach of setting priorities rather than setting concrete pass or fail goals, allows for recognizing progress instead of markers, and gives each person space to be more human especially as we each work to come down from the high stresses of our community pandemic response and our personal pandemic stresses.

JM: It’s about flexibility, as well. Sometimes when you have a goal, it tends to be finite and rigid. Whereas if you have ongoing priorities, it’s more of this longer range, big-picture thinking where you can ask, “Where is my department headed and how or what contributions can I bring to the table to help in making a positive impact or change.?” It’s the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Instead of focusing on the activity, it helps to go up one level and talk about what your overall strategy is, and how you’re going to accomplish. This approach allows for more fluidity and flexibility in how you get there individually or as a team.

Q: Another aspect of the Thrive and Grow program is asking employees for ways that they can “lean in.” Can you explain a bit about the concept of leaning in?

JK: I think that the idea of leaning in is especially important in our now hybrid work environment, where people aren’t always serendipitously running into each other at the office. So, each of us thinking about intentional ways to contribute to the strength of the organization can be really great. And even small actions can start making a real difference. Maybe one of your lean-in priorities is, I'm going to have coffee with someone who I haven’t talked to in a few months. Intentional small actions like that can really add up in helping with connection, team building, and creating a cohesive whole.

Q: What are some of the biggest takeaways you’ve learned from going through this whole process of reimagining the HR department and creating the Thrive and Grow program?

JK: Inclusivity is so important, bringing in the people who are being affected by whatever you're doing, and giving them a seat at the table from the beginning. The Thrive and Grow strategy would look totally different today if we hadn’t done that. And it takes patience, it takes time, it takes really listening and working to have humility to take and use the feedback to inform our decisions. We’ve been growing our own skills of being able to really listen, to be present, to digest without reacting and being defensive. It’s a work in progress and it’s so worth the effort, in terms of the outcomes of the design of the programs and practices we are rolling out and how we’re both growing as professionals and people. And at the end of the day, I think it is the right way to do things, especially when you're trying to support people.

Q: How is this new Thrive and Grow strategy going to benefit Hawaiʻi Community Foundation as a whole?

JK: One big element of our Thrive and Grow strategy is to connect staff and their work to the big-picture organizational goals here at HCF so that everyone understands the value that they’re bringing to the organization’s outcomes. If you’re able to connect what you do to the overall, big “why,” that can be a huge motivator and key to success at the individual and organizational levels. Of course, we’re here to support our staff. But, at the end of the day, our people strategy supports our business strategy. We want our staff to thrive, which leads directly to our organization thriving.

Q: Looking forward, what do you hope to see come out of this new HR program? What does success look like, a year from now, or five years from now?

JM: Well, the textbook answer is that we’re looking for increased employee engagement, which you can measure. But, at the end of the day, we spend half of our lives here at work; so let’s make this enjoyable, have fun, and worthwhile. We want to make an impact in the community, of course, but for me, it’s also about nurturing people's souls and building up and recognizing ones’ sense of worth and contribution.

JK: At the end of five years, what's important to me is to be able to see employees’ connections growing stronger. And what I mean by that is: connection to HCF’s mission, connection to their work, connection to each other, more connected in their personal lives and to themselves. Which is another way of saying that we have healthy employees, in all facets of their lives, who find meaning and a sense of belonging in their work experience at HCF. That would be success.

This conversation took place in April 2023.