Come As You Are

Emily Beaulieu

Scott is convinced that Kaleen is the reason that their people are treated so well when they go out into the world. “She really builds the relationships out in the community to make that happen.”

Kaleen pushes back and says, “Or…maybe I’m treated so well because they are doing such an amazing job out there.”

This is a prime example of how these two interact--jockeying back and forth to give credit to anyone but themselves while being full of pride for the work being done by their agency.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Kaleen Cottingham, Director, and Scott Robinson, Deputy Director, of the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) to talk about what makes them a great place to work. The way that they talk about the people that work there showed a deep level of respect and loyalty. They never said the word employee; it was always, “our people.”

RCO’s job satisfaction scores on the employee engagement survey have been in the mid 80’s or higher for three years straight. It is not just about open doors, brown-bag lunch sessions, reviewing their data, and Kaleen’s monthly blog. There is a deeper level to the care and concern provided to the people working at RCO. Taking care of people is a high priority for them. They take actions big and small to support people, from bringing in grief counselors to help their people deal with an unexpected event, allowing someone to telework when their family moved away or getting a webcam installed so Kaleen can mentor a team member across the state.

This “people first” strategy of providing room to be your authentic self at work seems key to the way they operate on a day-to-day basis. That tone is set from the top. Scott says it is important to “walk around with your head up”. He explains that you have to consider all the factors that are influencing people’s lives and do your best to provide people with the resources, time and space to process changes and events. Kaleen displays her true personality every day and does not make excuses for being herself; the product of being raised in a loud, gregarious and curious family.  This level of authenticity in leadership sets the tone to make it safe for others to show up as they are, not as they imagine they should be.

RCO leaders admit that they are blessed with the “luxury” of having a small agency and knows that their style could be a challenge for a larger agency. However, each of us, no matter what size our organization, can take away pieces from how they do things.

If you get the opportunity to visit RCO, I suggest you take it. You may get to meet Spencer, the seagull who sits outside Kaleen’s office, or hear about the upcoming pizza party (because Kaleen did not want to cook), but one thing is for sure--you can come as you are.