Leading Culture Solutions Founding Partner Andréa Hawkins is a creative and compassionate collaborator. She recently participated in Starting Your Journey to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a panel discussion hosted by the MetroHartford Alliance and the Racial Equity and Economic Development Committee, where she discussed how collaborating involves what she refers to as, “the four Ls: listen, learn, lean in, live.”

Andréa spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about how her entrepreneurial journey led her to forming a collaborative consulting practice focused on strategic planning; culture transformation; organizational assessments; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

NAN PRICE: How did you create your business concept and how has it evolved?

ANDRÉA HAWKINS: I’ve spent many years as a strategic consultant. I launched Leading Culture Solutions in August 2019 because I wanted to lean in and focus more on DE&I. I strongly believe that if your strategic plan and your culture reflects DE&I, it improves everything you do—you’ll serve your customers better and you’ll be seen as a contributor to the community.

When I started Leading Culture Solutions, I was still an associate partner at the Clarion Group, helping senior executives with strategic planning and culture transformation work. I had some overlap and I didn’t leave the Clarion Group until February of 2020. They were very supportive of my transition out. I brought my clients with me, so I had a whole book of business.

NAN: How have all the events of 2020 impacted your business?

ANDRÉA: When the pandemic happened in March 2020, I lost every one of my clients. They all sort of went into survival mode and weren’t thinking about a strategic plan or culture transformation. That was a little bit of a struggle, but I just kept at it.

I did start looking for another job. I was doing a little bit of prospecting and interviewing. Then, in April, I landed an assignment that really seemed to unlock things. I was hired to do an organizational assessment with a diversity lens on it for a client in the Bronx.

When George Floyd’s murder happened in May, my phone started ringing—and it hasn’t stopped ringing. Leaders could see the effects of racism happening to this man, which really created an awakening.

So, it’s been an evolution of guiding organizations on a path to help them make sustainable change. Prior to George Floyd’s murder, I was doing more strategic planning, organizational effectiveness, and culture transformation and DE&I was about 30% of my work. Since George Lloyd’s murder happened, about 80% of what I do is around diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

NAN: You formed a collaborative team and you’ve built strong partnerships. Tell us about the importance of collaboration.

ANDRÉA: That’s a great topic. With my first client, I was pretty managing everything by myself. Although, I have to give credit to my niece, Micah Barber-Smith, who is a professional project coordinator and administrative assistant. She was onsite doing some administrative tasks. Then I got two big clients and I knew I would never be able to handle all the work alone. That’s been an important realization for me: You can’t do it all yourself.

Fortunately, I have a lot of great people in my wheelhouse, who I brought in to highlight their specialties and make Leading Culture Solutions even more impactful. Like me, the people I work with love the work they do. They’re hardworking and they always go above and beyond the call. When you have a team like that, quite frankly, there’s nothing you can’t do.

Every day I’m excited that we get to work together and help our clients. I’m grateful I have plenty of clients, so we all have plenty to do to keep us busy, some part-time, but most of us full-time.

I’m actually looking for a couple more people to bring onto the team. I’m specifically seeking people who represent different perspectives. In this work, you need a diverse team. If you’re going to talk about DE&I, you need to have diversity of thought and lived experiences.

Leading Culture Solutions has also formed some partnerships with other organizations. For example, we’re collaborating with InspireCorps to engage with some clients together to develop an Inspired DE&I Leadership framework. This senior leadership capability called ReCenter was developed to help leaders prepare to embark on their DE&I journey.

NAN: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey?

ANDRÉA: I grew up in my career, so I did every role along the path—from mail room all the way to senior executive—which helped me see things from a lot of perspectives. It’s challenging that first time you’re leading a team or someone reports to you to make that mental shift and recognize that, for you to do a good job, you’ve got to empower others to be their best.

Another lesson I’ve learned: The famous Voltaire quote “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” is so true. Nobody has enough time and resources to get everything perfect. Our goal is to get to about 80% and then assess areas for improvement. For me, it’s looking at how I could have showed up as a better leader to support a better outcome and celebrate the wins.

In those moments and in those areas, I just remind myself that perfection is not the goal. Instead, the goal is doing our work helping the client achieve their goals—and still having high standards.

I think if this year taught us nothing else, it’s the importance of resilience, perseverance, and having grace—which is paramount above everything.

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