Joanna LaBounty – People Operations Manager
“I have people skills. I am good at dealing with people.”
How many individuals can say, with confidence and truth, that they are capable and willing to understand people, learn from people, and work directly with people? People are complex and highly distinctive with their needs, skillsets, personalities, backgrounds, identities, etc. For such a large and increasingly complex industry like AECO, where specialists must wear many hats to perform and successfully deliver their tasks, some things inevitably slip in the priority list. There are not enough hours in the day, and days in the week, for everyone to learn all that they need and want to in a meaningful way. That is why specialists exist, and why successful companies have at least one team member dedicated to the role of People Operations.
The AECO industry provides services for people with complex requirements. These services are composed of complex people. Therefore, it’s important to have someone on hand capable of comprehending and fulfilling everyday tasks for the complex people. Someone who is driven to help, support, and nurture others. Someone like Joanna LaBounty, who loves to help people so much that she was observing them with the subconscious intent to connect with them, before knowing there was a career role defined as such. Joanna’s role as a People Operations Manager is to “help create a space where each person is empowered and supported, so they are able to reach their full potential.” Her execution of her role is what will allow for those she supports to execute their own roles.
Joanna has always worked in People Operations, commonly known as Human Resources, though never in the same industry. She considers her role to be written into her Myers Briggs INFJ DNA. Before starting her professional career in People Operations, Joanna didn’t know a lot about the subject. She has a calling for helping people, and that calling led her down her career path. During her high school years, she was voted “Class Psychologist.” People around her have gravitated towards her, openly willing to share their stories.
“I was always a good listener . . . have also learned to hone and tune this skill as I have gotten older, too.”-Joanna LaBounty
The official job position came about when Joanna had a job desk close to the front of the company building entrance. This physical proximity to the candidates who came into the building for job interviews gave her a prime spot for observation. She would observe their behavior and their words. By way of casual conversation, Joanna shared her previous observations with the company’s Human Resource Manager. Said Manager appreciated her insights and invited her to look over the resumes of the prospective interviewees. This led to Joanna actively introducing herself to the future candidates and conscientiously observing them through a more focused lens.
“You have to play the hands you are dealt in life.”-Joanna LaBounty
Joanna is a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. She grew up in a rural town, part of an immigrant family, where her dream of attending school in Boston wasn’t feasible. “College, where I am from, is for the elite.” Instead, Joanna was learning how to navigate the workforce lifestyle while attending high school. Rather than being limited by her multiple responsibilities, she learned time management skills to effectively accomplish them. Joanna was able to set up her high school schedule to allow for working in the early morning until mid-day, attend her courses, then head out again to work until the evening. She incorporated her assignments where and when possible. If work was slow at the office, she had schoolwork on-hand to complete. Her ability to manage her projects allowed her to be promoted to Office Manager of a local septic company at the age of sixteen, and graduate high school with close to a four-point GPA. Joanna had developed her skills for management by application of necessity. She worked towards success by working to position herself for success.
During her early job roles in People Operations, Joanna was in charge of hiring, on-boarding, and general company culture. Her first job in this position was more on the administration side of things. The company had a manager in place, who needed assistance, and taught Joanna in the form of apprenticeship. Joanna in turn, sought to bring in various forms of professional development and mentorship to her company. She created opportunities for the employees to pursue outside learning via classes and workshops, and through direct situational mentoring.
“Human beings are driven by the need to learn and grow.”-Joanna LaBounty
Later, as Joanna entered the AECO industry, her job responsibilities were as COO of a company that supports professionals seeking licensure in architecture. She had not worked in the traditional AECO firm. Instead, Joanna learned of the AECO culture and industry-lingo through exposure to the community she supported. Through this role, Joanna was able to see how competitive the industry is, and how many educational gaps there are. She believes that the AECO industry would benefit from placing more emphasis on Practice Management. All individuals would benefit from having a greater understanding of how businesses operate and thrive, and better practices of communication.
“Without great client relationships, what do you have?”-Joanna LaBounty
People Operations is about helping a company or organization “stay compliant and retain staff, while also supporting the staff, to ensure a healthy and safe working environment.” It’s not just client relationships, but work relationships in general. In Joanna’s words, “a company is comprised of human beings with complex human emotions, having someone on your team who works to understand and nurture people is key to success.” Investing in this position is more than investing against being sued. It’s not just payroll. It’s investing in collaborative communication for culture, growth, and development.
Joanna advises emerging professionals to avoid “old school companies that aren’t willing to adapt to the times.” Industries have been traditionally focused on keeping the business side of the companies safe. Now, the focus has shifted to keeping the employees satisfied. Joanna sees payroll and employee benefits management morphing into the financial world, and People Operations morphing into communication, DEI, and employee development. With the advent of working from home, and the challenges that come with it, communication and support is key.
“There are so many changes now in the world that directly impact People Operations.”-Joanna LaBounty
Mental health has, in recent years, become a more widely accepted concept of importance. An employee’s mental health is important in not just their impact on their work, but in all aspects of their lives. Joanna thinks that People Operations should be more aware and empathetic to it. It’s about acknowledging and supporting it, and also directing people to the professionals. Now that industries are putting more focus on their culture and employee mental health, more companies are looking to bring on positions for People Operations, to help adapt with the changing world.
Joanna has many successes in her career path. She is constantly pursuing many goals, but she never wants to reach “success.” She believes in always trying to be better, and by creating a final success point, she’ll stop trying.
“My biggest professional goal is to utilize my skills and abilities to make the world a better place . . . finding a meaningful place to hang my hat is what success means to me.”-Joanna LaBounty
The world of People Operations has historically been dominated by white women. Joanna thinks that needs to change with more representation. “That is the way it was always done” must change. The successes of the role that Joanna would like to preserve, “being a trusted ear and a sound mentor,” are what allows for her to be directly involved to positively impact the people she works with. She has several people that she mentors, small business owners, “trying to help them understand the human element of their workplaces.”
Joanna has also supported other professionals by speaking at conferences, presenting material on topics of Emotional Intelligence and Mentorship. “The higher you climb professionally, the more EQ (Emotional Intelligence) you’ll need.” She believes in this so much, she’s created a website for the topic, where she’s working on sharing information. Joanna is also in the process of writing a book and living a healthier lifestyle.
“The more voices heard around the table, the better end results.”-Joanna LaBounty
This call for more voices and understanding includes representation for emerging professionals. “People Operations can be a great resource to those starting out in the profession.” They can aid in teaching the “new” professional what they can expect in the office setting and how they can best navigate tricky relationships via communication. By directly working with those on-boarding, People Operations can assist with initial employee training and development. They’d be able to quickly identify the potentials and gaps in employee skillsets, and help connect them to ways for leveling the difference and distinguishing the exceptional.
Some final words of advice from Joanna:
“Introvert or extrovert, find your people. Find a community of people who can help support you. Who you can turn to for mentorship, friendship, and guidance.” Include people who think differently than you. This will challenge you to think outside of your comfort zone. And never stop learning.”
Joanna loves to expand her professional network, and she has done so through many community events and platforms. “It is incredibly helpful to talk to others in the profession, outside of the profession, in all industries.” She is looking at new ways to connect and learn.
Thank you to Joanna for your support of Emerge AEC!
Connect with Joanna via the following platforms: