This is the first of many articles featuring Daviess County expatriates.
You’re probably aware that Daviess County is a phenomenal exporter. We send fish out of the county to the rest of Indiana. We told you about that in our Aquaculture article. We also send corn, coal, soybeans, cabinets, and boats to points near and far from here. But the export we most value—and dearly wish we could retain—is our people. We like to stay in touch with them. If we can’t lure them back, we can at least let them know we consider them ambassadors and a source of community pride.
In this series, we ask people to respond to a set of questions, telling us where they are today and what has taken them there.
We’ll begin by profiling—in the best sense of the word—Dr. Rebecca McGuire Ellis. We caught Dr. Ellis in transition. She is moving from St. Louis, Missouri to Carmel, Indiana to take a position with a new company.
SFS: To get the ball rolling, please give us a brief background of yourself. What education or training have you had?
RME: Before I accepted my current position, I co-founded Key Partners Consulting, LLC. We are keeping Key Partners in place to continue to do leadership development. Likely we’ll now focus more on non-profit leaders rather than corporate consulting.
I have over 15 years of experience in corporate learning design and delivery, performance management and leadership development in healthcare, financial services, and construction and energy sectors. I am also an adjunct faculty member in the graduate school at Webster University. I’m helping them develop a new Master’s degree/stackable certificate program for Change Leadership.
Before we created Key Partners, I led Change Consulting at Ameren, a Fortune 300 utility, and worked in Learning and Organization Effectiveness at Edward Jones headquarters. In my past work I also led learning and development at FabickCAT and RehabCare Group, Inc and worked in the Center for Online Learning at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
As far as my education goes, I hold a Bachelor’s in Mathematics Education from the University of Evansville, an M.S.Ed. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. from Benedictine University. I completed the Organization Development program there in May 2013.
SFS: Tell us about the work you’re doing today.
RME: I have just started a new role as the director of organization transformation change at Allegion in Carmel, Indiana. It’s a new role they created in the global HR function to assist with transformation happening in their various functions and plants all over the world.
My main goals are to build capability and capacity for change at all levels of the organization. I’m helping them develop a standard approach to change management so that projects and culture shifts are more likely to be adopted. I’m also working on a strategy for increasing our change leadership skills and behaviors.
I still teach Change leadership and Organization Development & Change courses at Webster University’s graduate school. With our upcoming move from St. Louis to the Indy area, I will be teaching online now instead of in person.
SFS: What attracted you to this work?
RME: I have always had a passion to help people have a greater impact with whatever it is they care about. My first career was as a math teacher in middle school. I enjoyed helping kids become more confident in a subject many are intimidated by. I also spent a lot of time coaching and leading extracurricular activities, which helped them grow outside the classroom, too.
Not long after I started teaching children, I learned there was a career path for educating adults inside corporations. My sister, Rachel, went to work for a big bank out of college and they had “corporate trainers.” That was intriguing to me, and soon I found myself in a graduate school program that allowed me to make that transition.
SFS: What makes it fulfilling for you?
RME: I think the most fulfilling part of this work is getting to see visible impacts in organizations. It has been very rewarding watching people make greater contributions inside and outside of [their] organizations. Much of what we do is transferable outside of “work,” too, which is wonderful. The reach [of our work] often expands to improve things at home and in communities where my students and fellow leaders often serve a higher purpose.
In the best situations, [seeing a visible effect] means we are making an organization healthier. This provides better job stability, happier employees, and higher returns for shareholders. When a change is successful, often many people benefit.
Running toward the fire
I guess you could say I like running toward the fire in a proverbial sense. The types of problems and projects I am brought in to assist with are often complex and controversial. Putting out fires is rewarding on many levels, but helping people know how to put out the fire the next time on their own is even better – and the best feeling is being confident that this learning opportunity means they know how to not start the fire the next time.
SFS: How did intention or circumstance prepare you for this?
RME: I like to say my career has been similar to that of an accidental tourist. I had no idea what organization development was until I was almost 10 years beyond high school. I knew what a math teacher was and hence I selected it as my first career.
I guess I have been good at connecting the dots to find a career path that builds on my existing knowledge and skills. Getting my Masters and PhD were certainly very intentional and deemed somewhat as the “price of entry” for the next career moves that I wanted to make.
Careers are being invented each day. Cyber Security, as an example, didn’t exist a few years ago but is now a hot job (that we can’t fill fast enough in most of my organizations). So my University has just created a new degree. I share this example because I think we have to keep an open mind and continue to learn about career options that are being created in real time. We have to think beyond what exists.
I didn’t know about either of the graduate degrees I now have until I was already doing the work and found myself seeking more answers for how to be better at my job. It was quite funny to learn there was a whole body of knowledge/research behind adult learning. How did I miss that when studying “education” for four years?
RME: Where I have landed – in terms of employers – has definitely been much more coincidence. Most of my recent roles have been ones that I have been asked to apply for based on former relationships and my professional network.
No matter how wonderful your current job is, I would always encourage conversations about future opportunities. Sometimes those conversations solidified my decision to stay put. Many of the organizations I have worked in are at the top of their game both with employees and customers. But sometimes that conversation piqued my interest enough to decide it was time to widen my skill set and take a chance.
I have worked in education, healthcare, financial services, bank regulations, construction, utilities, agriculture and manufacturing. This wide variety has been wonderful as I have been able to observe how many top organizations solve a variety of problems. This seems to always be a benefit in my next role.
I’ve learned things related to construction, agriculture, and manufacturing are definitely closest to my heart. There is just something magical that happens in those industries. I think it’s part of my core, growing up in the Gress & Allison families with a long, successful history in these spaces, but it’s also the type of people attracted to this work. It’s taken me a while to learn they are “my people.”
SFS: How has your culture or origins shaped the way you approach this work? (This could be where you were raised or experiences since you’ve left your hometown.)
RME: Growing up in Daviess County, I was very fortunate to have many friends and family who worked in farming and construction. With my most recent clients, Monsanto and Peabody, that was a very useful foundation for me.
When I walk into an organization, people make assumptions about how I will “show up” based on my education. Because I was able to easily relate to and demonstrate true respect for the work they were doing, I was able to more quickly gain credibility because I was more aware of the context and could relate. That helped me suggest solutions that weren’t over-engineered or useless.
Many have been surprised to know I showed sheep for 10 years… I guess I kind of look like a “city kid” now after 16 years in metro St. Louis.
RME: My 4-H experience taught me great leadership skills in my youth that became invaluable as an adult. Knowing how to conduct meetings, execute a project, and work well alongside others are highly valued behaviors and competencies that helped me gain quicker traction on the corporate ladder.
I have no doubt 4-H has been a differentiator for me in the workplace. I’m so happy my kids are now in 4-H in Daviess County. We tried 4-H in Illinois as Cloverbuds, which starts at age 5. I led the group, similar to mini-4-H, when my daughter was younger, but it didn’t compare to Indiana. We are very lucky my parents have decided to coach my kids through the process. We are now sheep owners again!
RME: Finally, I feel so blessed to have grown up in an area and in a family who has a strong faith-based culture. A lot of the work I do in corporations could easily have negative consequences for employees. I feel my Christian orientation has helped guide myself and others to make decisions that are most employee-friendly, when at all possible.
That is one of the things I liked about the field of organization development. One guiding principle is to act in a way that is most humanistic. That’s not always easy to do when chasing dollars to satisfy shareholders. But most companies realize that engaged employees will lead to better customer relationships and eventually profit, so it’s not too hard a sell…but it isn’t always the easiest answer.
If you know my family – including all of my extended relatives in the County, you understand how blessed I am to have grown up surrounded by people whose moral compasses are among the top. I don’t take this for granted, and I still have so much to learn from them.
SFS: What does success look like to you?
RME: Gosh this one is hard to answer. Sometimes success looks like trying to keep up with my 14-year-old daughter, who can easily out-tech me on any given day. Sometimes success is getting my 8-year-old son to eat dinner before finishing a Lego project. And often those successes are harder than getting a senior leader to make a critical decision that is most favorable for employees.
Success in my work looks like projects ending on time, on budget, and with the adoption rates that we need to make all the effort worth it. A good day for me is when I hear a coworker say, “you ask good questions and helped us get to a better solution”.
From my students, the highest compliment is that my stories and case studies help them see enough of the real world to know how to apply what we are reading and discussing so they feel confident to go out and take on a new project or a new role. I’m a pretty non-traditional professor. I don’t use PowerPoint. I don’t lecture. I expect each student to have read the assigned text or articles, and we spend our time together applying what they read through business challenge simulations and conversation. The four hours sure goes a lot faster for all of us that way!
SFS: What would you like to achieve in the next 3-5 years?
RME: In the next 3 to 5 years, I would like to have the opportunity to work abroad with Allegion. I think it would be a great cultural experience for my family and would provide me with additional context and understanding of how things work outside the United States.
I wish I had been surrounded with more diversity growing up–which is probably the only negative thing I can say about Daviess County. I am very intentional about making sure my kids have broader experiences in travel and relationships.
The world is getting smaller. Technology is making it more possible to connect in and outside of work with people around the globe. That has pros and cons as many employers have not focused on building the cultural competence needed to work effectively with people of different origins. I’d also like to shift my work to be more focused on proactive, strategic needs.
SFS: What advice do you have for anyone interested in a similar career path?
RME: I think organization development and change management are amazing career options. There are a few key behaviors that lead to a person being very successful:
Be curious – curiosity and an open minded attitude about solutions are helpful tools while you are sorting out the real problem you are trying to solve
Kindly challenge – challenge assumptions to help people think past the known or the status quo. When the challenge is coming from an authentic place – and not personal, it is most often very well accepted.
Connect things – connect people, similar problems, previous solutions so that the direction you decided to head has a higher chance of success.
It’s pretty common sense. As they say, though, that doesn’t always make for a common practice. You certainly don’t need a fancy degree to do any of these things, so I encourage anyone to give it a try.
We all have the potential to make things better.
SFS: How do you unwind?
RME: Next question … OK, just kidding. I’m not very good at unwinding. Most friends and family would say this is a huge development opportunity for me. I’m a “work hard, play hard” kind of person.
I lead the St. Louis organization development network and currently serve on two boards: a music ministry and the University of Evansville’s alumni association. I’ve also been very involved in other activities at church and my kids’ schools.
Much of our spare time is spent getting kids to sports practices and games. When I do have a bit of free time, it tends to go to my favorite hobby: interior design. My husband and I are wrapping up a major renovation project in order to sell our house for the move to Carmel. And, yes, we are looking for a home that is a bit rough around the edges there, too. My husband is very handy, and we enjoy spending time together putting our own touch on a house. Hopefully we won’t have as many walls to knock down this next time around.
SFS: Last question. What motivates you?
RME: Helping people be better. It could be encouraging my kids to rise above the situation they are facing, to put in a little extra effort to become better at a sport, or it could be assisting a leader in a way that I know they can do the next time without me.
I recently was asked to write my story in six words and it went like this: “Making things better. Home. Work. Community.” I guess living up to that motto is my motivation to put in 110% every day.
Editor’s Note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment in our Staying in Touch series. Thank you, Rebecca, for participating. Now, we encourage all of you to share the names and contact information for people who have passed through Daviess County that you’d like to stay in touch with.