Kerry Wekelo is Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting where she is focused on enhancing team experiences by creating a work environment that supports thriving employees and a sought-after workplace. Mike Petrusky asks Kerry about her book “Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture” and they agree that employee experience begins with recruitment and continues throughout people’s entire workplace journey. By providing intentional leadership, with a focus on wellbeing, we can help to provide a work-life integration that allows for successful individuals. Kerry shares stories about finding positive resolutions to employee challenges and Mike agrees that our common human experiences require patience and understanding. You’ll be inspired to create a culture where people are empowered to bring their best selves to your organization.

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Read the full transcript:

Mike (00:00):

What is community? I Googled it to find out. The first definition from Oxford mentions a group of people living in the same place, but I prefer the second definition. It said this, “A feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” That is what our community of workplace leaders is to me. This community is what I need during these unprecedented times, and if you want that feeling too, please join me this Wednesday at noon Eastern for the Workplace Innovator interactive live stream. Our community is strong and we’ll get through this together. Thanks.

Kerry Wekelo (00:40):

But what I find is that everybody really wants to do a good job. They do. That’s just our intrinsic nature. We want to be good people. We want to perform well. Sometimes we just need a little bit of guidance. Maybe we did have a bad day. Easy fix.

Mike (00:56):

This is the Workplace Innovator podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOffice, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

            Hey everyone, and welcome to episode 101 of the Workplace Innovator podcast. My name is Mike, and this week we are talking about organizational culture. My guest today is Kerry Wekelo, and she has written a book called Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture. I learned a lot from the book and I really enjoyed my time chatting with Kerry about it, and I’m sure you will too. So let’s get to it.

            The Workplace Innovator is here again in our nation’s Capitol. My guest today is a blogger, a book author, a yoga instructor, and the chief operating officer for Actualized Consulting based right here in the DC area. Welcome to the show, Kerry Wekelo.

Kerry Wekelo (02:12):

Thanks for having me.

Mike (02:13):

Great to meet you. We came across each other on social media, LinkedIn, as it happens, these things.

Kerry Wekelo (02:20):

Of course. It’s like the only way.

Mike (02:23):

I see a lot of great content and a lot of people sharing around our world of workplace and HR and operations, but the big differentiator, Kerry, you and I are both Virginia Tech Hokies.

Kerry Wekelo (02:36):

Go Hokies.

Mike (02:38):

Go Hokies. The greatest university folks, just down the road, Blacksburg, Virginia, you and I both went to school there. What was your degree in?

Kerry Wekelo (02:45):

Marketing, finance, double major and then a minor in psychology.

Mike (02:49):

Oh, I love it. I love it. Marketing and management, double major, but I have always had an interest in psychology and it does come into play in this world we’re talking about, doesn’t it?

Kerry Wekelo (02:59):

It does. It was a really good foundation to have that as well.

Mike (03:02):

So tell me more about your background. How did you end up where you are today?

Kerry Wekelo (03:05):

That’s a good question. I started actually at a center. My career started in consulting and really enjoyed that because you are constantly learning new things. I, from Virginia Tech, also have my MBA in information systems, so I was very focused on operations of companies, implementing computer systems, things of that nature. Then when Actualize was founded in 2003, in 2005, actually my brother asked me to join the company and help build out the internal infrastructure of the company. Given that I had such a diverse background in consulting, it was a good fit, and that’s when I started my HR operations career. I’ve been with Actualize almost 15 years.

Mike (03:49):

Wow. Yes, I read in your book about a lot of the connection to family and business and your experience. We’ll get into some of that here today. But before we go too far, Kerry, I always like to get to know a little bit the personal side of my guests. And my favorite way to do that is to ask about music. Do you have a favorite type of music, band? What were you listening to down in Blacksburg when you were growing up?

Kerry Wekelo (04:15):

A lot of Dave Matthews.

Mike (04:16):

Bam, bam, bam, bam. Sing along. Bam, bam.

Kerry Wekelo (04:23):

You don’t want me to sing. They might turn off the podcast.

Mike (04:28):

They were the 90’s heroes, for sure.

Kerry Wekelo (04:30):

They were local. I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, so they were local to Charlottesville, and so had a little bit of a, oh, they’re local connection.

Mike (04:40):

What’s that called? Ants marching, right? It’s like, I don’t remember the lyrics. I just go, Hey blah, blah, blah.

Kerry Wekelo (04:46):

That’s kind of how he sounds.

Mike (04:48):

Awesome. I read your book, Kerry, so I know there’s a lot of quotes in here, so this will be an easy question for you. As we try to inspire our audience, you have a favorite motivational quote you could share?

Kerry Wekelo (04:59):

I do. It’s by Helen Keller and it’s, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Mike (05:06):

Wow. Haven’t heard that one before. What does that mean to you?

Kerry Wekelo (05:10):

Helen Keller was deaf and blind and clearly life was an adventure on all levels. I pretty much use that as a premise because, why waste time on things that aren’t going to inspire me or really move me forward? So I always ask people, is that an adventure or not? Why are you going to be doing the same humdrum over and over? So I like change. I like to go on adventures, explore, and I do that within organizations as well.

Mike (05:39):

Wow. Well, see. Now this is where your expertise will come into play in the book. Let’s just start talking about the book. Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture. I love this, Kerry, because you talk about so much of the people side of organizations, and how wellness and our mindfulness, that’s the big word today, is so essential to being effective in the workplace. Tell me about that.

Kerry Wekelo (06:09):

I joined actualize in 2005. The first five years, we were very focused on financially getting the organizational operationally stable. We were doing great in 2010, our turnover rates were at 33%. It’s like, wait a minute. We forgot to focus on our people. So we made an intention in 2010 to focus on our people. Actually just yesterday, we found out we were awarded a great place to work company. They had a visual of what people said and in the middle it said, “People” and I was super proud because, 10 years ago, I set that intention that we wanted to focus on our people first and foremost. That’s really how it all started.

Mike (06:51):

Well, congratulations. That’s awesome. How about a business book or a leader? Here you are an author, but what books are you reading?

Kerry Wekelo (06:59):

The book that actually inspired all of this, it’s called Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute. It’s a quick read. I had our leadership read it back in 2010 and it was talking about accountability and how, in every situation, we all need to take accountability to move forward. It really helped us get together as a team, a leadership team, and it’s been a book that I recommend all the time to leaders.

Mike (07:30):

Excellent. I’ll have to check that out. I don’t know that one.

Kerry Wekelo (07:32):

Yeah. It’s a quick read.

Mike (07:34):

I do like that idea of personal responsibility and power. We have the ability and the opportunity to impact the workplace and our organizations. Another thing I liked about your book is that you kind of tie each chapter, each of these principles, together with a summary, a mindfulness lesson, that can be applied to the workplace, but also to the individual personally. Tell me about the way you crafted this book and what was on your mind when you were putting this together.

Kerry Wekelo (08:02):

It does. It starts with you as an individual, as a leader, manager, and it really doesn’t matter what role you’re playing in the organization. You are going to be leading or inspiring somebody each day. I do a lot of coaching as well, mainly within Actualize. I’d say nine times out of 10, when somebody is having an issue at work, it doesn’t have anything to do with work. It has to do with something that’s personally going on with them. My favorite question to ask people is, what have you done for yourself today? What do you love to do? What inspires you? If you’re not feeling good, you’re not having a good day, something’s not going right with you, go do that, get some inspiration.

Mike (08:42):

Then you come back as a better contributor.

Kerry Wekelo (08:44):

You do. My immediate team, they know if they’re hyped up, I’m going to say, “Go for a walk, call me back. Clear your head.”

Mike (08:56):

I love that. I love that. Here on the show, we talk a lot about the employee in the workplace. We have FM leaders, corporate real estate leaders, who want to create spaces where people, the occupants of our facilities, can be their best self and then be the most productive contributor to their team. Employee experience. What do you think of it?

Kerry Wekelo (09:14):

Well, that’s a very broad topic, employee experience. I believe it starts at the very beginning in the recruiting process. So you have to have a good experience in that as well. We spend a lot of time on that. Used to be that we had to talk up our culture and what a great place it was going to be to work at. But now, because of the book and because I’m constantly writing content and sharing on social media, social media is a really nice outlet to provide content and to share your story. So it starts in the recruiting process and then it moves on. What I love to hear from our new hires is that, I heard about all of this and the onboarding and the recruitment process, but I am actually feeling it. I do feel like Actualize is a family.

            So it’s a feeling. The employee experience is, how do they feel about the workplace? Do they want to come to the workplace? Are they jazzed? Are they behind your mission as an organization? Do they believe that they’re contributing and adding value? Because what I see is that people really want to be valued and they want to be contributing and they want to understand all the hard work that they’re putting in, how’s that go back to the organization? So as an experience, you start at the beginning and then you continuously … That’s why I call it infusion. You have to infuse it within the organization. One of my new clients I’m working with to help them on their corporate culture, they’re like, “So we’re going to do this leadership rah-rah. What’s next?” You got to keep going. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It can’t be one and done, so that’s why I call it infusion.

Mike (10:59):

Absolutely. I totally agree, Kerry, and I spent a lot of time on this show talking about technology and how that influences the experience people have in the workplace. What is it you focus on when it comes to delivering on the expectations of people today and their technology?

Kerry Wekelo (11:18):

We’re a consulting company, so a lot of times we’re on client site. We do a lot of remote work, so a little bit different than from some of your audience, but I embrace technology. I think you have to stay on the cutting edge and there’s so many different tools that you can use. So if you are working remotely, being able to use video conferencing. We also are proponents of having people do a video interview if they’re really interested in working for the company. I think it can help support people and making them more efficient as well, so I think it depends on what industry you’re in and being on board with the tools that can really help your organization.

Mike (12:00):

You and your team get to go to a lot of client headquarters, buildings, campuses. Some of these amazing workplaces that are designed for today’s workforce. Any great stories about being a visitor to those spaces and maybe good experience versus a not so great experience?

Kerry Wekelo (12:18):

I’ve had people who work at really large, big name companies where they’re getting to play pool on a break or getting to do a relaxation room. So those are some of the keys that I’ve gotten pictures from some of our team members. On the flip side, you have individuals who, they’re not given any space to work, so they might be on the side of somebody’s desk. That can be really hard for their working day if they don’t have appropriate space. So the work that the people that are listening to this is really important, so look at your consultants too, and their space.

Mike (12:55):

Don’t forget the visitors folks. Don’t forget the remote workers, and also the visitors that come in and need to use the same space. That’s a huge part of this. We don’t talk about that often, but it’s true. Let’s talk about some of the principles you listed in the book. I won’t go over all nine because it’s a short podcast, Kerry. We can’t get to them all, but you talk about providing intentional leadership, prioritizing personal wellness, and then, again, a lot of what you focus on is that individual work life balance or integration, because that’s the starting point of getting our employees and the organization moving in a healthy direction. Effective communication and dealing with conflict and focusing on the people. Tell me more about that. How can we create an environment, a culture that focuses more on people?

Kerry Wekelo (13:43):

I think, when you were just reading the list of those, the biggest issue that I see is around communication and around people not wanting to handle challenges as they come up. They let them fester. That’s what I work with the most with our internal team at Actualize, with our clients is, how do you foster that communication, that open communication with your teams? I use a strategy in the book and it’s pausing to pivot to a positive and what I’ve added to, and I’m actually working on another book right now around gratitude, and I’m calling it a gratitude pause. So when you are facing that challenge, first off, if you’re having a challenge with an individual, there’s something you can be grateful for them about. So you have that gratitude pause, and then you move into, okay, well, what just happened?

            Then, how am I going to move forward in a positive resolution? Whether it be a huge challenge that you’re facing within your organization, or just maybe a personal issue with another team member or peer, or even a supervisor. So it’s just constant. I teach this a lot. We work on it a lot internally, but if you have that premise that you’re working towards, like, this is how we’re going to handle challenges. Even yesterday I had somebody comment to me, “What about this?” I’m like, “Did you talk to them?”

Mike (15:06):

Start with that, yeah.

Kerry Wekelo (15:08):

“No.” “Okay, let’s start with identifying what’s going on. Tell them how grateful you are about how hard they’ve been working and then just coach them on what you’re expecting.” Seems super simple, but it’s super hard for people.

Mike (15:25):

It is. It’s tough. We’re human beings, we have our defenses that go up and our assumptions we make about other people. I always talk about the default setting of negativity. We always assume the worst about a situation or an exchange or a conflict and the need to get out of our own heads. We have to, say, give others the benefit of the doubt. All the things that we’re going through personally and stress wise and self doubt, it’s a common human experience, right? We all deal with the same stuff, don’t we?

Kerry Wekelo (15:59):

We do. The thing is, is that people mean well, and that’s what we forget, because, like you said, we go to that negative thought process first and we get in our own heads, the me, me, and I story that we all have. But what I find is that everybody really wants to do a good job. They do. That’s just our intrinsic nature. We want to be good people. We want to perform well, and sometimes we just need a little bit of guidance. Maybe we did have a bad day, so just being open and honest, and I’ve just found that it’s a lot easier if you just hit it head on.

Mike (16:39):

Yeah. Assume the best, but if you can’t make sense of it, ask the question, “Hey, what’s going on?”

Kerry Wekelo (16:45):

What’s going on? How can I support you better in this?

Mike (16:49):

I like that.

Kerry Wekelo (16:51):

Easy. Usually they have like, “I didn’t really understand this part of the ask.” Okay. That’s what happened yesterday. I don’t think the person understood what was being asked and there just needed to be some clarification, a little bit of coaching. Easy fix. [inaudible 00:17:10] But I love that our team members feel like they can come to me with scenarios. Because I’m always like, give me the scenario. I’ll help you fix it.

Mike (17:17):

That’s the culture piece.

Kerry Wekelo (17:18):

That’s the culture piece.

Mike (17:19):

That’s creating an environment where people feel empowered and comfortable.

Kerry Wekelo (17:24):

Right. Just say, “Can you help me win this scenario?” Because this person, I think, knew that they were getting a little hot and heavy too fast. They’re like, “Okay, let me pause. Let me talk to Kerry, and let’s move forward positively.” It works beautifully. It saves us so much time as an organization.

Mike (17:42):

Awesome. We all need a Kerry in our organization we can come to. Well, this has been great. I really appreciate you spending some time with me. Thanks so much for being on the Workplace Innovator podcast.

Kerry Wekelo (17:54):

Thanks for having me. I had a great time.

Mike (17:57):

There you have it, folks. Kerry Wekelo of Actualize Consulting, discussing some simple strategies to help us put people first and create a thriving culture in our organizations. I certainly hope you enjoyed that conversation. If you’d like to learn more about the work that Kerry is doing, or if you just want to receive some of the inspirational content that she has been sharing on social media, please check the show notes for all of the relevant links. You’ll find all you need to connect with Kerry. Please join me again next week as we will continue to encourage and inspire each other to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.

            You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOffice can help you create an employee centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit